Every so often I attend church. After the Divine Liturgy Mahs, a portion of unleavened bread (size of a saltine cracker but thin as a wafer) that has been blessed at the altar is distributed among the exiting parishioners. It is neatly packaged in tiny paper bags. One single bag is handed to each person as he /she exits the end of church service. (The distribution of Mahs is another way of participation for those who could not partake of the Holy Communion, as well as a way of “breaking bread” together and sharing in the bond of love among the members of the church.
The underlying principle is that a nibble of bread is as much a blessing as the whole piece. However, there is no specific rule as to how many pieces of Mahs one can take, if there’s enough to go around. I always take three or four. “Why?” asked a parishioner when he noticed my ritual. I explained that on several occasions this tiny wafer called Mahs was enough to tame my hunger, enough to curb my appetite, enough to hold me through in times of want.
One dark, rainy night I was driving home from a job assignment that took me far from my residence. I had been out all day with only three cups of coffee and one cookie in my system. My stomach let out a loud rumble. I was famished. I was exhausted and traffic was at a standstill. I had no idea what caused the slow-down, how many miles it stretched or how long it would last. It was going to be a long night. I couldn’t help but use a few choice words. Hungry and angry, I took the next exit to find a grocery store where I could pick up a bite to eat with a hot drink. In the bakery section, the aroma of fresh baked bread overwhelmed me, and I ordered coffee and a custom wrapped sandwich to eat on the ride back home. It would be a good two hours before I’d make it to my destination.
With my take-out by my side, I set out to confront the freeway only to be held up by the red light at the intersection to the on ramp. My stomach let out an even louder rumble, followed by a series of what felt and sounded like a thunderstorm in my belly. “Take a bite of your sandwich,” I thought. At that moment my eye caught sight of a young homeless man, drenched under the rain with a sign asking for assistance. The voice inside me said: “Give him the sandwich.” I began to wrestle with the voice: “Why? I’ll give him money instead.” But the inner voice kept saying: “GIVE HIM THE SANDWICH!” After a 4-5 second back and forth hesitation, I gave my deliciously prepared fully loaded subway sandwich and the hot cup of coffee to the man. His eyes grew large, and with the refraction of headlights in the rain, they sparkled like stars. “Thank you,” he mumbled, and as the light turned green, I saw him bite ravenously into the sandwich.
Back in the snail pace flow of traffic, down one sandwich and drink, my stomach let out another rumble. Yet, surprisingly, the mindset of negativity which had accumulated inside me during the day and on the road began to shift. It was as though a part of my brain lit up and I felt the stress of the day lift. I felt good. But I was still hungry. I searched through the console under my arm rest for gum or candy, and lo and behold found dry Mahs still in its package. My joy was immeasurable. I put the dry, crispy wafer-thin Mahs in my mouth savoring the bite. It softened on my tongue before I chewed and swallowed the tiny morsel between my teeth. It tamed my hunger. I felt satiated.
Whether it was the privilege of feeding another man on a rainy day or that the Mahs was a symbolic and blessed piece of bread that satisfied my hunger, I will never know. What I do know is this. As the poor drenched man’s want was relieved by putting out his hand to accept alms, so too was my want relieved by accepting the blessed Mahs.
I make it a practice to always carry Mahs.