Watching bread rise

So I’m reading merrily along in an article about the “foodie” movement by Ian Brown, one of my favourite Globe and Mail writers, when I hit a Mennonite joke I haven’t heard before.

Describing activity in the pastry kitchen of a Canadian chef school, Brown writes,

[other students] were standing in front of the…bread oven, injecting puffs of steam and watching baguettes rise through its glass doors – ‘Mennonite TV,’ they called it.”

I’m not sure if that’s a dig at Mennonite connections to food (of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook or the More with Less variety) or – more likely – at the stereotype of Mennonites as “anti-modernist,” as technology-free. Well, either way, ha ha.

I can now confess that it’s been a long time since a TV program held my interest beyond a single episode. The miracle of yeast in bread, however, hasn’t lost its charm, and that’s going back to my first batch of buns at age 13. Just this morning, in fact, I got my hands into dough and made up this pile of them, because it’s nice to have home-made buns in the freezer.

Seriously though (we may laugh but not too long!), it reminds me of something else that Mennonites (a.k.a. Anabaptists) are alert to, ideally at least, and that’s the kingdom of God as something already begun, participatory, and as mysterious as the Spirit. And it reminds me of a small kitchen parable Jesus told.

What shall I compare the kingdom of God with? It is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through. Luke 13:20-21.

I mix and knead and cover the dough, and when I look again, it’s risen to a lovely mound. As if a fluke, I push the dough down, and pinch it into balls on pans, cover them and leave. And when I check, those irrepressible balls of dough have risen again. Stuck in the heat of the oven, they insist on swelling even more, until they turn brown and are deliciously done.

This Lenten season I’m trying to offer attentiveness to what God may be up to in my world. Watching bread rise, as it were. Last week that meant entering deeply into a number of stories of significant pain. But there was something moving and alive in them too, something good, something very vulnerable but real. Kingdom growth, like the yeast miracles of the kitchen.

Parable of the leaven, etching by Jan Luyken

6 thoughts on “Watching bread rise

  1. As you know, I have given up wheat including Mennonite and other buns for Lent. So I found this a poignant connection to my own personal journey at this moment, but I must confess my sense of loss re no buns was not mitigated by reading and seeing this. Still, I really like the yeast metaphor relative to the rising presence and influence in the world. So apropos.

    • Hi Al, I hope you’ll eventually post about your experience of living through Lent without “bread.” — And (note to readers) great post at your site on water, another wonderful symbol of life, joy.

  2. Dora,
    That’s funny. I read that same article and read that same Mennonite TV paragraph out loud to my husband. Loved it. I think it’s as close to TV as the old-order Mennonites could get 🙂
    And I agree, the yeasty bits of ‘entering deeply into a number of stories of significant pain’ release us and give rise to something new and nourishing…I believe it is the art of transforming the pain and darkness into art.
    Great post. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Colleen. 🙂 We’d probably have a few stories to exchange about our lives and TV. I was 15, I think it was, when we got our first one — small B & W, in the basement of course, and “just for hockey games.” Oh, and the news. And “Bonanza,” which I realized many years later seemed to feature a gun being pulled every three minutes or so. Fine Menno fare that was!

  3. Several years ago, we had a “bread baking and prayer retreat.” It was an all morning rhythm of coming together to bake and reflect, and going by ourselves to pray in various stations. Gathering to mix, separating to pray, gathering to punch down the dough, separating to pray, gathering to form the loaves, separating to pray, gathering to put the down into the oven, separating to pray, gathering to take the loaves out, and having communion. Each time we went to pray, the dough would rise or bake without our immediate presence and participation. We each made dough for two loaves – one for ourselves, one to give away. And each prayer station was set up by a different individual to share their creative way of praying — praying with painting, neighbourhood prayer walk, praying with icons, repeating meaningful prayers of others, etc. For me, it was a nourishing retreat for both men and women.

    • This is such a great idea, Mary Anne, such powerful symbolism, But not just imagery. A real intersection of dailyness and prayer. “Each time we went to pray, the dough would rise or bake without our immediate presence and participation.” That to me is what’s so amazing here, in a nutshell. Thanks so much!

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