Post Author: Kelly Boubel Shriver
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Too often, I think, we hear this phrase preached as a call to the daily, a reminder to live in the moment, not thinking too far ahead and not lingering too long in the past. I know I’ve preached that sermon more than once. And although this message isn’t wrong (after all, the manna in the desert went bad if the people took more than they needed for a single day), I wonder if it is at risk of becoming narrow and myopic. If bread is merely a daily commodity, I wonder if we miss the abundance of the larger picture.
Bread, in my experience, is not a commodity measured in 24-hour increments, but is instead a substance which demands thought and planning. Most of the loaves of bread we in America love to eat, the fat, crusty, seedy loaves from the bakery baskets, take days of planning and care to create. A loaf of sourdough bread, for example, can take months or even years to develop. Once a strand of yeast is captured, developing, feeding, and caring for that yeast strain amounts to something of a family tradition. Bakers across the world are known for the strain of yeast they build their sourdough from: here in the US, most of our sourdough comes from the San Francisco yeast strain.
Artisan breads, including sourdough, start from what is called a “sponge,” a paste made from flour, water, and a little yeast, which you let sit out for a number of hours or even days. The sponge bubbles and ferments, building the flavor and complexity it will add to the loaf of bread. The crumb of the bread also takes time to develop. Crumb refers to the density of the loaf: How much give does it have against your teeth as you take a bite? The chewier your crumb, the longer the bread takes. Gluten, from the flours, needs to convert to create the crumb, and it converts through the hours of rising time. Needless to say…bread is not a “daily” endeavor.
A beautiful loaf of bread also demands sweat and elbow grease. Our poor kitchen table has grown all too wobbly thanks to many hours John and I have spent kneading bread on its surface! In The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, which is a lovely exploration of food and theology, Rev. Robert Capon, a chef and Episcopalian priest makes the following comment about kneading: “Knead well. It perfects the texture of the bread, and, more important, it is good for your soul. There are few actions you will ever take that have more of the stuff of history in them. A woman with her sleeves rolled up and flour on her hands is one of the most gorgeous stabilities in the world. Don’t let your family miss the sight.”
There is something about bread that is, at least in my house, the very definition of home, in all of its time consuming activity and work. The sight of the sponge bubbling on the counter raises the anticipation of fresh bread for tomorrow, the sound of John kneading away at the table is truly a sound of stability, and the scent of yeasty bread baking in the oven makes even the coldest days seem a bit warmer. Bread, from start to finish, is decidedly not daily.
For most of us, the thought of baking bread might stop here, but growing up in the Palouse region of Washington State, it was impossible to escape the ubiquity of the grain needed to make the bread. You see it when you drive out of Spokane in any direction. There are large, community grain silos in every town. Even our local distillery markets their whiskey as produced from 100% WA wheat. In the Spring, the fields are full of young wheat, rippling like a green lake; by the height of summer, the stalks are brown and pregnant with grain. Fall brings the gathering of the sheaves, and winter marks the fallow period, when the stubble of harvest promises to restore the soil. Just as bread is not a daily endeavor from the perspective of human bakers, bread is even less so a daily endeavor from the perspective of the land and those who farm it. The Psalmist reminds us that the rivers of water, providing the people with grain, the furrows and settling ridges are blessed with growth by our creator and provider (Psalm 65). The years are crowned with bounty by the one to whom the valleys deck themselves and shout for joy. Our sustainer has been planting our loaves of daily bread years in advance.
Every year, the grain once again grows up as tender, green stalks. Every year the sun continues to dry those stalks into the amber waves we sing about. Every year the harvest comes again, and every year, the stubble of the fallow field stands testament to the God who has once again provided daily bread. And just as the fields seem their emptiest, full of overturned dirt, the little green shoots spring up again, a moment in which it seems our God has said, that was fun, let’s do it again! The soil does not forget the one who has caused it to overflow with richness, so let us not forget either. For our God has planned our daily bread before we could imagine it, be it the literal bread of the field and table, or the sustaining friendships and vocations we are called to live into as the body of Christ.
So, yes, let’s enjoy the bread given to us this day. Let’s take freely of the abundance of the table set before us. But in the bread of today, let us also remember the hope that God’s provision did not start in this moment…and it will not end when this table is emptied. Our bread is not daily. Our creative God cares for us abundantly, preparing for us bread, through the days, the seasons, and the years we have been given.
Image by: Kelly Boubel Shriver
Used with permission