When I first began attending Simple Church in early spring of 2015, creating bread quickly became a spiritual practice for me. The act of mixing a few simple ingredients together, kneading the dense mass, allowing it to rest, shaping the loaves, resting once more, and finally sending it to the oven became the rhythm of Sabbath. Though the process of bread making might seem complicated, it embodies the beautiful realization of creating order out of chaos. Flour will become airborne, and our hands will always be coated in a dried white crust, but the deeply rich brown tones of the finished loaf and the warm aroma speak to a deeper reality of the rhythm of work, rest, and play.
I’ve been reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath recently, and it speaks volumes to this form of Sabbath practice. Though Heschel would argue that bread making requires more labor than rest, it’s in the rhythmic pattern of time where the Divine bids us to simply be present to the process. For Heschel, it’s not enough to rest in our spiritual lives. Rather, he states that “the soul cannot celebrate alone, so the body must be invited to partake in the rejoicing of the Sabbath.” In the midst making bread, I’m able to focus solely on the act, fully caring for the ingredients and the people who will partake in the loaf. In the time it takes for the dough to rise, we wait patiently, for we know that in the waiting we will find wholeness. When we are fully present to our work, Sabbath becomes that much more meaningful. Heschel says it like this: “Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination.”
When I spend my time making bread, whether for the church or at home, I am able to embody a sense of presence that is different from other practices. You can’t rush the bread making process; time is the only thing that will move us from separate isolated ingredients to one cohesive loaf. And in the act of breaking this bread together, we encounter time that stands still, a snapshot of the labor of love manifest through chaos, ordering, and time. This reminds me of a beautiful hymn called Christus Paradox, in which a key line proclaims Christ as that which remains present, standing outside of time and yet being so intimately close: You, the everlasting instant…Worthy is our earthly Jesus! Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
As I reflect on the art and practice of bread making, I recall meeting with my friends before the sun rose to greet the dough that had been mixed overnight and allowed to rest in natural fermentation. We would weigh out each loaf, gently shaping the dough into individual rounds, allowing them to relax before pulling them into their final form. We sat on the kitchen floor while each pillow of dough slowly rose, our quiet conversation ebbing and flowing in the rhythm of our thoughts, silence falling from time to time, breathing in each moment. Bread making, particularly with other people, has become one of the most beautiful and most powerful forms of Sabbath that I’ve ever experienced, for it is in this form of rest that we rise.