catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 3 :: 2007.02.09 — 2007.02.23


God's love made edible

I can’t remember consciously deciding to provide my family’s daily bread, it just sort of happened. I made bread one day and within a few days it was gone, so I made some more. When that was gone, I mixed up another batch. Soon, it became part of my morning routine, two or three days a week. I discovered by doubling the recipe I could also supply fresh bread for our guests at The Hermitage, a retreat center that my wife, Naomi, and I co-direct. I am now in the fourth year providing homemade bread for my family and The Hermitage retreatants.

Granted, I didn’t just start making bread out of the blue. I first became inspired to make bread years ago when I watched Naomi making bread. It looked easy enough and I figured I could do it, too. So every now and then, when the inspiration came, I would make bread. When our children were younger we had several years of “pizza Fridays” which didn’t involve the local pizza franchise. Naomi or I would make the dough mid-afternoon and by dinnertime, it was ready to stretch into pans and cover with our favorite toppings. 

By the time bread making became a rhythm of life I had plenty of practice. I knew the steps by heart and could go through the motions with ease. This is when bread making became prayer.

To pray, one must first will to pray. I exercised my will to make bread whenever I went grocery shopping. I dreaded going down the bread aisle because this is where I had the hardest time choosing which bread to buy. I was attracted to those bright orange “99¢” stickers, but the loaves inside were not the ones my family or I wanted to eat.  The loaves that were more tasteful and nutritious were more than I could justify spending on bread. So, I stood in the aisle and debated, spending more time there than in any other section of the store, finally choosing, but always wanting another choice for our daily bread.

Intending to make bread doesn’t produce bread, just as intending to pray isn’t prayer. Prayer contains form and order that requires a beginning. I usually make bread in the morning.  Often it is the first thing I do once I am ready for the day. I simply walk into the kitchen, get out a bread bowl, measure the yeast, dissolve it in warm water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. At this point, I am committed to making bread. The yeast is already at work and to turn back would be to interrupt a wonderful process already unfolding. I have begun to pray.

When the yeast is sufficiently proofed, I stir in the flour, one cup at a time at first and then smaller amounts as the dough stiffens. This is work. I get blisters on my hands and sore muscles, particularly with a large amount of dough. I even work up a sweat. However, stirring flour into liquid is not the only effort required now, I must also practice patience. I’m tempted to hurry my bread-making prayer by adding too much flour at a time. Experience has taught me that I can’t rush through this stage of bread making or else I’ll end up with tough dough that has stretch marks rather than soft dough with a smooth finish. The discipline of adding flour slowly, about 1/3 cup at a time, stills me and quiets the anxiety I may be feeling about the day.

By the time most of the flour is added, I am well centered in my prayer. I have a singleness of purpose where all distractions are put on hold. Soon the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, which tells me it is time to begin kneading the dough. Kneading is a rhythmic action: push forward, turn slightly, fold in half backward and repeat continuously for 8-10 minutes. It is like the dance of a whirling dervish who gets lost in his movements until settling into a place of being at peace, a place of being in God.

When the dance is done, I place the dough into a bowl, cover it tightly and wait for it to rise until doubled in bulk. For a while it looks like nothing is happening, but the yeast is growing and stretching the dough, transforming it from the inside out. In this way we are all like dough, transformation must happen on the inside before it affects our outward behavior. And transformation happens slowly; we are often unaware of anything happening at all. Prayer is a way of entering into the wait for transformation.

While the dough is rising, I go to Morning Prayer at The Hermitage. This is a daily service that Naomi and I lead with the resident Hermitage community and retreat guests. This form of prayer includes scripture reading, silence and intercession. Toward the end of the liturgy we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying, “Our Father in Heaven, may your name be hallowed…Give us this day our daily bread…” 

After Morning Prayer, I return to the dough and shape it into loaves. If my son is around, he asks if he can punch down the dough, something many 10-year-old boys are challenged to find: a legitimate reason to punch. The dough deflates and after a few minutes of kneading, I shape it into loaves and wait again while it rises a second time.

During the second rise, I prepare for the midday meal that I serve to the Hermitage community. The bread is finished baking about an hour before mealtime, just enough time to cool for slicing while still retaining the warmth of freshly baked bread. Then those who are together in time and place for the day partake of our daily bread: God’s love made edible.

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