Connecting of baking, food, and social justice make it good Lenten reading for middle and high school youth groups.
Substantial reflections for prayer groups and Lenten study groups.
Ecumenical in focus
Ideal for altar guilds and women who bake communion bread who want to make prayer and reflection part of their ministry. Bread speaks to us of our daily reliance upon a Maker, writes Christopher Levan. Perhaps more than any other food it brings us close to our roots as fellow creatures of God's creation. Bread is an apt metaphor for the spiritual journey.
Give Us This Day offers meditations for every day in Lent, inviting us to connect faith "our daily bread" and the world in which we live, along with recipes that range from Shrove Tuesday "No-Fret Pancakes" to Easter Challah bread. Each of the 40 meditations begins with a scripture verse and a prayer.
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Give Us This Day ...
Lenten reflections on baking bread and discipleship
By Christopher Levan
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2007 The United Church of Canada
All rights reserved.
First Ingredient of Daily Bread Discipleship
Shrove Tuesday: Never Fret Pancakes
Dear God, when do I have time to pray? I'm just so pressed, so much to do. Lent is starting, the pancake dinner to attend, Ash Wednesday services to ... Okay, maybe I can spare a few minutes ... I'm waiting ... Who me? No, I don't have anything to say, well except I don't know how I'll hold everything together, keep the wagon train moving ... Maybe you want to tell me something? ... You do? What's that? "Slow down, don't worry so much." Easy for you to say. All right ... all right. I'll try.
Matthew 6:27 "Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it?"
"That's it?" I'm muttering to myself, staring at the back of the premixed pancake mix box. The handy dandy instructions say that I should add melted butter, one egg, and equal measures of milk and the pancake mix.
For my mind, there is precious little "pre-mixed" in the box. So where's the saving? I suppose it is time. With the store bought variety, you can make pancakes without looking up a cook book. For the culinarily challenged, maybe it's a matter of assurance. The package says you can do it with no hassle and no fretting. You grab the box and a bottle of syrup and head off to the church for this evening's dinner. Well, here's a better idea: a no fret, fail proof, pancake recipe.
Take 2 cups of flour and add 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt and sift together with 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in the frying pan while you stir 2 ¼ cups whole milk (my mother says buttermilk is better—see page 3) into the flour mixture. Separate two eggs, put the yokes into the batter, and whip the whites until stiff. Add the heated oil to the batter, stirring well, and then fold in the egg whites. Pour ¼ cup onto the hot griddle, allow one side to bubble well, and then flip over Give it a minute or two on the back side and remove from heat.
You're now ready for the Shrove Tuesday crowds—with a pancake batter that is just as easy as the pre-packaged mix to make, less expensive, better tasting, infinitely expandable (I've used this recipe, times 15, to cook for 100), and fret free.
This last attribute is a key element in the bread of the Jesus circle. Religious types are naturally anxious—always worrying over the state of our soul, the strength of our piety. Daily bread cuts through this angst. It's the first lesson on the road to understanding how Jesus used a shared loaf to bring wholeness. He invited his followers into a tranquil space where their hearts stopped their grasping, scratching search for salvation.
"Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it?" So have a pancake and relax your fretful soul. Enjoy the day.
* * *
No Fret Pancakes
1. Take 2 cups of flour and add 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt.
2. Sift together with 2 teaspoons of baking powder.
3. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in the frying pan while you stir 2¼ cups whole milk (to make buttermilk take 2% milk, add a touch of lemon juice, and let stand for 5 minutes, or use runny yogurt) into the flour mixture.
4. Separate two eggs, put the yokes into the batter and whip the whites until stiff.
5. Add the heated oil to the batter, stirring well, and then fold in the egg whites.
6. Pour ¼ cup onto the hot griddle, allow one side to bubble well and then flip over.
7. Give it a minute or two on the back side and remove from heat.
* * *
Day 1, Ash Wednesday: Why Worry? A Lesson from Wendy's Cow
I'm still worried. God of eternity, do you know of my uncertainty? How I hate it when things get out of my control. Tell me what to do. How do I let go?
"That's why I tell you: don't fret about your life—what you'll eat and drink, or about your body—what you'll wear. There is more to living than food and clothing, isn't there?"
"Don't sweat it!" That's what Wendy would say as the Sunday school crowd began to spill into the hallway, everyone squealing with delight. Snack time always produced the same result: a stampede, but Wendy, the master of any disaster, would quietly restore classroom decorum, bringing pre-pubescent hormones back into line as the children crunched their cookies and then quietly returned to the lesson plan. Wendy's philosophy of keeping calm was magic in the Sunday school, but not new in her own life ...
Back when she was a child growing up in Edmonton, Wendy and her brother were tormented by a neighbour who would fret over the slightest intrusion on her space. Take a step off the sidewalk and this older woman would be at the front window, rapping out her resentment on the plate glass. Allow an animal to stray onto her manicured lawn and she'd be standing in the doorstep shaking a finger, scolding both the canine trespasser and the delinquent child.
At the time of this tale, Wendy's brother worked at the local slaughterhouse. One day, he came home with a cow. Apparently this creature had been designated as unfit for the barbecue; it was excess, and the boss wanted it out of the yard. I don't know what Wendy's brother said to their mother, but you can imagine: "Gee Mom, she won't eat much, and I'll clean out her pen every day. Can we keep her?"
Mother must have been a softie because the cow stayed, but early in the morning the cow began to bray very loudly for breakfast, and the mother (not the sleeping son of course) chased out to the back yard, a fist full of hay in hand, and tried to get the animal to be quiet. Wendy didn't elaborate, but I can imagine her poor mother—dressing gown clutched around her, waving a clump of grass.
Wendy and her brother were eventually enlisted to keep the cow content. Early in the morning they would take it for a walk along the city streets. At first it seemed like a chore, but then an idea took shape: pay back time for the uptight neighbour. As the sun was rising on the tree-lined streets, the siblings walked their cow down to the neighbour's house and allowed the beast to do its business on the lawn. Wendy still smiles as she recounts the way she dealt with the fretting neighbour.
"Don't sweat it." Her philosophy of life. "We'll clear it up."
At first it was just a funny story and then I realized it captures more than Wendy's personal credo. It has a precedent in the Christian gospels. From the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, we read: "Don't fret about your life—what you'll eat and drink, or about your body—what you'll wear. There is more to living than food and clothing, isn't there?"
A simple message, as true for today as it was two thousand years ago.
Ash Wednesday has traditionally been a time of super-charged repentance, when the penitent scoured their souls of imperfections. Lent bent spirits were polished with good intentions and the best motives: abstinence, moderation, mortification. But God knows us and loves us in spite of and because of who we are. Stop the fretting and enjoy the ride. That's what our Maker desires most.
A Closing Prayer
God, grant me the courage to fret over the big things, the self-confidence to laugh over little ones, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Day 2: The Bread that Satisfies
My life is a scramble for "more." More money, more security, more love. Sometimes it doesn't even matter what the more is. I just need it. God, stop me!
"... Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again...."
I heard recently a radio commentator explain that the human species was designed to be an "energy camel." Our physical frame was built to store fat. We began as an animal that fed sporadically. You never knew when the next source of food would come within range and so you had to be able to stockpile carbohydrates. There might have been days or even weeks when our forbearers went without.
Now, the broadcaster's intent was to explore the challenges to diet and physical fitness that our hunter-gatherer origins create for the cosmopolitan lifestyle. The short answer: "Many." You can't take a once-in-a-fortnight animal and feed it three times a day without creating weight issues.
However, I want to stick with the picture of the human creature as a scavenger, a beast with a ravenous appetite. Like our Neolithic ancestors, we are always on the look out for more. You could say we are naturally greedy, but it goes beyond hunger. We are driven by an appetite that's always looking beyond today's meal, watching out for tomorrow's. So "having and holding" is just one side of the equation. We also crave the "getting and going." We're possessed of the spirit of possessing. Put simply, we're an anxious, agitated species.
The table fellowship of Jesus began with clamming this primal hunger. When he broke bread, the restless heart was stilled. The Lord's Supper was an invitation to relax the marauding soul. Somehow the loaf they shared was more than sufficient. It was a miracle meal that truly satisfied.
Day 3: Late Nights and Shadow Frights
Time for a confession. How easy it is to pretend that I have it all together—that my life is ordered, my relationships flourishing. But in the night time of my fears, I know it is otherwise. I am plagued by a disquieting nightmare, realizing that all I have is held together loosely. Like a paper kite in a storm, I am contingent and fragile. Where to turn, how to survive? Hold me God, comfort me. Whisper that I am not alone.
"Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it?"
We all do it—worry I mean—and 2:00 a.m. is the perfect time. It begins with a blaring car horn, a child's whimper or a distant siren. No matter the cause, you're suddenly sitting upright, eyes open and alert. Tingling and momentarily frightened, the slightest sound is thunderous. You can hear the creak of the house, the whine of the furnace motor, or the tick of the mantle clock. The flash of fear soon passes as you realize that it was not a life-threatening noise that woke you. You punch the pillow and flop your head back down, groan a few times, and pull up the covers. But sleep does not come.
As you lie there wide-awake, you fret. Your mind starts to cover the familiar territory of missed steps, starting with regular misdemeanours: everything you should have done the day before, the stack of phone messages that are unattended and the list of e-mails languishing in your mailbox. There's the laundry waiting, bills unpaid, appointments missed, money owed. Each infraction is duly noted as you progress to major felonies: the cutting word spoken in haste that ended a relationship and the violent outbreak directed at a loved one. And once you press your recall button, you can go back years and years. So why not dredge up all the misdeeds that are now so old there doesn't seem to be anything you can do to rectify them? People say caffeine keeps you awake, but it doesn't have a patch on rehearsing the litany of our ancient offences.
