August 19, 2010 § 3 Comments
While I’m mulling over what this blog is about, I’m going to be making bread. And to some degree that’s a metaphor for what I’m hoping to do here anyway.
Bread. First you have to sow the seed. Sometimes wheat grows without you even realizing it. And before you know it, it’s ready for harvest – like that parable I never even knew about, till I read it one day and realized that very thing had happened to me!
Then there’s the separating of wheat from chaff. Another great metaphor. And that’s what I need to be careful about in this blog. To try and get a good sense of what’s important and what can drop away or be let go of.
Grinding the wheat. So many ways to do that. A meditative activity, requiring a lot of strength if you do it by hand. Apparently flour is either best used immediately after grinding or else after it has aged for a few weeks. So while I’d like to grind my own, I’d have to do it weekly. Or plan ahead. Think of having to draw your own water and then grind the wheat for the flour. But maybe easier than what I’m setting out to do in this blog. If I can manage it.
Kneading. Once you’ve put your ingredients together, you have this living substance in your hands. You’re helping it become elastic, stretchy, as you break down the gluten, and the dough becomes warm. You can feel that warmth – aware that the substance you touch is alive, growing. You’ve helped put life into that dough, assisted in a creative process. The dough lives and grows – till it’s baked. Then it has to die. But just before it does so, it gives you its last “rise” – and once the bread is completely baked, you have this wonderful food, which is completely transformed from the dusty, sticky, separate ingredients you started out with. There’s something miraculous and mysterious about this whole process – as ordinary as it is.
The simplest bread, the kind I’ll be making, requires just 4 ingredients: water, yeast, salt, and flour. That plus time and patience and a bit of experimentation. Right now I’m trying to work out how to manage dough that will take a “seal” pressed into it, while at the same time not being so soft and yielding that it bubbles up when you bake it. That’s my dilemma. I want it to be tasty, with some nice hearty whole wheat in it. And I want to do it with love. But it has these special requirements – like the limitations that you accept when you paint icons. Because it’s my modest contribution to the Liturgy. A gift to the community. Participation in the sacred. The sacred in everyday life. And that verges on the reason for this blog: A meditation on the Universal Priesthood of the Baptized. I have a mind to pull the scriptural quotes on that. And around that. To consider what that means. And how it relates to living from one’s heart. What the Fathers have to say. And the Mothers. Probably whole dissertations have already been done on this same topic. But I need to explore it for myself. Just as I need to figure out how to make a tasty, hearty loaf, marked with the seal on top but unblemished on the inside (by any defects, like bubbles).
Lots of metaphors here. Lots to think about while measuring flour and water, kneading, waiting for the dough to rise (I like to do it twice – nice, slow rises) before it’s shaped and sealed and baked. I intend to experiment on Thursday and take a loaf or two to Vespers Thursday night. If it works out, I’ll be all set for my second Saturday of baking communion bread on the Sabbath. Baking – alone – on the Sabbath. In order to Break Bread – together – on the Lord’s Day.
I love that the Orthodox use real bread! With all the metaphors that real bread, and real bread-making, provide. Real bread that can be broken. Bread that people will take into their own hands after receiving (being fed, like a child) from the communion cup. Real bread that can be easily traced back to grains of wheat and flour and someone baking it. Real bread that is chewy and tasty. Bread that you want more of. Making of the ordinary something which communicates Holy Mystery! And it’s things like this that I want to explore in this blog.