On faith: Lessons learned baking bread
By: Craig Carlson,Spiritual Care Coordinator, Essentia Health, Lake County News Chronicle
Something about the smell of bread baking touches me deeply. Something mysterious happens as I ponder how ingredients spread out on a counter which are boring in themselves (and sometimes tasteless), become something wonderful when mixed together.
They are more than the sum of the individual ingredients. Baking bread takes time. It offers a gift of love to those who will eat it.
I love the smell. I love the mystery. I love the work. I love the opportunity to give.
My first foray into bread baking occurred when my wife gave me French bread for Christmas. The package included a recipe “For Men Only – With No Apologies to the Women’s Lib Movement.” (That dates me!) From the beginning, I could tell it was designed with me in mind because it assumed that I knew nothing. It began with important advice: remove your ring and your watch; tie a towel around your waist and roll up your sleeves.
In seven pages, the baker who developed this recipe left nothing to chance. At the end a one-page version appeared “For Experienced Bakers.”
The recipe directed me in every way and warned me of potential hazards. (“Mix in 14 cups of flour. Don’t bother counting. For one thing, no Frenchman does. Besides, you’ll undoubtedly lose count before getting to 14.”) The recipe taught me to do something that I hadn’t done before, even though I wasn’t a rookie in the kitchen.
But the recipe also teaches spiritual things. Allowing bread to raise in the pans teaches the virtue of patience. What makes it challenging is that it takes time. What makes it difficult is that it requires the baker to give up control. The baker learns to trust the recipe and to let the yeast do its work. Time unleashes the yeast’s power to make the bread all it can be.
Recipes teach balance. On another occasion I ventured into making cinnamon rolls. Thinking that I would improve the recipe, I substituted seven-grain flour for all of the white flour. If you bake, you know that cinnamon rolls didn’t come out of the oven that day; bronze “hockey pucks” did. Disturbing the balance devastated the outcome as the flour overwhelmed the yeast.
I have learned that a bread recipe is a life recipe. Patience is more than a laudable virtue; it is vital to life. We dream; God directs. I remember bronze hockey pucks and learn to trust the creator of the recipe. I depart from it at my own risk. If the departure flops, I learn from it and return to the recipe. I work to not sweat the small stuff. (If I’ll lose track anyway, why get stressed by trying to keep score to start?)
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.” (John 6:35) God presents his mysterious gift of love and invites you and me to trust the recipe and to trust him. He will nourish you. He will give you patience and purpose, of love and life. He will give you the gift of bread to share with others.
Be gentle when you touch bread –
Let it not lie uncared for, taken for granted or unwanted –
There is such beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil –
Beauty of patient toil –
Winds and rains caressed it
Christ often blessed it.
Be gentle when you touch bread.
— Author unknown
Reprinted by permission from Lakeshore Living, the bimonthly publication for families and
friends of Lakeshore, Duluth MN. 218-525-1951.