Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 4:25…
My mom used to make bread by hand. I remember Saturday mornings when I was younger, she’d send my brother and me around the house with a dust rag, or the vacuum, and we’d pick up from the week, put things back in order. After the ‘work’ was done, we’d get to the fun part of Saturday. She would get out the flour, her rolling pin, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and her bread board.
Sometimes she’d make cinnamon rolls. I loved helping her make cinnamon rolls. I loved the way the kitchen smells changed as we moved along the process. From the flour water smell of sweet, uncooked dough, to the cinnamon, brown sugar swirl of confection—to the warm, fresh smell of pans coming out of the oven.
As I got older, she started making bread more often; she got a sweet bread maker—and is now a kind of bread whiz with it. She makes the best rolls, using different flours and recipes—and my dad loves it.
Watching her on these Saturday mornings, I understood the basic concepts of ‘how’ to make bread. In science classes in school I learned about yeast and in cooking classes I learned about proper flour-to-water ratios, the right kinds of flour to use—and really enjoyed the ‘how’ side of bread-making.
Some records show bread to be a staple in diets for over 30,000 years. In Jesus’ day, people got more than 50% of their daily calories from bread.
Bread not only has to do with sustaining life—but it is also a political and economic building block. What kind of bread you can afford to buy for your family put you on a certain step on the economic ladder. Who controls the bread? The one who controls the bread can control the people…
Bread has even seeped into our language in other ways—we talk about the ‘bread-winner’ or ‘putting bread on the table’—bread takes on meanings of money and wealth. And if you call someone your ‘companion’ you are really calling them—the one with bread.
So, I get the ‘how’ of bread making. But it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I began to identify with the ‘why’ of bread making.
Not even a year after we got married, I started to feel different. Not the ‘different’ that movies told me I would feel—elated and overjoyed every day of my life because I was finally married… but I was tired all of the time. Normally a morning person, I began to use the snooze button for the first time in my life—and not just once, but I became a chronic snooze-hitter. Never wanting to get out of bead… unable to find a reason to get out of bed.
It felt like I couldn’t ever stand up straight; like I was carrying a backpack filled with rocks, and I wasn’t allowed to put it down. I couldn’t relax, I was tense, and frustrated—I would cry at anything and this just made me angrier, so I became more upset… and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out why I was carrying this around—and I couldn’t find a way to put it down.
A woman who was mentoring me at the time, walking with me, asking me where I was seeing God in my life, would sit with me once a month. We would pray—although, it was usually her praying, and she would listen as I spoke. I began to tell her about this back pack of rocks, this heaviness I was carrying—and at the same time, this overwhelming sense of nothingness, of being empty.
We talked about bread. I don’t know how we began talking about bread, but we talked about bread, about how Jesus called himself the Bread of Life… I remember leaving that conversation and calling up one of my friends for a few simple bread recipes.
I went to the store, got a bread board, bread flour, and yeast. I tried three or four times to get the water temperature correct for the yeast to do its thing. I watched as the water and sugar and yeast started to foam and grow. I dumped it into a large bowl of flour and salt. I plunged my hands into the depths of the grains.
The warmth of the water and yeast smushed between my fingers. The mess and chaos of the ingredients lessened as my hands shaped the dough into a ball. I pulled it from the bowl, dropping it onto the table and began to work it. Back and forth, trying to remember the same motions my mom used when I was younger, trying to recall muscle memory from so long ago.
Ten minutes passed. The same motion, over and over. Pulling and pushing the dough, smelling the yeast slipping throughout the entire loaf. I don’t know what happened in those ten minutes… but it was intense. It was liberating, therapeutic, purifying. After I waited the eternity of 60 minutes to let the bread rise, I shaped it again and put it in the oven. When I pulled that first pan out, I cried. I balled. I absolutely lost it.
In that first week I think I made 4 or 5 loaves of bread. I needed it. I needed the feel of the flour; I needed the smell of my hands after working with the dough. I needed the smell of the apartment as the bread was rising, then baking in the oven.
