Sorry about not writing. I have been baking bread and preparing sweets for the holidays, anything but writing, I guess, but since the weather outside is frightful, I figure I can take a moment to write.
I always intend to write about one topic, but then as I begin to write I go somewhere else entirely. When I thought about a Christmas blog, I intended to write about how to manage stress during the holidays, but as I investigated I found there are already plenty of helpful tips out there. I’ve decided, instead, to stay with my process and the subject of process. In this case, spiritual process.
Cooking therapy is really all about process. Akin to meditation, when you are cooking a good meal or baking bread or dessert you are engrossed in process. You are in the present moment. I recently read an article on Smithsonian.com titled, “Feeling Down? Scientists Say Cooking and Baking Could Help You Feel Better.” The article sites psychology theory indicating improved emotional functioning and outlook with creative pursuits like baking. Focused attention and creative activity facilitate good feelings. And lets face it, what beats pulling a freshly baked loaf of bread from the oven? I believe cooking and baking is intimately entwined with our spiritual and communal lives as well. The process of baking and the process of sharing equally significant.
We often do not know exactly what our process is about when we are in the midst of meditating or baking. Sometimes, we need to simply stay with the process to see what bubbles up, much like sourdough. Currently, I am all about the sourdough. What is bubbling up for me? In fact, my thoughts were just interrupted by my timer to take a loaf from the oven. Honestly, I’m not sure what my process is yet, but we are sure eating a lot of delicious bread around here.
I have wondered what my fascination with bread baking is about and I’ve decided to take a wait and see attitude. I believe the answer will reveal itself eventually or that perhaps the process will lead me where I need to go. I suspect that waiting is exactly what this is about.
This time of year I am given to spiritual reflection. I have a favorite book by John Shea, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long, that despite its name I reach for during the holiday season. It’s a bit cerebral, but there are gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout. Starlight is the kind of book where I will be looking for one thing then suddenly an hour has passed because there are so many pearls to choose from. I thought I might find a gem or two to explain my process that apparently involves copious amounts of flour and water. He did not disappoint. I opened to a random page to see if anything spoke to me and sure enough I found not so much an answer as an explanation that makes spiritual sense to me.
For one thing, did you know that Bethlehem means House of Bread? Given the season, perhaps my inclination for bread-baking isn’t so strange after all. About this, John Shea writes about Adam and Eve’s encounter with the shepherds who invite them to search for the Child in Swaddling Clothes as written in Luke’s Gospels. About their search Shea writes, “They may not have a clear idea of what they want, but that they want is the steady driving force of their lives,” (90). About the shepherd’s invitation he says, “They must invite Adam and Eve to Bethlehem, to the house of bread, where their hunger can be fed and their thirst slaked,” (89).
He goes on to say, “Those who are more satisfied would probably pass up the shepherd’s invitation. The earth-roamers are on their way to Bethlehem, looking for they know not what,” (90).
I can live with not knowing exactly what I want. I never have known to be honest. My prayer now is to have the courage to follow the thread to take the next step when it comes. By the way, part of the sourdough process is to look for the threads of gluten before you turn up the mixer too high while kneading. Do you get my symbolic drift?
I planned to leave well enough alone here, but I found another pearl in John Shea’s book to share about the benefits of engaging the process and why you might as well bake bread or go for a swim or do what you do while you wait for you know not what. He writes, “Attending to the present, watching it emerge and contributing to its creation, is one of the premier skills of the spiritual life. It is also one of the best ways to become aware that the terrors of the unknown future are born and nurtured by the mind,” (117).
I have pages marked all over this book that I could share but for now I hope it is enough to inspire you to find his book, originally published in 1992. I will go back to my bread making.