I love baking bread. It makes me calm, makes me feel accomplished, in some odd way, it makes me feel like a woman (don’t ask, I don’t know). Anyway, I usually get pretty meditative while I bake bread, especially while I’m mixing and kneading. I often end up praying or singing, just in my own world, me and Jesus.
We have some ladies coming over tomorrow, so I’m making a loaf of Italian bread to serve with a dip I’ve been hanging onto for a while. As I was kneading I began thinking about the Lord as our Bread of Life. Quite a stretch, right? The thing that often strikes me about various aspects of the Lord’s character is that we are created in his image, so how is that aspect of his character carried out in my life?
He is the bread of life to feed our hungry souls; we must become bread to feed a hungry world. I often tell people that making bread is not a difficult process, not for me, the breadmaker. But for the dough, it’s an altogether different story…
Dough must be kneaded. It has to be squeezed and pounded and pushed and pulled. Not one mash or two pokes, but several long minutes. I pound on my dough, folding it, mashing it with my fists and palms, squeezing through my hands until it feels right. Then I take a small piece in my fingers to test it, to see if it’s ready to rest. I take this small piece and pull and stretch until I can see the light through it. If it falls apart before it stretches properly, it’s not ready and the kneading must continue. You see, kneading isn’t without purpose. The kneading is when the internal structure is being built, the gluten. Without the gluten, bread cannot rise properly. If I don’t take the time to properly knead my dough, when it’s time to rise, the bread won’t be able to.
Once the dough passes the test, it rests. And while it rests, it rises. Oh, it’s nearly magical! You leave a little lump of dough in a bowl and come back to a nice fluffy mound twice as big as you left it. Where did it all come from? And in only the amount of time it took me to do a load of laundry or watch a movie.
But then, oh then, back on the floured countertop for more pushing and proding. The dough must be shaped so that it becomes what I want it to be. The real secret to shaping dough is surface tension – folding the dough and pushing on it so as to create a really tight surface, forcing it to rise up not just spread out. But then, it rests again and rises again. And now, it’s actually starting to look like bread!
But even though it looks a lot like bread (and last weekend one of my roommates asked me why we couldn’t cut into a loaf of unbaked wheat bread – so it really does look like bread at this stage), you would be sorely displeased to take a mouthfull. It must go into the hot oven. But not for long. And I always take it out.
You can certainly see where I’m going by now. Just as dough has to go through quite an arduous process to become a delicious loaf of bread (I can’t wait to cut into that loaf tomorrow night!), so we, as we become like the Bread of Life, go through some pretty arduous things ourselves. Sometimes we are on the floured countertop being kneaded, pounded, squeezed. But that’s where our internal structure is being formed and developed. If we don’t go through the kneading, if he can’t stretch us so to see the Light through us, we’ll never be able to rise. But one day we do get the chance to rest and then we rise. Sometimes we have to be punched back down. Sometimes we’re stretched out and our surface tension is so great we don’t think we can handle it, but it all is for the purpose of making us rise higher than we imagine we can. And eventually, after the pulling and stretching, the resting, the rising, the shaping, we go into the fire. But he always takes us out, and when we come out, we are ready to feed those around us.
Maybe this is what Jesus was alluding to when he told Peter “feed my sheep”… he wants to make us into loaves of bread, or rolls or baguettes or batards or…