Thinking about the Bread of life became a daily reflection. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was able to touch God—that I was mixing and shaping and rolling—touching the divine with my little fingers. It felt, hopeful. Like there was still something waiting for me.
The way the bread coaxes you—when you pull it out of the oven, and the smell overtakes you; calls to you, beacons that you come nearer. Waits for you to take hold of it, break off piece after piece and consume. But the smell is too much for just one person, the smell calls to whoever is in the room; it needs to be shared, given away—eaten together.
I don’t want to say that these first loaves of bread ‘saved’ me—but in a way, they did. It was almost as if they woke me up from a long and dark sleep. Making bread woke me up to see things around me in a new light.
And Jesus calls himself ‘living bread.’ Anyone who eats of this bread will live a real life, an eternal life. I like the word real more than eternal-because we have made the word ‘eternal’ to mean something that will happen in the future… but eternal simply means timeless. Eternal life is something that springs from God and bursts in and through our lives now.
But, this isn’t just metaphorical bread Jesus is speaking of—he goes on to say the bread he gives to the world is himself—this flesh and blood self. We sometimes say, yes—he’s speaking of Communion, of the Eucharist, but I wonder if we maybe jump to that too quickly.
Have you ever seen a picture of a baby, a new born—from a friend or family member? You see that picture; you learn the baby’s name, weight, how long they are. But that picture isn’t satisfying—there is an almost immediate thought—I can’t wait to meet this precious little person.
If a picture is not enough—why do we short cut our faith and think metaphors are good enough? Jesus actually sat with people, he actually touched them, he honestly talked with them—he truly gave himself to people.
Watch what God does, and then you do it…learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious, but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
The next time I saw Mary Jane, my mentor, I told her how I went crazy making bread. How I was challenged to think of Jesus as the Bread of Life in a new way—if bread was essential to survival for people in Jesus’ day, he was saying that he too was essential for survival. I told her how Communion had become more meaningful after this experience of making bread, of thinking how Jesus gave himself to all people, and the ways we can experience that in our everyday life.
She listened, smiled, and when I finished rambling thinking I got it all figured out—she gently asked… are we not called to be Christ in the world? If Jesus gave of himself while he walked this earth, aren’t we called to give of ourselves? I wonder, what would it look like if we thought of ourselves as bread—that God is working and shaping us—and we are giving of ourselves to those around us?
I panicked. No, I’m not ready for that—I’m not bread, I’m not done baking yet—I don’t even know if I’ve even been put in the oven! I am not bread yet. I need more time.
But bread doesn’t become bread when it is pulled from the oven. Bread becomes bread when flour and water mix with leaven.
We keep thinking we are dough, waiting to rise and feel the heat and growth from the oven. But the baker is already pulling us out saying, “You are ready. The time is now, you are meant to be shared, now.”
And that is so hard. Life is so hard. We want a Wonder Bread Faith—with a teeny, tiny, soft crust, perfectly shaped pieces filling a decorative bag. But Wonder bread doesn’t satisfy; it does not comfort us in times of great pain, or great doubt. It does not console us in times of loss, or care for us in times when we feel utterly alone.
This fake and overly processed bread leaves us empty. Just as fake comforts of “don’t worry, everything will work out one day,” or, “God is just testing your faith” can leave us feeling isolated, alone, and angry.
And that is when Christ steps in and says—as I am bread for you—so too; you are bread for one another.
Watch what God does, then you do it…his love was not cautious, but extravagant…love like that.
Life is a long and hard journey. But we are bread, our flesh and blood selves are bread, meant to sustain and support one another along the way.
We don’t have to wait for it; the baker is pulling us out of the oven now. Now is the time, to share in this life with one another, to support one another along the way. To love the way Christ loved us—because his love was not cautious, but extravagant. He didn’t love us in order to get something from us—but to give everything of himself to us.
And we are called to be bread for one another; we are called to Love like that.