Of all the books I’ve read, historical romance has to be my favorite genre. It reminds me that human relationships are messy — that love is much stronger than a greeting card can capture. And when it’s really well written, I also learn more about the past, more about our world’s story.
That’s why “Bread of Angels” is at the top of the stack of books on my porch. Author Tessa Afshar has won awards and praise for her other novels — all Biblical fiction — so I have high hopes for this book about Lydia, the first in Europe to convert to Christianity.
Here’s what Afshar has to say about her book, which released last week:
Q: “Bread of Angels” is based on the biblical story of Lydia from the book of Acts. Why did you choose to write a book about her?
A: Some lives seem to burn with an incandescent light, leaving their inexorable mark on history. Lydia was such a person. The first convert in Europe, she succeeded in the realm of commerce where men dominated and ruled. Her home became the first church in the continent that yielded the greatest influence in the spread of the Gospel for centuries. The world changed, you might say, because of Lydia’s intrepid generosity and leadership. She wasn’t even afraid to host a couple of jailbirds in her home, even though it probably reflected badly on her. If anyone deserved to have her own book, it was Lydia.
Q: Where does the title “Bread of Angels” come from?
A: The psalmist Asaph calls manna the bread of the angels. (Psalm 78:25) Being unable to reap or sow in their 40-year wanderings, the Israelites were given this miraculous substance as a daily provision from heaven.
The whole point of manna, besides feeding the people, was to teach trust. To teach them that morning by morning, God would provide for that day. There was no earthly way to control this provision. They could not plan or arrange or manipulate their way into receiving manna. They had to trust that, every day, God would meet them again at the point of their need.
When I thought about Lydia, a woman in a man’s world, a woman bearing the burdens of a lavish business with many dependents, I felt that perhaps more than anything, the weight of responsibility might have pressed her down. She either had to trust her own ability, or rely on a God who would give her the bread of angels.
I liked this concept, because it seems to me that most of us struggle, at least to some degree, with the same choice, especially when it comes to our jobs. The work of our hands has so many complex emotional threads attached to it. We long to be useful. To make a difference. To use our gifting. Add to that the reality that in our world, our stability is attached to work. We can’t pay the rent unless we get paid. There are layers of fear running through our jobs. Layers that are, to some degree, beyond our control.
But God lavishes the bread of angels upon us. Not in the form of manna, but in the shape of what we most need for that day. Emotional, practical, relational strength and provision. Part of the novel deals with this struggle for trust.
Q: You called Lydia intrepid earlier, yet your novel also deals with fear. Tell us a little about those seemingly conflicting themes.
A: Lydia works alongside men in a world where women are second-class citizens. That takes a lot of courage. And the way she insists on hosting Paul and his friends, even after they land themselves in jail and earn the ire of the whole city, also suggests a persistent kind of audacity. There is no doubt about her courage. And yet I have learned that courage does not mean the disappearance of fear. On the contrary, some of the bravest people I know have terrifying struggles with fear.
I think fear bears profound power in most of our lives. The Prophet Isaiah said, “You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear” (Isaiah 54:14). In other words, fear causes oppression. In all its iterations: Anxiety, worry, agitation, trepidation, dark imaginings, panic, fear of failure, of rejection, of letting people down, of abandonment, of not measuring up — every manner of fear is a chain that binds. Oppresses. And one day, he says, that oppression shall cease. It shall cease because the Messiah will overcome it.
In “Bread of Angels,” I wanted to show a woman who was at once valiant and fearful. And I wanted to show those fears shifting, paling through the progression of her faith.
Q: Lydia has a secret. Can you tell us about that?
A: Secrets have a profound power. They can eat at us. They can birth shame and guilt and lead to self-condemnation. In those hidden places of our hearts that have never seen the light of day, never felt grace applied to them because they have never been spoken, the enemy gains a foothold. At some point, secrets have to be spoken to be healed. I wanted to address this theme in “Bread of Angels” because I come across so many women who tell me: “I have never told this to anyone …”
— Marketta Gregory is a former religion reporter who can’t stop writing about what is sacred and holy. She is a native of Oklahoma but makes her home in Rochester, New York, with her husband, two crazy boys and one very vocal Pomeranian. Find more of her writing at SimplyFaithful.com or check out her book, “Simply Faithful: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life.”