Three loaves of North Carolina sourdough bread sit on my counter to rise. They have a few hours of rest ahead of them, the natural yeast taking it’s time to rise and do its work on the gluten and sugars. I love the deliberateness and wildness of it all, the refusal of the yeast to be tamed and domesticated, preferring to take its own time as dictated by the environment rather than by my timeline. I smell the banana bread in the oven, counting the minutes until it’s done and cooled and ready for me to slice. This is a true decadence as I am the only one in the family who eats it. My friend across the road loves it, so I will keep some for myself then get it out of my reach by sharing it with him. Also on the counter sits pasta dough taking its rest as well. I rolled and abused it to develop it and now it matures by sleeping on the counter, making itself ready to be put through the literal ringer of the pasta machine.
Sabbath is all around my kitchen. Lots of work followed by rest. The rest is for the maturing, the developing, the progressing, the improving. The work prepares for the sabbath, not the other way around. All of the kneading, the mixing, the pressing, the whisking, all is merely the lead-in to the actual “work” that happens when I do nothing but wait and watch. Sabbath Magic.
My kitchen is my first sanctuary. It is my place of peace and joy and wonder. I realize this isn’t true for everyone. Some of you would rather be anywhere but the kitchen and find cooking a terrible chore and necessity…like me with ironing or cleaning a room. But the following principles have a universal application, wherever you find your sanctuary.
I am known as “Prayerful Kitchen” because that is what mine is for me. It is my chief place of prayer and meditation.
Now, that does not mean that I have specific prayers that I “say” as I cook. I don’t pick up a wooden spoon and pray, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this spoon. Thank you for the tree it comes from and the person (or machine) that made it and for the store that sold it. Amen.” Now that I write that, perhaps I should do that. The whole production chain could use my prayers of thanksgiving and protection. But that’s a prayer for a different space and time for me. If that is how you want to approach your work, go for it! You do you!
That leads me to a disclaimer: this is how I use my space for prayer, it is NOT “the” way of using it. Prayer is first and foremost personal. Whatever pattern, rhythm, practice, words, feelings, movement you need to connect with and make space for God, do it. You do you. This is me doing me.
Prayer in my prayerful kitchen is a flow of energy as I chop, knead, stir, bake. I always have music playing. Lately I’ve been fed by the Wailin’ Jennys and similar artists station on our Alexa. The sounds resonate deep in my soul with inherited memories from ancestors long since dead. They hang out with me in my kitchen too, watching over my work and filling me up by pulling me down to my deepest of roots. My grandfather is in his cleaver that is my favorite and every woman in my lineage smiles and works through my hands when I pat out biscuits. The heavenly hosts of the communion of saints surround me as soon as I pull out a pot or throw potatoes in the sink for washing and peeling. They help prime my mind and heart for the meditation to come.
Today, as I turned the sourdough onto the counter after its first overnight rise, I thought of my daddy and my childhood. There was a season when he baked this same bread and only in the past few months did I discover the recipe online. I remember the smell in the kitchen, lifting up to my bedroom, and the sweet yeastiness of the first bite. So as I kneaded the dough, I rested in those memories and the wonder and freedom of childhood. It was a prayer of thanksgiving for the privilege of having such memories.
Then, as I pulled bananas out of the freezer (y’all, peel them when they’re all brown and spotty and put them in the freezer in a tupperware container! There are a million ways you can use these sugar and flavor bombs!) I started thinking about my neighbor who would enjoy most of the loaf that was to come. I held him in my mind as I mixed the ingredients and microwaved then mashed the bananas (visit browneyedbaker.com for her Ultimate Banana Bread recipe. It is my go-to). There weren’t specific petitions or thanksgivings, no formulated words, just holding his image there as I worked. God knows what he needs and doesn’t much more than I. The best I can do is hold the space and push the energy into the world and towards him.
With one batch of bread rising on the counter and the other in the oven, my spirit was not ready to leave the wide open space of the confines of my kitchen. I needed more action and rhythm and emptiness. There are always eggs and plenty of flour around, so I found myself dumping a mound of one on the counter and filling it with the other with some kosher salt. As I broke the yolks and began sliding my fork around the well of yellow potential, the flour folded in and moved around and I let my mind relax into the pattern of stirring, mixing, encouraging.
This pattern and prayer was for me. I’m filled with joy and gratitude now for my life: for my family, the end of the school year, and for the blessing of new friends who quickly become family. But I’m also filled with heartache: for students never to return, for lost rituals and celebrations, for friends who are hurting because they can’t be or do what they want right now and feel stuck or trapped.
One side of my heart sees everything as perfect with no need for fixing, the other side only sees the holes that it desires more than anything to patch, repair, mend, make whole.
Those two sides blend together in the meditation of working the egg and flour together so there is no longer the separate bright yellow from the stark white, the slick and slimy from the soft and pillowy. Instead, by the pushing and pulling of my hands, the two commit to one another into a pale yellow disk that is something more, something that will need to rest and recover before aspiring to the next purpose.
In the action of kneading, my mind is stilled and its two sides face each other to find balance and agreement. One side encourages the other to help where it can and the other to let go where it can’t.
Only after my meditation is complete can I sit and write to you my thoughts, with my thoughts being the by-product of the real work meted out.