T.V. would have me believe that families of my generation ate breakfast together, mother at the griddle and father behind the newspaper. My father worked swing and graveyard shifts, my mother kept his hours. I woke to an alarm, fixed my instant oatmeal and read the jokes on the empty packet while standing over the sink eating. If my younger sister joined me, I don’t remember. When I ate communal breakfasts it was with my best friend Katy who lived across the street. We kept the cereal and milk on the table, reading the packaging, learning to pronounce words like thiamine and riboflavin. She was an only child and could convince her mother to buy Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts and other breakfast treats my mother refused. We were thrilled when her mother agreed to buy a box of Super Sugar Crisp––which we weren’t even sure we liked––on the condition that we ate all of it before we tore up the box. Pressed into the paperboard was a real record, a 45-rpm of the Archie’s Sugar, Sugar with a circle of dotted lines just waiting for Katy’s scissors. We read every inch of that box that weekend as we worked our way through the cereal.
I’ve eaten breakfast––and lunch since I left school and office for motherhood, pastoring, and writing––by myself most days of my life, but I haven’t been alone. I’ve always had words in front of me. Reading a book while eating requires using the edge of the plate and clean utensils as book weights, and I worry about a splat of yogurt or drip of orange juice staining a page, especially on a library book. I’m not picky about content when it comes to read-eating, but I prefer magazines because they’re easy to keep flat on the tabletop, and smaller than a newspaper. When I was young, I read what my parents left open, my father’s Herald Examiner, my mother Women’s Day and Family Circle, her copies of People when I was in college. When I was a young mother the only books I could finish were children’s books I read to my babies, but I could work through an issue of Parenting and the Auto club magazine in a month. Now I read the Sierra Club magazine, Real Simple, Sunset, Mental Floss, my husband’s Family Handyman, the free weekly paper, and two devotionals Alive Now and Weavings.
When I became a Christian in my mid-20’s I thought I was supposed to wake at five each morning and read the Bible while the house was quiet and the world had yet to make its evil mark on me. I was supposed to begin each day with ammunition for the battle, like the woman who wrote the book I borrowed from the library about being a Good Christian Wife. But, I’m not a morning person, and the only dark force I was fighting was the alarm clock on a winter morning that was literally dark. I couldn’t imagine read-eating the Bible. It didn’t tuck well under the edge of a plate, the pages were so thin that a spill would saturate an entire Gospel, and it seemed sacrilegious to read scripture while eating toaster waffles. Maybe if I’d been raised with the Bible on the table and learned words like Leviticus and Deuteronomy while eating Captain Crunch, my morning habit might be different.
I still wake up to Words and not The Word, and I’m not sure if I simply have a forty-five year habit or a spiritual discipline. Either way, there is something that feeds my hunger when I read about wine tasting in Livermore, efforts to curb mountaintop removal coal mining, tips for repairing leaky gutters, and rhyming poems about Jesus while I eat peanut butter on gluten-free toast. Wearing my bathrobe, I make tea, sit on a barstool, spread a magazine on the counter before me and connect with humanity. Our pedestrian needs and desires––where to get a good pizza and how to patch a flat tire––mix with more profound––a dozen two paragraph reflections on the phrase Light of the World. When I want humor, I read the poorly phrased police blotter in the local paper and allow my fork to hover over the print, daring my syrup to drip. Sometimes, when I’m finished with breakfast, I push my plate aside and flip through the articles on makeup and fashion, which I have no real interest in, but will read about if I want to procrastinate.
Every morning I taste a variety of writers and styles and purposes while I sip my orange juice. Every day I glimpse another worldview––the foodie, the carpenter, the conservationist, the fashionista––and enter it vicariously through print. I could say my reading is educational, that it’s good for me, that there’s something holy about reading and connecting with the spectrum of the human family. Actually, I am saying that. But I’m also going to say something else about my read-eating and reading in general, something that the early morning Bible reader in all her stoicism doesn’t want to let on. Maybe she doesn’t approve, but I don’t care––waking up to words is fun.