Day 2 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.
Another lifetime ago it seems, in the late 90s, I became interested in the practice of Sabbath, taking a full day away from ministry, work of any kind, and consumerism. The Friday rituals of house cleaning, bread baking, Saturday food preparation, and the evening prayers of welcoming Lady Shabbat over challah and wine helped boundary the time as sacred and holy. While I’ve returned to the full practice of a 24 hour sabbath many times over the years, the discipline of baking challah and sharing it with others has remained an important part of my contemplative practice.
Baking bread is a constellation of little practices: gathering the ingredients, preparing them over multiple steps, dedicating time, all the while looking ahead to the hungry group for which the bread is made. Over the years, the challah has fed guests, contributed to dinners, celebrated final days of class, and become the bread of the eucharist for special times of worship. Since moving into the Contemplative Cottage, I’ve been baking loaves to share with neighbors, a way to break the ice on my street (or break the bread, so to speak) and introduce myself. I hope that I can be broken bread to my neighborhood, and the cottage can be a place of nourishment and blessing.
The theologian and pastor, Augustine, wrote about the eucharistic bread in his sermon 272:
If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!
But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” Be what you see; receive what you are.
There is a beauty to taking such simple ingredients and creating something lovely to see and even more yummy to eat. But it is the process itself which gives so much–it reorders my thoughts from stress to peace, from distraction to attention, from self-focus to self-gift, and (often) grumbling to thanksgiving. The simple act of making bread to share echoes the use of bread in worship, and encountering Christ can happen in the kitchen just as in the church.
- 2 packets rapid-rise yeast
- 2 cups hot water (not burning, but not warm)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cardamom
- 3 eggs, whipped (keep back 2 teaspoons or so to glaze bread)
- White unbleached flour
Mix together thoroughly. Then add white flour until the dough ball is no longer sticky.
Let rise in a warm location for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Oil a baking sheet.
Split dough into two balls for two loaves. Split each ball into three and form into long, even strips, braid the strips on the baking sheet. Repeat for the 2nd loaf.
Glaze loaves with leftover egg. This will give them a golden brown top.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Watch to make sure the tops and bottom are not browning too quickly. The loaves are done if they sound hollow when you tap their bottom.
Challah is a bread of peace, so traditionally knives are not used to cut it. Instead, chunks are pulled from the loaf as it is shared.