If you're like me, it will now require several hours of wrestling with your blankets before you fall back to sleep. Usually the sun is just beginning to rise above the horizon.
Are we nocturnal masochists, torturing ourselves by reliving each and every one of our trespasses? Are we naturally anxious beings? Life hangs by a slender thread, and we know it. We're not perfect and we know that too. Our past is clear testimony to our imperfection and when we feel vulnerable, especially at 3:30 a.m., our frailty comes back to haunt us.
Of course, back in our personal histories there is also ample evidence that we have not made enough peace. There are broken fences to be mended and burnt bridges to be built back, and while it is impossible to find a remedy for all our misdeeds, if we pay attention to the recurring nightmares, we may indeed discover who and what is calling out for reconciliation. There may be opportunities to resolve some outstanding debts with a word of apology, a note of explanation, or a confession of affection. It's not easy, but if you want to sleep well, some exploration of the shadows might be in order. Soul work, that's what Lent is for. However, do the exploring in the light of day when your heart is not blindsided by the dark.
Hold it. What if I've got a really big problem or a very old misdemeanour for which there seems nothing I can do? At the risk of sounding clinical, sit with that disquiet for a while—a day in fact. I'll come back to it tomorrow ... I do have a solution in mind, but first we must reacquaint ourselves with our finitude before freedom is possible.
* * *
If you're awake and can't sleep, why not sing? Here are a few evening hymn suggestions from Voices United: "Day is Done" (VU #433), "The Day You Gave" (VU #437), "Unto the Hills" (VU #842).
Day 4: The Morning After the Night Before
Dear God, wake me up to who you are. Open my eyes to see you, not the cheap show or the pious platitudes. Give me strength to see you as you are: bread for the journey, not too much, not too little. Just enough.
"So don't fret. Don't say, 'What am I going to eat?' or 'What am I going to drink?' or 'What am I going to wear?' These are all things the 'pagans' seek. After all, your heavenly Father is aware you need them."
You're still awake? Yesterday, I left you riding the twilight roller coaster of regret and recrimination and I promised a cure—an emotional decongestant that would unclog stopped-up guilt glands and relax any restless soul.
Wait. Before I offer this miraculous elixir for the worry-worn soul, let's be clear about one thing. All religions are united in their desire to keep their faithful, faithful. They want customers who will come back again and again. They're not in the business of turning disciples into self-taught, self-directed beings. Consequently, priests and pastors consciously or unconsciously guard their soul food under lock and key— passing it out in measured portions. So I'm speaking out of school when I sell you a "medicine" for your nocturnal neuroses without first requiring that you sign on the dotted line for a specific religious commitment.
All right, I am poking a little fun at my own profession, but it's good to remember that God hates any religion that places itself between the Eternal Lover and the beloved. Pious leaders who put a price on God's goodness often block the way to heaven. As soon as spiritual truths become "secrets," reserved only for the deserving few, then we are lost.
Hence, if I look like I am dispensing a prescription-only antibiotic as if it was an over-the-counter drug ... well, I am. The solution to your middle of the night blues is ... The morning sunrise!
The old adage remains true—things do look better in the morning. The fresh dawn air has a miraculous healing power—wiping away our worries. Call it instinctive or intuitive, the human soul registers a lift at sunrise because we experience again the deep truth that in every morning we are given another chance. The minutes and hours ahead of us are an opportunity to make things right.
In a deeper sense, we also sense a continuing and constant promise in the new day. Our Creator declares with brilliant rays that the night does not last forever. There is an order to creation—out of darkness comes light. Out of death comes new life. Out of our great sorrow comes an equal portion of rejoicing.
People ask me about the meaning of Easter. I can think of no more satisfying response than a sunrise. In this festival we extol a God who is immanent. Not detached or ethereal, the God of scripture is close, as real as a sunrise. Every dawn declares that we are not alone, that forgiveness is tangible and that we have been given a new chance to live out the promise of our birth. And above all else, the dawn is a pure gift. It's freely given. You can't achieve it. You don't win it or earn it. It is a testament to an All Giving Maker.
The monstrous doubts of the night remain solid and immoveable until I look to the dawn and see them vanish. Then I realize how fortunate I am. God makes the sun to rise each day, no judgment, no precondition, just an invitation to celebrate.
This could descend into platitudes and it is for that reason that we are never allowed to fritter away our suffering as if it did not exist or was easily overcome. The midnight roller coaster is real. Nevertheless—and this is the big nevertheless of the Bible—your doubts and worries do not have the last word—neither on you nor on your worth.
Excerpted from Give Us This Day ... by Christopher Levan. Copyright © 2007 The United Church of Canada. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Give us This Day Our Daily Bread
A Bread Benediction
First Ingredient of Daily Bread Discipleship: Don't Fret
The Second Ingredient of Daily Bread Discipleship: Bread is Bread
The Third Sunday in Lent: A Sabbatical Summary
The Fourth Ingredient of Daily Bread Discipleship: Bread as The Great
Holy Week: Stories for the Journey