Bread and Spirituality

On the eve of our daughter’s third birthday, she and I spent hours in the kitchen baking bread. We mixed. We kneaded. We waited. We shaped the dough. We carefully opened the oven door just enough to fill ourselves up with the smell of baking bread. We got flour in our hair. We made a mess of epic proportions. It was beautiful — her little hands and my not-so-little hands working and playing and creating something good and wholesome together. It was almost prayer.

I have always found bread making to be an intensely spiritual endeavor. Somehow flour, water, yeast and salt — the most common and mundane of ingredients — are combined to make something warm and hearty and magical. A miracle. A little “ex nihilo” creation right in my kitchen. It is sensual. It requires creativity and attention and patience and hope. It yields something good and wholesome. It has the ability to nourish, to comfort, to provide a moment of reprieve from all of the coldness and harshness that bombards us out there in the world. I love bread. A lot. And what I love about bread is not so different from what I love about the Catholic Church. In the end, they represent something good… something that feeds me and feels like home.

When I started going to Mass, I was overwhelmed by the whole-bodyness of Catholic worship. Mass is not a spectator sport. We stand, we kneel, we genuflect, we make the sign of the cross. There are bells to hear, hands to grasp; there is incense to smell, holy water to touch, and our Lord — our own precious Lord — to savor. Catholic liturgy recognizes the human capacity and desire for a sensual experience of the divine. God made our bodies. God gifted us with our senses. And they are good. They allow us to experience the world around us and the One who breathed it into being. We come to Mass whole persons with bodies and desires and burdens and hopes and failures and virtues and dignity. We offer all of ourselves to Jesus — the One who offers himself to us every time we celebrate the Mass. We come to his table to be fed. In the same way our three little ones patter up to our big dining room table in expectation of receiving something wholesome and warm and satisfying, we approach the altar to receive what we need with trust and hunger and surrender. The Bread of Life. We receive it so that we might be nourished, comforted, and given a moment of reprieve from our lonely and fragmented world. We receive it so we might be warmth and comfort and goodness for each other.

This is what I want to pass on to our children. This, in some small way, is what I wanted to communicate to our practically 3-year-old daughter in the kitchen the night before her birthday. Something about togetherness, goodness, simplicity, sensuality and transformation.

Do you find bread making, baking, or cooking to be a spiritual experience? Do you have a recipe to share? A mealtime ritual? A special prayer you say before breaking bread? I’d love to hear about it!