Yesterday I found myself reflecting on making sourdough bread in this time of isolation and uncertainty. Looking at the mechanics of the process and the experience leads to a different way of reflecting on life.
Making bread, especially the long slow process of sourdough, is a journey. I daresay a spiritual journey if you will let it be such. You begin with basic elements of flour and water. To make a starter, that’s the very beginning. Simply flour and water combined with time and attention. Let it work. Let it do its thing. If you rush it, the results are less than what you might hope for. If you need things to happen faster, keep it warm but not hot. Hot will kill it. If you need to slow it down, put it in the fridge. Not the freezer, just the fridge.
Isn’t that how a getting to know the heart of the Universe (which I call God) works? Basic elements like flour and water. Combine. Let it catch wild yeast in the air around it, or let any yeast trapped in with the wheat grow by giving it water. It grows and bubbles and it can double or triple in size. But, you have to feed it, and you have to remove some of it before feeding or it gets out of hand size-wise. And it might just die on you if it gets to large or out of hand.
Sometimes I think that’s a problem for big congregations (big parishes, megachurches, etc). The beginnings were active and vibrant. They understood and nourished the process. The excess was removed or allowed to go another way, while the core was fed and continued to grow and overflow and give away the excess. Isn’t that what Jesus (and/or Paul and others) seemed to want? Go out and spread the Good News to all the world.
Take that starter, feed it up, take the excess and do many things with it: bake a loaf or 2 of bread, make crumpets/waffles/tortillas, pass it on to someone else so they can feed it up and make more bread/waffles/crumpets and maybe even pass it on themselves. The resulting bread draws from the starter but the specifics are influenced by the flours that are added (whole wheat? white? eichorn? rye? barley? oats?). The product is influenced by any number of additives like powdered milk, seeds, how much salt and how much time at what temperature is used for fermenting and rising. How was it shaped and baked: in a steam oven, a dutch oven, as a boule or in loaf pans? How hot was the oven? How long did it cook?
The expression is different, but it’s all bread. And, all sourdough bread. It might be more or less sour. More or less chewy. Beautifully “decorated” by the slits made before baking. Or not. It’s all bread and it draws it life from the yeast that grew in the dough. (Don’t get me started down the road where I think about the yeast having to die before the bread is completely cooked… for another day).
It’s hard to throw away the discard when the starter is being fed or in its beginning. And, the discard can be used for other purposes. Yeah! But, if you don’t remove the discard, then your starter is going to flounder and possibly die. If you can’t let go, it (you, me) can’t grow and become healthy and active. Let it go! let it go! Rejoice that there is so much spirit or love that it has to be culled or spread around. Rejoice that there are other congregations or denominations or even religions because there is so much Love to go around. And the results are so varied and delicious.
My favorite it the simple version of the bread. Flour and water make the starter; flour and water combine and relax together; add the starter and the salt and let it work. Bake it at high heat in in a dutch oven lined with parchment paper. Crisp crust, serious bread, the taste of the sourdough coming through strongly. That doesn’t make the waffles, crumpets, sandwich loaves and buns bad or wrong. It doesn’t make it wrong when you add some yeast to help the process. They are each good in their own right.
In this time of uncertainty and social distancing, I’m having some troubles adapting. I long to be able to go to mass (not watch it on Youtube); I need the leavening and the interaction of being physically involved. I really haven’t gotten in to watching mass. It’s not a show. It’s not about seeing it “done right.” It’s about being present here and now. For me, that is very hard to do with a livestream video or recorded video. For others, this video mass is a lifesaver. I don’t feel that the church is being persecuted because of the rules about gathering close. It’s a call to look deeper and let the yeast work in whatever way it needs to do so.
Holy Saturday — the waiting time after Jesus dies on the the cross, but before he rises much to our joy and surprise. Just what is so holy?
If you are a Christian who has walked Holy Week with the scriptures, or in other years, perhaps attended Palm Sunday, Holy [Maundy] Thursday mass, Good Friday services complete with venerating the cross, you are waiting on Easter now. Walking through Holy Week means seeing a good man, a holy man, a man without blame be put to death in a gruesome manner for doing nothing more than living his truth.
