Bread has been on my mind lately. I’m thinking about the process of mixing yeast into a warm water and honey mixture. Before long this mixture becomes foamy, evidence of life within. Add a little butter and salt and then enough flour to thicken the mixture into a sticky ball. Pour this ball out on a floured table top and kneed more flour into the mixture until it becomes elastic and holds its shape. Smooth some oil onto the surface of the bread ball and place it into a bowl to rise, covered with a cloth. An hour later, maybe less, the bread ball has doubled in size. And then comes one of my favorite parts, plunging my fist into the center of the bread/ball. When I placed the dough in the bowl it was a small dense oily ball at the bottom. But now it fills the bowl like a deep breath. If I don’t release the air the yeast will stop growing and the ball will eventually collapse back into itself, and the dough will be ruined. This ball of living dough, soon to be bread, is waiting to exhale.
The final steps in bread making are easy. If you are making bread for Eucharist, as I was yesterday, you simply take the exhaled ball of dough, divide it into appropriate size portions and shape it. I made foccacia shaped loaves, about 10 inches in diameter and two inches thick. I let the loaf sit for about 10 minutes and then baked it in the oven for 15 minutes.
I’ve been thinking about bread lately in part because I had to decide if I was going to make this bread for Eucharist or buy it. The truth is it isn’t going to be used in a Eucharist, but it will be used in a worship service that we are calling a “Love Feast.” This Love Feast will come at the end of the Words Matter conference (see previous post), it will be our final worship experience. And because a number of the people coming are not “In Communion” with each other, or rather our Christian denominations are not in communion with each other, a Eucharist is not appropriate. So, really, any kind of bread would do.
It would have been much easier to just buy four or five loaves of bread.
But somehow store bought bread just didn’t seem right. Making bread for Eucharist or a Love Feast is an act of love and prayer, it’s a ministry. It represents the coming together of many separate and distinct ingredients and creating a whole. Considering what we are hoping to create in and from this gathering making the bread just seemed right. We are after all considering the words, images, and symbols that speak to us about Christ, about God, about faith, about community. For me bread speaks to those elements we are considering.
I’ve been thinking about bread, and how it is that some of us can share bread in a sacred meal and some of us can’t. Is this the kind of meal that Jesus intended when he broke bread with Judas and Peter, and the others at that last supper? Some can share in the bread and some cannot?
Those coming to this conference, all 30 of us, are from a wide range of Christian denominations, male and female, young adults and older adults, Korean, African-American, American Indian, Asian Indian, Caucasian, (and probably other ethnicities I can’t think of off the top of my head) hetero and GLBT. In other words, as diverse as we could create.
The bread I made yesterday is intended to represent diversity too. I made a gluten free loaf that is white and crumbly, a white/whole wheat blend that is caramel colored and slightly sweet, a whole wheat that is a warm brown, and a rye/bulgar blend that is dark and earthy. Our love feast will have breads of different flavors, colors, and textures. The bread will not be consecrated with the words that, in some traditions, my own included, make it holy, make it the Body of Christ. But the bread will hold the prayers I prayed while making it, prayers for a grace filled conversation. The bread will receive the prayers of those about to consume it. And somehow, by the generosity of the Spirit, present with us in that gathering, I hope the bread becomes sacred. I hope that Christ is there, in us and in that bread. I hope that there is something holy about this gathered community sharing this bread just as it is.