The worst kept secret at Wake Divinity, Jill Crainshaw, will help you find theology in anything. The process is always open-ended and guided with a thoughtful, pastoral hand, yet unnerving in how complexities are drawn from simplicity. Also nothing—and I mean nothing—is the same when finished as when beginning. In those moments, it is very easy to become frustrated with life and all things pertaining to it.
Though I would like to be different, I know that I am a walking product of my generation. I’m addicted to technology and have patience like the thickness of a communion wafer. I like having information at my fingertips and not having to work particularly hard to learn something new. Sure, Wikipedia might not be reliable all of the time (or ever), but it’s there and it works. Everything has to move faster and it needs to provide instant gratification – delaying pleasure is simply not an option. So when Dr. Crainshaw asked us to bake bread for Sacraments & Ordinances class, I felt the frustration building as we approached that assignment on the syllabus. I knew going into this adventure that I was no baker, nor did I really possess the patience (or the time to find said patience) to participate in the process.
The idea of baking bread has intrigued me for years, for I love bread and every calorie it contains. However, I am not a fan of waiting around for things to be finished. If baking bread – even after having the chance to do it alongside another person – was to be a spiritual activity for me, it definitely fell short. Bread’s inability to inspire is not rooted in its complications or demands on my time, but rather in my inability to enjoy getting sticky dough between my fingers, flour strewn about my counters, or my mournful cry upon seeing the mess I have made.
The night I was preparing to bake bread also had many outside factors interfered with my ability to find something spiritually uplifting in baking. If I had been asked to make a pasta dish, I could draw theology from every ridge of penne and every molecule of starch-drenched water the penne was cooked in. Instead, I allowed an assignment attached to a deeper understanding of a transformative sacrament transform me into Oscar the Grouch.
Reflecting on that experience, I realized that there seems to be nothing immediate or speedy about following Christ. When Jesus was asked a question, he often didn’t answer speedily or in a straightforward manner at all. He loved to tell stories and parables to teach the disciples. Storytelling takes time and constructing a good story requires patience on the part of the storyteller. Jesus, though aware that his time on Earth was short, was in no rush to provide us with answers to our questions. It seems as if he were aware of the implications of moving too quickly. When we try to get ahead of God we miss the intricacies and details of God’s way.
Now, self-deprecation aside, the spirituality of making a big mess came in recognizing my flawed persona and the incessant need I have for the patience of God, transmitted to me as grace through the Eucharist. Without that patience, I would not have been able to openly admit a rather inconsequential flaw (my inability to bake) to my community of faith. Pride is really the bigger problem here. I take pride in my work and am unforgiving of subpar results—never willing to present anything less than the best. But is that not the point of it all? This journey is not easy and there have already been times when the best is out of reach. I took too much upon myself. I replaced a need for grace with a need for a grade. In reality, presenting that flawed, tasteless product to God that day produced a more profound ”Alleluia” from my soul. I presented myself – broken, hurting, crude, tasteless, too loud, too needy, foul-mouthed, flat, and often unpleasant – in that bread to God, in sure thanksgiving for grace that still leaves a place at the table for me.