The bread took 8 days to make. Some initial decisions had to be made, but nothing greater than whether to use white or whole-wheat flour. The most important factor for success was the need for a time commitment of daily attention. It started in a small bowl with flour and water set on the kitchen counter. You see, the bacteria in the pasty mixture produced lactic and acetic acids, which in turn attracted wild yeast for cultivation. With daily feedings of additional flour and water evidence of the yeast-farm’s prosperity is seen as the concoction bubbles and grows. Each day it needed to be stirred down. More flour and water were added and it continued to react, proving yeast from the air found the seed starter and liked it. The mixture had to be stirred daily, forcing the gas escape. More flour and water were added, then you waited some more. It grew. It is stirred down. Every day involves a step. Nothing takes very long or is difficult. It simply needs a little something every day…a little here, a little there. The regular rhythm of mindful attention turns the flour and water paste into something that will add flavor and leavening to bread dough. There is no rushing the process, no addition of instant yeast or other agents to cause the bread to rise. It is simply flour, water and deliberate time and attention that allows the dough to slowly find its life.
Bread bakers call the results of this process the ‘barm’. I think it must be short for bread-farm. This is the stuff you can keep for decades in the refrigerator and portion out at any time you want to make bread. It must be fed on a regular basis and added to if a portion is used. To make bread, barm is kneaded with salt, more flour and more water. Variety, at this point, can lead to amazing results. Olive oil, butter or eggs can increase the richness of the loaf. Some medleys of herbs and spices can reflect ethnic foods. Olive and rosemary bread becomes a Mediterranean taste sensation while the addition of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg represents a Scandinavian heritage. Shaping the bread into a sandwich loaf, a baguette or a braid can indicate whether the bread is for everyday eating or for a holiday. Whatever it becomes, it is a gift at the table – evidence of time and diligence for the sole purpose of sharing bread at the meal.
It only took 8 days to become a routine in my life – one that will remain forever as long as I continue to nurture it.
The thing is, this daily bread is very much like the spiritual walk.
- It takes regularity and diligence for optimal results.
- What you did a day or two ago can become stale, so daily attention remains necessary.
- Try changes. Some might not work as well as others. Some will be amazing.
- There is plenty for sharing.
- It cannot be hurried.
The problem is, we live in a culture focused on ‘faster is better’ and we want our results immediately. It’s difficult to embrace a contemplative lifestyle when so much of what we do is focused on production and immediate reward. Contemplation can look like daydreaming and wasted time. How do we respond when answers aren’t immediate? How do we respond to the beat of God’s heart? How do we slow down long enough to hear God’s gentle whisper beaconing to us to come closer, to simply breathe and listen?
Like the bread, it’s with daily attention – just a little at a time; just enough to focus; just enough to be still and know who God is. Like bread, there will be times when keeping contemplation simple will be enough. One might choose to share conversation with God in that thing we call prayer while sitting in a pleasant spot or while noticing nature on a walk or during a daily run. Maybe it comes with a favorite passage of scripture, a daily devotion or a conversation with friends. It might not be the same every time. There might be moments when you add to the practice for variety, much like oils, herbs and spices add flavor to bread. It might come in the form of a retreat, a conference or joining a discussion group. The thing is, God is always and everywhere. We only need to look to find God’s presence wherever we are. That ‘looking’ takes a little practice. Not a lot…just a bit of diligent attention each day. In time, it will grow into something amazing. Kind of like that warm, freshly baked bread…