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