I recently had a hard drive crash. Very limited backup. For that matter, it all went south as I was hooking up a new drive to make a full backup of the one with the precious data that got damaged. It’s off with a data recovery lab now, but it could well be lost. Photographs (digital files) covering about 5 years – poof! gone. And, to make it more crushing, it happened while I was trying to make sure it couldn’t happen. I could well have knocked the drive over myself but I honestly don’t remember doing so.
I know that sounds trivial on the grand scale of things, but the impact has been so profound I find I can barely admit it to others. The embarrassment that I, who should know better, would be in a position where I could let this happen. The grief over what might be lost memories. As I wait for the data recovery folks to let me know what they can salvage, I am in darkness. Not unlike those first followers of the Way: something I thought was a given has disappeared. I don’t know if it will come back and if so, what form will it take? How much will return? What will it look like? How much will it cost?
These sorts of forced relinquishment of things I consider a part of me are little bits of how I find God working in me. Almost 20 years ago, our house burned. But, the photos came through will little damage. No people were lost. No pets died. My choice was not whether to have some parts of my life die, but how to respond to the loss. It was pretty clear that I wouldn’t die from it, that I would grieve, but all would be well.
I wonder about the Marys and the disciples. What were they going through in that time in between? It was a time of quiet. Of silence. Where was God? How could they be abandoned like that? Did Peter blame himself for denying Jesus 3 times (just as Jesus said he would)? Judas was driven to such despair he killed himself. Even when the empty tomb was discovered it seems that there was not yet any understanding of what that meant.
We are lucky. We know the next chapter. But, it seems that we must all walk through Holy Week, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter over and over and over again. Leaving a few pieces behind each time. Learning once again that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot grow a new plant.
The other night we had friends over for dinner. A bit of a disagreement or difference of opinion erupted, mostly because of my reaction to what one of our guests put forth. I fear I came across badly, but my reaction told me a lot about myself. The friend was so in awe of The Eucharist — which he proceeded to proclaim in the most magical terms of changes to physical blood and flesh. This is sort of description of The Eucharist that a) creeps me out, b) makes me angry because of what I perceive as a juvenile magic trick mentality and c) just seems so foreign to what I understand Jesus to have meant when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
I have to do some deep searching within myself to find a better way to respond. Displaying the anger and the snark are not particularly helpful, even if they do reveal to me some strong emotions that I usually keep packed away. It’s sort of the “Why don’t you tell me how you really feel?” approach.
I’m thinking that I react so badly because others with this mentality have in the past called me heretic and tried to restructure my [malformed] conscience. I must remember that the blessing in those attempts was that I dug deep into my faith and found another dimension that was previously hidden. I searched for the meaning of the Cosmic Christ. I always come back to the reality that the Eucharistic mystery is a lot of why I am RC instead of being a part of another Christian communion. The magical approach, to me, obscures the absolute Wow factor that the Creator (God) chose to become one of us and show us that we are not alone, that we are loved beyond measure and that all of creation (bread, wine, animals, trees, rocks and volcanoes) are a part of this. I think to the words “Fruit of the field and work of human hands” — we work with God/Jesus/Spirit to create the elements that bring the reality of Love to our lives and give us a way to say “THANK YOU!”
