Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"I am the bread of life."

All Saints Chapel, CDSP
John 6:35-40

Bowl of bread dough
Extra flour
Copies of recipe

Instructions: Tear off some bread dough—let yourself be generous—pass the bowl to the next person. Play with it while we’re talking. Follow dough with box of baggies, for take-home.

If you’ve ever been hungry, you will understand.
If you’ve ever made dinner for the people you love,
you will understand.
If you’ve ever kneaded bread,
and baked it, and eaten it,
you will understand.
Our bodies know this stuff.
Our ancestors knew it.
We have always known how to feed each other.

I’m going to give you the recipe,
for what you’re holding in your hands.
Don’t worry about remembering;
there are copies in the back if you want one.

1 package active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups warm water (about 110 degrees).
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
You want it comfortable on the inside of your wrist;
not too tepid, not hot enough to burn you.
Yeast is alive.
You need to wake it up, not kill it.

Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, and two eggs.
Gradually add about 4 cups of the flour,
until your dough is stiff enough to work with.
Shake some flour onto the counter,
or a breadboard.
Turn the dough out onto it.
Flour your hands.

And then you start kneading.

I have no clear memory of learning this motion.
And it’s not like baking was an everyday thing, when I was little.
I remember doing it a few times, occasionally.
Knowing the kid I was, probably reluctantly.
But when I started baking on my own, years later,
my body remembered it.

Place the heels of your hands against the dough.
In the beginning, there is no resistance.
You’re working with a blob.
Push it away from you.

Give it a quarter turn,
in whatever direction comes naturally.
Fold it over your thumb.
Move your thumb out of the way.
Place your hands on the dough,
and push it away from you.

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

Add flour as you need to.
The dough will start to push back against you.
This is good.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat flour.
What you’re doing, is working little knots of protein into strands.
This is what gives the dough the elasticity it needs to rise,
and the texture when you bake it.

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

After awhile, the turning and folding becomes one motion.
You find your rhythm.
Even if it’s your first time,
you won’t have to be taught how to do this.
You already learned it, from your ancestors.
It’s already encoded in the way you move your muscles.
Your body knows.
Let your sense of touch, teach you.

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

Are your hands sticky?
There’s more flour in the back.
Feel free to get up and grab some.

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Push. Turn. Fold. Push. Turn. Fold.

When your shoulders feel like they’ve had a good workout,
and the dough has taken in about all the flour that it will,
stop kneading.
The recipe I gave you says, 5 to 20 minutes.
That’s how variable, and intuitive, this is.
The yeast and flour interact with the liquids,
and with your sense of what feels right.
You have to love it into being.
It doesn’t just emerge on its own.

Put the dough back in a bowl,
cover it,
and leave it in a warm place.
Either in the oven, turned off, with a bowl of warm water,
on a heating pad,
in a sunny spot.
Do something else for an hour and a half.
Go write a paper. Take a walk.
The yeast will release carbon dioxide,
against the strands of gluten.
The dough will rise.

I always wonder,
if God had the same reaction that I do,
the first time God made life.
“Wow—would you look at that? It grew!”

It’s always a surprise,
and it means that everything is happening as it should be.

A side note:
I live in the dorm, on the third floor.
Our refrigerators are stuffed.
So when I prepared this dough,
last night,
I wrapped it in plastic
and left it on about six square inches of shelf.
I’d never left dough overnight before;
what did I know?
When I got up this morning,
it had burst the bonds of injustice,
and was spilling all over everything.

Now I understand why scripture writers,
and community organizers,
use the metaphor of leavening.
Yeast is alive.
This stuff doesn’t even need heat.
It will breathe, and the bread will grow.
It’s faster, if you do it like they tell you.
But it happens, nonetheless.

You let it rise, then you punch it down.
Feel it exhale, against your fist.
Work the extra air out.
Braid it, or shape it the way you want it.
And then—I love this—you let it rise again.
There is Easter, even here.

To finish off this loaf,
wash it with egg yolk,
and dust it with poppy seeds.
And then you bake it. 350 degrees.
A full-size loaf takes about half an hour in the oven.

A friend lent me a book,
two years ago,
shortly before she graduated and moved back to Portland.
I never gave it back to her.
I’ll be able to, now.

The book is Sleeping with Bread.
It looks like a children’s book,
and it’s about that comforting.
It’s about the Ignatian exercise called the examen.
The book is an expansion on settings
and forms and communities you could use this practice in.
At the heart of it, are two questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?

It’s about living into the awareness of gratitude.
About learning to be true to yourself.
About listening to the voice of God within you,
through the activities that give you life.

The title comes from a story
about children evacuated from the bombing raids during World War II.
The kids were living in refugee camps.
They’d lost everything:
homes, families, all of the anchors that make any of us feel safe.
They were scared.
They couldn’t sleep at night.

Someone got the idea,
of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime.
It actually helped them sleep.
They could remember,
“I had food today. I will have food tomorrow.”

Yeast. Sugar. Flour. Oil. Water.
Joy. Sadness. Fear. Love. Relief.

These are the ingredients that God bakes bread with.

If you’ve made it before, you might have realized,
that what you’re holding is challah.
Bread of festivity.
It’s at the center of the Jewish weekly ritual of Shabbat.
You begin with the ordinary: flour, yeast, eggs, water.
Lift them to the sacred:
love of community, love of family and friends, love of God.

I did this for a couple of reasons:
I don’t bake for sustenance.
I bake for fun.
I do it because it gets me into my body,
in a way that feels strong.
I’m not aware of fatigue, when I do this.
I’m feeling life interact beneath my hands.

It’s miraculous.
And it’s the most ordinary craft in the world.

I also love the way this dough feels.
It’s smooth, and silky.
Almost like skin.

This is what I did over Spring Break,
when I was preparing to think about this sermon.
I baked it on a Friday,
in my best friend’s kitchen.
She is ancestrally Jewish,
and a practicing Christian.
We ate challah and goat cheese all weekend.
We made our own ritual.

We’re about to do something with the same deep roots
in community, food, and love.
The Eucharistic bread we use in chapel,
always comes from one of us.
We bake it, according to the sacristy’s recipe.
If it doesn’t get done, the sacristans panic—
they know, as only they can,
that the Body of Christ is everyone,
and we all have work to do.
Lizette’s not kidding when she tells you,
show up for your rota assignments.
It takes all of us, to make this happen.

We remember the ancient words of Jesus:
eat this bread, drink this cup.
Remember me, and I will be with you.

The bread is blessed, and broken, before us—
the way it has been offered for two thousand years.
It is given to us.
We hold out our hands, and we receive.

We eat this bread, which gives us life.
The body of Christ, broken for all of us.
The bread of resurrection.

There is enough for everyone.
Come and eat.


Lauralew said...

This is amazing.

There is enough for everyone. All they have to do is show up and eat.

Thank you.

it's margaret said...


Kirstin said...

Thank you, Laura.

Margaret, oh, it was! The most fun I've ever had in this space. Everyone else enjoyed it, too. :-)

Juniper said...

Ah lovely. Thanks for sharing it!

Diane said...


Calvyn du Toit said...

Wow! This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing!