Yeast and the Kingdom of Heaven
January has not been an easy month for me. My depression and anxiety have muted my days and turned my nights sleepless. I am so over the icy chill of midwestern winter mornings, and afternoons, and evenings; I crave the warmth of a muggy piedmont afternoon in North Carolina. I have old friends and new ones, but I miss the friends across the office hall and the students in my old classrooms.
It’s hard to think of much meaningful to write, or even do, when the weather is grey and the wind bites and the fog of depression and winter descends and blankets everything with a seemingly unending chill.
And so I turn to one of my fail-safe comforts: baking bread. Yesterday, I baked my weekly loaves of sandwich bread, but I also tried my hand at the braided challah bread pictured above. My family crowded into my tiny kitchen to watch and help in the process: my youngest daughter rolled dough with me into strands for the braid. My brother’s girlfriend held my laptop at the right angle so I could watch and imitate a YouTube tutorial, while my brother and husband offered moral support as I struggled to master the six-strand braid. My older daughters oohed and aahed over the finished product.
I love the process of making bread. I love the feel of kneaded dough, supple and smooth. I love the magic of yeast, of the bread growing as a living organism. I love the chemistry of heat, transforming the soft pillow of dough into a beautifully browned loaf. I love that I have produced a tangible good in the world, turning flour and water and oil into something nourishing and delicious for my entire family.
Jesus uses yeast worked through dough as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. Yeast is such a tiny thing: even when using a starter instead of the modern dry yeast, just a little bit gets mixed with the flour and water and salt and oil. But that little bit transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary, something sacred.
And so I bake bread when I need to remember that the kingdom of heaven is mixed through my life, when I cannot see growth and change. Some breads rise high, escaping their proofing bowls; others puff slowly and almost imperceptibly. But either way, the yeast is working its miracle to change ordinary ingredients into the bread that will sustain others.