Merely Beloved: Baking Bread

This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. Meredith and I overlapped in seminary together for a year. We hung out when she happened to be teaching nearby, and I loved our lunches together. She also makes some killer mixes and is an expert in all things that have to do with theology and pop culture. For more information about the series, click here.

Take This Bread, Sara Miles’s spiritual autobiography, has been one of the most important books in my adult life (thus far). She writes of her “radical conversion,” after spending the first 3 or 4 decades of her life irreligious. Until one Sunday she was walking home, up the hills of San Francisco, after hitting the weekend market, and something compelled her enter the doors of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. She wasn’t seeking religion, she wasn’t aware that she was seeking God or Jesus, and yet, she found herself in the sanctuary, struck by the fragrance of incense and beauty of the iconography. When it came time in the service for the celebration of the Eucharist, she hesitatingly cupped her hands and received the bread that was offered her. Likewise, she received the sip of bittersweet communion wine (this is the Episcopal church we’re talking about!). Everything changed for her in a few chews, sips and swallows.  She writes, “Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and world I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized that what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.” (xiii)

She goes on to write beautifully and simply about Jesus’ call on our lives to feed one another, and to be fed, both with him and through him. We are fed in both literal meals and through the food of God’s mysterious grace.

I read that book at a very vulnerable time in my life. The edges were all that I had left, it seemed. Her book made the gospel story so tangible, so meaning-full. Jesus said eat. Jesus said feed. Jesus said love. Such simple words but the experience is as transformative as it is real.  Her book has been formative for many reasons. One of the things I felt compelled to do after I read that book was to bake bread. Which is a bit strange because, as much as Miles talks about food in her book, she doesn’t particularly focus on bread. Yet, I felt this pull to make bread – with all the yeast, and kneading, and waiting that would entail. So I did. I made challah, and I shared it with my friends. I had enjoyed baking before I took on that particular challenge, but something transformed for me in that experience. Baking for me is a thoroughly spiritual endeavor. In any given moment or hour I am distracted in all sorts of ways; when I’m baking, I have to concentrate on the task at hand. If I don’t, then I will forget how many cups of flour I’ve used, I will gloss over steps on the recipe, I will lose my way.

Baking is not something I do every day, or even every week. But in many ways, like a favorite song, it brings me back. When I assemble the ingredients, pull out the crusted-up recipe, and start the stirring, mixing, kneading, waiting, I am pulled back to myself. The wholly tangible nature of combining ingredients and measuring just-so, releases me from the often esoteric, erudite daily routine of reading, writing, thinking. It is the way I remember that I am made to create; I am made to feed.

Meredith Holladay holds a doctoral degree from Baylor University and is an associate pastor for spiritual formation. She is proud to call Louisville, Kentucky home (though she’s not Presbyterian), though she has called such far flung places home as Waco, Texas, Princeton, New Jersey, and Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. She is a recent transplant to Lawrence, Kansas where she is associate pastor of spiritual formation of First Baptist Church. She needs to start blogging again over at windowsdown.wordpress.com. She’s beautiful, brilliant, and way cool. 

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