bread of life

After a weekend of outdoor home and hearth activities, I returned to my notes of thanksgiving and one of the gifts they were to accompany, a loaf of bread.

The first time I remember baking bread was upon the death of my young cousin. This family loss was sudden, unexpected and compounded by the death of another young friend just a few weeks earlier. I know it sounds strange to say I baked, but as long hours of grief and disbelief ran through my family, and as I personally struggled with the loss of my childhood companion, this seemed the only comfort I had to offer. There were no words or suitable explanations for such an immense loss; so in my grandparents’ kitchen, I kneaded . . . silently . . . softly . . . listening to the subdued murmurings of those sitting nearby at the kitchen table.

I was a young woman then. Baking had been a part of my life since childhood, but I had never baked bread, only cookies, cakes and an assortment of desserts. However on that day, the recipe I stumbled upon was for bread.

From that moment forward, the baking of bread became a central activity in my life. I baked bread for holiday gifts when money was scarce. I baked bread for school fundraisers. I baked bread for gatherings with friends and intimate dinners with my husband. I baked all types of bread and all shapes of bread. I became known for my bread baking amongst family and friends. When bread machines arrived on the scene, all assumed they would be on the top of my holiday wish list, but they weren’t. I knew they would not provide the experience I desired.  My baking wasn’t just about making a loaf of bread. It was about feeling the softness of the dough, watching it rise in a covered bowl and knowing that human hands, my hands, had crafted what I shared with another.

Bread baking was not always without its challenges. There were the times the dough didn’t rise, I forgot to add the salt, or my cat, unbeknownst to me, conducted a Goldilocks-style sampling of loaves I had prepared for Christmas gifts. Yet, I kept baking, at least until a few years ago when this lifetime love was almost abandoned, a near casualty of administrative work and professional striving. Time had become scarcer than money, the exterior life more important than the interior; however, upon the receipt of a thank you note that referred to my homemade rolls as “globes of deliciousness”, I decided that some of my time must always be allocated to bread baking. How could I not respond to such verbal generosity?

Recently, my bread baking took an unforeseen turn when I desired a deeper, personal understanding of the act of communion. My approach? . . . the baking of unleavened bread. I asked a friend to join me, and as I pursued this endeavor, I was inspired by my research and the discussions it prompted. I was especially excited and honored when another dear friend, learning of my spiritual pursuit, gifted me with a handcrafted set of communion vessels she had utilized during her time in a Franciscan community.

Bread, more often leavened than unleavened, has been intricately woven into the heart of my communion with life- the smell of yeast, at times, my incense.  It has been both comforter and companion during times of sorrow and joy.

Within the last few years, my oldest son, now in law school, began baking bread for dinners with friends. I am happy. I am delighted as I watch him shape his loaves. May this creative, human act enrich his life as much as it has mine.

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