I baked bread this weekend, and I changed the world. Even if only a little bit.
Bread is amazing because the end of the process is radically different from the beginning.
For instance, when I made bread this weekend, I started off with a mess of yeast and oats a water that looked like this:
It did not look promising. Then I added flour, and it looked like this:
Bread Starts Out a Mess
Also, not promising. It was gooey and sloppy. How could any good bread come out of this mess?
But yeast is magic. I mean, I know that there are scientific explanations for what yeast does and how it activates other ingredients. I get that. But you will never convince me that there isn’t something a little bit magical about yeast.
Yeast looks unimposing, quiet, perhaps a bit dull, nothing to write home about.
Yeast is No Big Deal–Oh, but It Is
There is nothing about yeast that advertises, “I can do amazing things and turn a gooey mess of flour into something delectable.”
Yeast works in quiet and unassuming ways. Yet, it has a power that when combined with other ingredients becomes a catalyst for change and dynamic growth. I don’t really understand how it works, but I know it does.
And I saw that this weekend. I kneaded my bread dough, and I put it in the oven to rise. Forty-five minutes later, the bread dough had sprung to life and taken on form and purpose.
I punched down the bread dough so it looked like this:
I divided the dough into three balls and put them into loaf pans to let them rise for another forty-five minutes. And then they looked like this:
It’s like yeast won’t let the bread quit. “Got punched down, Bread? No problem. Here’s some magic. Rise again.” And the bread does.
And then I baked the bread, and it turned out like this:
The process of baking bread is a lot like changing the world.
Baked Bread is Pretty Much the Best Thing in the World
Hearty golden loaves that provide me with a lot of sustenance through busy weeks ahead.
And as cliche as it sounds, while I was baking bread, I couldn’t help thinking about how yeast and love are a lot alike.
Bread, Love, and Philosophy
In her book, All About Love, bell hooks says that love is willingness to extend ourselves for the sake of our own or another’s spiritual well-being. Our spiritual well-being is that part of us where our heart, mind, and body intersect.
As such, hooks argues that love entails actions of “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication”. (See chapter 1 of All About Love. You can read bell hooks’ book here for free.)
But love for hooks is not just an emotion or a sentiment. She shares a quote from monk Thomas Merton:
“Love is in fact an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of Life…Life curves upward to a peak of intensity, a high point of value and meaning, at which all its latent creative possibility to go into action and the person transcends himself or herself in encouragement, response, and communion with another.”
In this quote, we see that love is this drive to join with others in creative, transcendent action. And in the process of love, the people involved go beyond themselves and become something more and good together. This is true whether the love involved is the love of friends, partners, family members or a community or nation.
Wisdom in Bread
Thinking about this helped me a lot this weekend. Like most people, I both feel responsible to help work for a better world, and I feel overwhelmed with the complexity and severity of the problems I see around me.
Many times, the world seems like a big, gooey gross mess (and that’s putting it mildly). I look at it and think, “Well, I’ve got love, but I don’t know if it is enough. And I don’t know how it’s going to work. What good can come out of this mess?”
But if love is anything like yeast, I don’t have to understand how it works. Love looks quiet and unassuming, but when it combines with other people, it becomes a catalyst for powerful growth and dynamic change.
So, I’ll keep making bread, and I’ll keep loving. And if love is all you’ve got, too, don’t worry. Love is a lot, and love is enough.
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By the way, the reason I enjoy baking bread is because my mom used to bake bread all the time when I was growing up. I loved it.
When I got married, Mom hand wrote a recipe book for me of all of my favorite foods she used to cook our family when I was growing up. One of those recipes was the bread recipe she used to make my favorite bread. Here is it, in case you would like to make it.
hooks, bell. All About Love. Harper Collins Publishers: 2000.