Joy of Bread-Baking Leads to Pondering God's Works

By Barthelemy, Nancy | National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

Joy of Bread-Baking Leads to Pondering God's Works


Barthelemy, Nancy, National Catholic Reporter


A few years ago I was part of a women's sharing group. We were asked to take home some clay and sculpt our image of God to share with the group the following week. Every day I would spend some time struggling with this task, feeling very inartistic and having no clue as to how to create my image of God.

Finally, out of desperation, on the morning I was to present my image to the group, I began to just play with the clay. I enjoyed the feel of clay in my hands and slowly what emerged was a woman bent over dough, kneading it into bread. "He told them a parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened'" (Matthew 13:13).

I have always been drawn to the image of bread. Bread being kneaded bread rising, bread baking in the oven, bread warm from the oven and sliced to share. For me, bread is like itself. So often bread is taken for granted and just expected to be there, easily bought at the store, its taste and quality little thought about or questioned.

Yet bread has been part of my life since I was 16 and made the unlikely decision to begin baking it. It wasn't a conscious decision really, and little did I know it would become a lifetime practice.

Both of my parents were ill at the time, and as I look back now I realize that I started baking bread as a way of making a home in the midst of terrible uncertainly. And I continued. I continued after my father died, when I was afraid for my mother's life, and I continued into a college and beyond.

My friends and family have come to expect my bread for parties or gatherings. And when I married, I especially loved baking for my husband, who discovered for the first time that bread fresh from the oven, spread with butter, is one of life's great pleasures. My bread-baking continued through our babies, who grew and grew. When my children were young, I included them in the mixing and kneading, with them eating more than they kneaded. And they love to tuck the bread in for its "nap," covering the bread with a towel for its rising. They especially loved it if I made sweet dough or shaped leftover dough into different shapes, such as teddy bears or edible hats.

A few times through the years I tried to make the baking easier by using a dough hook that comes with my mixer. The difference in the bread was incredible. It was slightly drier, had a different texture and just wasn't as good. I discovered that the touch of human hands on the dough affects the flavor of the bread. Many of my friends have recently bought bread machines and the same is true for their bread. …

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