Digesting the Bread of Life

ImageDr. B paused, smiled ruefully. “This is kind of challenging,” she told me gently, “It means eliminating all ground grains from your diet.” WHAT? No pizza, rosemary rounds, or brownies? None of James’ soda bread hot from the bread machine, slathered with butter?

At that time, many foods twisted my intestines into knots. A colony of unwelcome visitors, partying in my gut, fed on flour and other high glycemic foods. Deprive the party animals of their pizza? I became willing to try anything to move toward health.

It worked. Following Dr. B’s instructions, the discomfort subsidized. Apparently, modern-day flours  — with their ingenious hybrids, gluten-enriched content, and extra-fine grinds — are honed for flavor, texture, and probably economic benefit. They turn out to be hard for many of us to digest.

Bread — that sacrament of plenty, sustenance, and hospitality in many cultures — isn’t quite what it used to be. For some folks, it’s actually unhealthy. Even with the renaissance of lovingly crafted breads, the “staff of life” is now a symbol of the crossroads we face in feeding God’s people. What is truly nourishing? What satiates an impulsive hunger and what will strengthen us for a long day’s work? What do we do when it becomes apparent that the raisin toast comfort food of childhood is actually infused with chemicals? Among the many nutritional systems out there — Atkins, Mediterranean, Paleo — what offers that balance of health, affordability, and tasty pleasure? Because that is part of it too, right? The sheer delight of tasting God’s goodness.

And then there are the 16.2 million kids in the U.S. whose families struggle to put Wonder Bread on the table, let alone something more truly awe-some.

This is not the meditation I wanted right now.

Next weekend I’m leading a workshop on the spirituality of breadmaking with my thoughtful, joyful friend Tamara. I wanted to spend the days beforehand uplifted by all the wonderful things bread can be, by its spiritual and culinary richness. Yet, as we’ve prepared, this shadow side of bread has presented itself along with the good.  Like our breads, there’s a mixed legacy of spirituality in the hybridized, enriched, economically enhanced post-modern world: Communion that is mass produced. Practices that don’t nourish quite the way they used to. Old comforts we are putting aside to move toward health.

The irony of me co-leading this workshop is looming large for me tonight. But I couldn’t resist! And so it is with the sacred loaf — it draws our senses and our imaginations.

Our table at home has gradually seen the return of breads. I still need to eat them in small amounts. My body reminds me if I over-indulge. This week, I’ll partake in a Lenten fast from carbs, so on Saturday, I can savor a slice of bread, hot from the oven, made by a gathering of disciples, recovering the recipe for the bread of life. OK. Maybe two slices…

There’s still room for the workshop if you’d like to get your hands into the dough. 9:15 – 3:00pm on Saturday, March 23 at the Priory Spirituality Center. Registration information here.

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2 comments

  1. Great stuff, Beth. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I loved this! I hope the workshop went well – would love to hear more about it.

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