Meditations on Bread

Written by Jeff Cannon

Give us this day our daily bread. It's part of the Lord's Prayer. I know that much. But that's where my ecumenical knowledge ends. Instead, for me, it's more a mantra to repeat over and over again when I bake bread.

I found myself doing this during the snowstorm this past weekend. I watched the heavy flakes falling outside, content in the warmth of my kitchen as I nurtured a loaf into being. I let my mind wander in and out of thoughts as I tended to my craft. I mixed the ingredients, stirring them slowly with a wooden spoon, then turning the stiff dough out onto a floured board. What can I say, but I’m a traditionalist when it comes to things like this. I like to set the tone, believing that somehow whatever care, energy and love I put out will infuse into whatever I am doing.

I’m not overly religious. But I do enjoy meditating on that part of the prayer when I bake. It reminds me that this is more than just a mixture of flour, yeast and water. It is a metaphor for everything we need to sustain life, physically and spiritually. It’s reminds me that there is no quick answer or one-step process to creating something of value. There is a practice we need to follow if we wish to nourish our souls as well as our bodies on a continual basis.

When I repeat the prayer to myself I begin to break it down word by word. I realize that it is not about me or some savior I never met. It is about “us.” As if each of us has the ability to reach out and build a community of people. As if we can to bring others together simply by giving them the nourishment they seek, both physically or even spiritually. But we can only do this if we are willing to give whatever time is needed to create something good.

The words of this prayer speak to the power that the universe has to provide. To “give” us what we need. There is no “take” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is a message that we just need to open ourselves up to receiving the gifts being given. We simply need to teach ourselves how to put the proper ingredients together in order for it all to work. To tend to the culture we’re creating with yeast and water and flour and warmth and time so that it comes together in the right way.

The Lord’s Prayer does not speak to the past or future. It only speaks to the present, to “this day.” It does not talk about what could happen tomorrow or may have happened yesterday. It only speaks to the here and now. As if the universe will provide for today, every day, without promising anything for the future, other than that it will come.

As I sprinkle more flour on my counter and knead what will soon be a loaf, I repeat my mantra and I can’t help but think of the ecosystem that I have created in the warmth of my kitchen. As soon as I added yeast into to the warm water I instantly brought thousands of micro-organisms to life. Who knows how many generations will rise up, digest the sugars in the flour and exhale the gas that will make my bread rise? It is a process I watch with wonder as the yeast goes to work bubbling away all on its own. It bubbles because that’s what it does. That is all it does. It has a single purpose, even if it doesn’t know it. And man has used that purpose for thousands of years to bake, brew and feed the world. For thousands of years we didn’t really know how it worked. It just did, and we trusted in it.

The word yeast, in fact, comes from the Old English word gyst, which literally means to boil or to bubble. Even though we used the process to feed ourselves for more than four thousand years, it wasn’t until the late 1600s that a Dutch naturalist first saw the organism that we now know to be yeast. And it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that a microbiologist named Louis Pasteur proved that it was yeast that made fermentation possible. That same man that gave us the process we now know by his name, pasteurization.

It has been three and a half hours since I started my own process of bread making. From mixing the ingredients to letting my own thoughts bubble and expand, to baking my loaves to a crusty finish. I look back to where my mind has taken me. From a simple Lord’s Prayer to the Age of Discovery, from the start of Christianity to the mindful meditations of Buddhism, from a warm slice of dark rye bread to nourishments of the soul.  

Yes, the bread is delicious, but it gives me even greater satisfaction that one can discover the universe through something as simple as bread.

It just makes me wonder if, in the end, that is what they meant to remind us when they wrote “Give us this day our daily bread.” That we are all one in this thing we call life.

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