Christmas is ongoing – day 7 now – and I am still reeling from a Christmas revelation that if we as Christians truly believe that God loves us so much that He chose to be one of us we would light the world on fire in a good way. If we accepted that it was done with the cooperation of a young woman/girl and a trusting spouse we would see that we MUST cooperate. We must trust. We can’t judge from the outside. We must love the out-of-wedlock mother, the immigrant fleeing to find safety, the smelly shepherds and the kings/wise men in our midst and on our borders. And, we say “thank you” when we receive the fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
Art: listening and entering into a place where the muse (or the Holy Spirit) can speak to me with a vision that needs to be passed on, or at least given form be it in color, dance, music or some other manifestation
Craft: the means by which art is brought to life; the techniques and knowledge of how to “make it so””
I work at Craft. I work at technique, or programming, or color palette, or efficiency. But, it is hollow when I don’t seem to be able to hear The Voice, or my voice. And that is frustrating to me. I come closer to this in music and dance than in those things that I work at. I’m an ok singer, and ok guitarist, and ok (maybe not even ok) dancer. But, those actions are almost always where I go beyond and tap into something bigger. In some ways this blog is way to give voice to those stirrings of creativity I sometimes experience. I could spend more time on the craft of writing, but then I’m not sure that’s the point.
Maybe in the new year of 2020 I can take the time to get in touch, to enter through the eye of the needle and find the great beyond that needs expression. Letting go is not easy. But, maybe that’s just what I need to do.
As I press on my journey, I find myself caught between not fitting comfortably into a given tradition and feeling connected to many traditions. My path seems to be as a Christian, carrying the backpack with a brand name of Roman Catholic. The road is a winding one with hills and valleys, paved road and pig trail, desert, jungle and old growth forest. Just as with the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, there are many “ways” which have many origination points. The path is marked with yellow arrows. Funny though — those arrows can be found in all sorts of places: on a tree, a sidewalk, a rock, the side of a building. Sometimes you miss one and get lost. Then, you find your way back to the last arrow you saw, or maybe the one you missed, and set off again carrying the experiences of the time lost with you. They all lead to Santiago de Compostela. And some pilgrims continue on to Finisterre and Muxia to see “the end of the world.”
On this Way, you often leave things behind as they become unnecessary to your journey. Maybe you find and pick up something discarded by another pilgrim that fills a need. You become a part of the journey itself.
I get a daily reflection from the Center for Active Contemplation (CAC — Richard Rohr). The above thoughts were brought to light after reading today’s reflection which included the following which came out of several meetings of people from different religious traditions:
The Snowmass Conference Eight Points of Agreement came into being. We include them here as a way of sharing a contemporary expression of perennial wisdom arising not from ancient texts but from the lived experience of contemporary mystics—women and men who, while coming from specific traditions, dare to step beyond them to see what is on its own terms.
The Eight Points of Agreement
- The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
- Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
- Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
- Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
- The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
- Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
- As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
- Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. 
I know I have a problem — I like to play versions of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. I can get absorbed. I can use it to back off from the world (I’m a bit of an introvert and sometimes I do need to retreat).
That said, there are lessons to be learned from games. This morning’s “Aha!” is focus on the goal and let go of the unnecessary things — in games and in life. Were those 2 angry Red Birds that got left behind when all the bubbles tumbled down past an opened lock necessary to accomplish the goal? Uh — no, it turns out. But, I like using all of my special Red Birds (and Yellow Birds) and I didn’t get to make things explode with the 2 that got left behind! Let it go! They were distractions. Unnecessary to completing the goal.
And so with life. Sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my hurt, my sense of righteous indignation. I mean, that’s like letting the other guy win, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is necessary to leave these things on the table and walk away. Of course, I have to actually own the hurt, anger, frustration before I can actually lay it down and leave it on the table. I must admit that this person did indeed cause me a lot of pain and grief. I have to look at the present, and try not to let it be colored so intensely by the past. If he wants to converse with me now, and pretend it never happened, well — what am I losing by being present in the present and relaxing? I don’t forget exactly and I am cautious around him. But, not letting go (not forgiving) is really only hurting me it seems.
It’s hard to figure out sometimes why I hang on to some things: be they hurts or old tech, clothes that don’t fit or that I wouldn’t wear even if they did, photos that are out of focus and need to be deleted. I just found a Garmin, an iPod mini and a Fitbit in a drawer. All dead as doornails. Why do I keep them? I let negative reactions keep me from making contact with others. How are these things advancing me toward seeing/loving with God’s eyes? Hanging on to those clothes is a bit of hanging on to a past version of me.
Let it go!