Posted September 09, 2011:
The Soul of Bread

by Maureen Koeblitz D’Agostino.

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst (Jn 6:35)

To bake bread, what a gift this is! Bread is a universal food, an essential food, a sacred food.

Almost every country of the world has its own kind of bread, from the flat unleavened chapatti of India to the long, thin loaves of France, from the round soda breads of Ireland to the innumerable shapes and flavors and textures of the breads of all continents.

Bread unites us to all people. It must be because bread is so universal that Jesus uses it to give us his Body.

When you bake bread, you can sense the presence of a woman humming, of a woman patting flat tortillas, of a woman showing her small daughter how to knead.

About bread, Louis DeGouy says, "One feels the sun on wheat fields; one smells the freshness of earth; one savors the fragrant sweetness of honey.

"In bread is the union of God, man, and woman: the Father sends rain to the thirsty earth, bringing to life the grains which man harvests and which are ground into flour, which in turn is shaped and transformed by woman in the silence and warmth of her kitchen—into bread, food for all."

Bread is a unique food. It seems made only to be given, to be broken, to be shared. Bread is present at every meal, the food which each person will eat. And what a joy to be able to give a fresh loaf to a visitor, wrapped, with maybe a little note, to take on his travels, to bring to his family, to give to his friends.

Even as our Lord shared his Body with all of us—so we have the gift of sharing bread which in so many ways is a symbol of our life, too.

Visitors so often remark about the goodness of Madonna House bread, as if it were like nothing they had ever tasted before. Small wonder, really. Into our bread goes milk fresh from our cows, and it is baked in an oven heated by wood gathered from our valley.

But even more than these ingredients, our bread is a work of love. In it is the salt of many tears—tears of frustration, of confusion, of joy—tears shed for all men, as the baker prays in the quiet of the kitchen.

Hands longing to work for the Lord, to serve him, to do his will, mix the dough, knead it, shape it. A heart longing to give itself to her brothers and sisters is worked into the dough. The bread rises, bakes, a gift for all.

Bread is a miraculous sort of creature. Many ingredients form it. Some are wet, some are dry. Some, like the yeast, are alive with a special life. Somehow, all these diverse elements must become one and work together if the bread is to be good.

Jesus prayed that all men be one, men of diverse colors, nations, and races, men of the city and of the countryside, rich men and poor men. He willed that all these be one in him. As the flour, the yeast, the liquid, together are made into loaves of bread.

Sometimes, everything will seem to go wrong—or perhaps just one thing, an important thing. If the yeast does not work properly, for example, the bread may come out pretty bad.

But these problems are necessary. Through them the Lord is somehow drawing the baker closer to him. And in the midst of frustrated tears, the baker will be led to Nazareth and find there the peace of Our Lady.

He or she will come to know a Jewish girl in the simple day-to-day act of baking bread, working with love, putting her whole self into the bread that gave health and strength to her Son, bread that helped him to grow until he gave his body for her and for all men.

She who was Mother of God carried out the Father’s will in this common little action of baking bread.

Bread is so ordinary, the food that is always present. There’s nothing fancy or complicated about it, no elaborate designs or unusual shapes to attract attention.

Just a little brown loaf waiting quietly, unobtrusively at the table, to be sliced, spread with jam, warmed for toast, buttered, dipped in gravy. It is simply there to be used and enjoyed; it doesn’t matter how.

But it is in this very ordinariness that bread finds its chief glory. A dirty little manger, rough and smelling of animals, became the first throne of glory of the King of Kings. Rugged, unshaved fishermen, with the wind and sea in their clothes and hair, were the first called to help build the Lord’s kingdom.

And all the little forgotten nobodies of all times and places—the rejected, the unwanted, the "losers," the poor and suffering—these are God’s people, chosen from eternity.

In the same way bread, one of the humblest and most ordinary of foods, was chosen to be the food to be transformed into the Body of Christ. You gave them the bread already prepared, sustaining every delight, satisfying every taste (Wis. 16:20).

Did you know that the word "Bethlehem," in Hebrew means "house of God’s bread?" If you enter into the Bethlehem of your own kitchen to bake bread, the Savior will be born in you, too. He has led you there to somehow unite you more deeply with all men whom he desires to unite in the one Bread.

Dear bread baker, let the bread work in you like yeast. Through it God will teach you many things, secret things, lessons that you will live through and absorb, and, finally, teach others.

Just as the yeast rises and works, leavening all the ingredients, and just as the fire bakes the loaf golden, so too will you be transformed by his fire and kneaded by his fingers. Then you too, like the bread, can be broken and shared.

The author, a former staff worker, wrote this article when she was a young guest baking bread at our farm. She is now married with six children, most of them grown. She and her family have been coming to our Cana Colony since 1984, and the last eight years they have been a host family.


Adapted from Coming Home, Dimension Books, (1977), pp.87-90, out of print.



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