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We're Not Just Loafing

Bread and Ourselves: A Conversation In Two Voices. Join us as Jennifer and Rob find some commonality in their experiences in this time of staying at home.

Like many, we have taken this disruptive time of social distancing to try out new things in the house. One of these things has been making bread from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. In doing this, we have learned some things about bread and gained insight about ourselves. In watching, helping, tasting, and encouraging, I have also noticed some ways that bread gives insight into our prayer life.

Bread is amazing! It’s basically water and flour worked together, left alone, tended, nurtured, and cooked. Notably one of the simplest and most satisfying foods known and it’s sustained human beings for centuries.  

Prayer is amazing! It is basically offering ourselves into the presence of God, trusting in His Love. We are worked, mixed, kneaded, left alone, nurtured, tended, prepared, blessed, broken, and given as we engage in prayer. Much like bread, it is tempting and easy to avoid the work and buy the prepackaged, mass produced, work of others. Or, leave the work to the experts thinking that we are not able to get the same results. Indeed, the bread we get from the stores like the prayer and devotional life we can consume from others is good and nourishing but rarely amazing. Just as the process of making bread results in something unique and amazing, so too the process of truly engaging in personal, contemplative prayer, allowing God to work according to His will and our own unique needs.

Bread delights the senses! There’s nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread. This aroma puts the rest of your senses on high alert, leaving your mouth to water, eyes primed to see the steam rising from its flakey crust, hands itching to feel its weight and warmth, and your mouth prepared to taste its fermented goodness.

Prayer delights the senses! In this season of disrupted community, I have come to realize how important the embodied aspect of prayer is to me. I have missed the touch of anointing those for whom I pray. I have missed the sights and sounds of worship in community. The smells of fresh palms on Palm Sunday and the aromas of coffee and brunch on Easter morning. The taste of Bread and Wine in the Eucharist. With these activities of community removed, I have also realized how embodied my prayer has become, engaging my senses in new ways preparing me to return to community strangely filled yet newly hungry.

Making bread is hard work! There’s time, effort, and skill involved with the mixing, kneading, and forming of a simple loaf of bread. These time honored skills have been handed down from generation to generation in parts of the world so that the practices and traditions aren’t lost. They are skills that must be learned, practiced, and mastered, but the journey and loaves are enjoyable along the way.

Prayer is hard work! Ordering my days around prayer, remaining focused in the midst of distraction, and persevering when the outcome seems less than I had hoped requires intention and discipline. I lean heavily on the skill and experience, the encouragement and example of those who have gone before as I learn, practice, and journey. The result are not instant but well worth the effort.

Bread making requires hours of waiting! If you commit to the journey of making a loaf of bread, it will be a week to ten days before you slice the loaf for the first time. You’ll spend hours waiting while hidden changes occur nurturing the starter, hydrating the flour, fermenting, proofing, baking, and cooling a single loaf. 

Prayer requires hours of waiting! Often it seems that in silence and contemplation that nothing is happening. Just as waiting for bread to rise can not be hurried, the gentle transformation of our soul in the presence of God’s grace is not under our control. We can set the conditions and offer ourselves, but ultimately, it is grace that is at work in our prayer and not ourselves.

Making bread is not for the faint of heart, but it's definitely worth the wait! 

A life of prayer is not for the faint of heart, but is worth more than anything. As much as I would prefer otherwise, I cannot live on bread alone, even the wonderful homemade bread that we have had recently.  

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