Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Risen Life Everyday

What an incredible time of year this is! The beginnings of new life are everywhere around us as we celebrate the Life-out-of-Death that Jesus walked and was and opened to us all.

Since there is too much 'real life' going on for me at the moment, with end of term tasks and tiredness, to put flesh on all the bare-bone thoughts growing inside me about this astounding Life, please allow me to repost something I wrote almost two years ago about life and bread and resurrection and everyday miracles. I don't have sourdough bread on the go right now, but the red clover sprouts on my windowsill and the milk kefir growing in a mason jar in my basement are screaming LIFE to me every day! What is screaming LIFE at you?!


I’m talking here about my sourdough bread, of which I just made another delicious batch yesterday, this time with half unbleached white and half wholewheat flour. Making sourdough bread is a beautifully simple process, but as there is undoubtedly some science to it too, I have taken to recording how I feed the starter and make the bread each time, and what the results are, so as to learn and be able to bake the best bread possible. And each time, documented in my special new food journal, there is exultation (It has risen!) when I come to check the dough after a night of the natural yeasts working their wonders, and find that it has turned from a solid lump to an evidently living mass: a being that has grown to almost twice its original size, that sighs and moves when you touch it, and exudes a sweet, yeasty and slightly aromatic odour.

As I once again write my jubilant testimony to this miraculous transformation, I realize that it has a distinct resonance with the Paschal greeting – “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!” – hence the title of this blog post. But while such rejoicing is fitting for Easter Sunday morning resurrection, is it really appropriate for Monday morning bread-making? Is my title, or my sense of triumph, somehow sacrilegious?

Well let me say first of all that when I go downstairs in the morning, open the corner cupboard, take out the big blue bowl, lift the plate covering my dough and find that it is changed, it always feels like an everyday miracle. I almost gasp each time, never ceasing to be surprised and delighted, particularly because all I have done is mix a little salt, five cups of flour and two cups of water into a cup measure of starter, stirred it and left it alone. No kneading needed! With next to no effort and very little time on my part, a living food has been created that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family. This is not of my doing. I may be an agent but I am not the source. This bread is testament to the life we are surrounded by: the life (and natural yeast!) that flows in the air we breathe and the water we drink, that resides in the warmth of the sun and the goodness of the earth. The bread is testament to the fact that this life, when acknowledged, respected and wisely harnessed, can yield revitalizing miracles day after day.
So my sourdough bread is a miracle to me: maybe not on the scale of the Resurrected Christ, but nevertheless part of the same Life that comes to me as pure gift and deserves to be celebrated. My Easter-like rejoicing over bread is, in fact, absolutely appropriate, because it reflects the ongoing incarnational nature of the life of God as I perceive it. Ronald Rolheiser describes it like this:
The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, although God is found there, but in our homes. As Nikos Kazantzakis puts it: “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.” The God of the incarnation is more domestic than monastic.

Rolheiser also discusses the fact that, in Christian theology, ‘the body of Christ’ refers all at once to the human Jesus, the bread of the Eucharist, and the community of faith. God has become flesh and bone, and bread and wine, and blood and tears. I love this, all the more because it has taken me so long to grasp it, as the false divisions – between spiritual and material, sacred and profane, human and divine – finally begin to crumble. The wonderful Rolheiser again:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him.*
But often I don’t see, so I am grateful for the moments when my eyes are opened: when the lifting of the plate covering the waiting dough feels like the rolling away of the stone from a tomb; when the risen bread resonates with the surprise of new life; when the five cups of flour and the two of water are as miraculous to me as the five loaves and two fish; and when I am happy to sit as a family around a loaf of warm, fresh bread and delight together in sharing both its earthy goodness and our imperfect, sacred love.
So when I look on each new loaf with its crispy crust and marvelously moist yet airy interior, I will continue to exclaim: “It is risen! Alleluia!”

*All Ronald Rolheiser quotes are taken from one of my all-time favourite books Seeking Spirituality, published in North America as The Holy Longing. He quotes from Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ.

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