Baking bread (again and again)
On making and why we need it
Every week, I carefully spoon flour, water, and sourdough starter into a rising bucket. Stirring these few ingredients together, I then leave them for 12 hours to develop into a levain—a bubbly, living organism that I then knead (with many other ingredients) into a bread dough. The process, as a whole, takes about 18 hours of mostly-waiting. It’s not an immediate reward, but the resulting bread is so worth it that I don’t mind. I await this weekly baking adventure, in fact, with eagerness. There’s something about the chance to close my laptop and put away my phone that I relish. When I knead the ingredients together, I’m intimately aware that I am in the process of making.
I know two things about making. The first is that for making (which I define as creating something by hand, mostly without the help of devices) to be a luxury or enjoyable process, one needs to turn to it out of a desire for rest and connection with physicality, not because of the economic necessity which is sometimes due to class distinctions and poverty. I remember as a child how many of my hobbies became ‘businesses’, or potential ways of making money in a family where money-making was part of survival. And of course one can enjoy this kind of making, but this is not the same thing as making because one can, not because one must. I recognize the privilege inherent in this distinction. Nonetheless, I am making it because I think being able to freely create without the stress of livelihood depending on one’s creativity is a different kind of (perhaps essential) nourishment for the soul.
This brings me to the second thing I know about making, which is that through making, I have the ability to grasp on to the tangible. I spend much of my day online, either through work, or answering personal emails, or working on one of the side gigs that I wrote about last week. Entertainment is virtual too—from the delightful scroll through my Instagram Stories each morning to evening gaming sessions with my sister. Even the audiobooks I listen to during routine tasks are mediated by digital technology (and listening sessions are dictated by the duration of my Bluetooth earbuds’ battery life!).
With so much of my day-to-day existence dependent upon technology, I find myself craving the freedom of being untethered and unreachable. This is why I turn to the tangible during my free time—I am drawn continually towards the rest and refreshment that making provides. In my specific case, making looks like a small list of hobbies that are tactile and involved. Baking bread each week is one of them, as is cooking and baking in general. Lockdown habituated me to cooking meals at home and rarely ordering takeout or going out to eat, and I find that this is a habit I’ve continued, even as the world around me has shifted. I also garden and do several kinds of sewing/needlecraft. I love making, and having the result be something edible or wearable and/or beautiful.
I can’t get away from my love of practical and useful things. But I’ve come to recognize that creating or cultivating these things doesn’t have to result in profit or change the world or become my livelihood. When making results in excess, there are neighbors and friends to gift to, or ways of preserving and storing perishable things for other times.
It is still Lent, of course, and I am as always pondering ‘what is truly necessary’ (my Lenten discipline). But what I am realizing anew is that these crafts that seem so frivolous in a world so focused on profit are actually a way of balancing an excess that already exists in my very-digital life. Baking bread each week—twisting the wet dough into a ball over and over again until the strands of gluten are strong and malleable—is not so much excess as it is sanity. Each punch of the dough and finished loaf is an act of restoring balance by resistance—a refusal to let an intangible, profit-seeking world dictate my waking hours.
Perhaps I know now a third thing about making: making is truly necessary.
Happening this Week
i. It’s been a busy week, involving slightly more theology and philosophy discussions than are usual! While I can’t share exactly in what context they occurred, I hope you know that they’ve confirmed for me that I am still largely a theological historian, and will probably not cross over into full-on philosophy anytime soon. Speaking of theology, I had the opportunity to return to my field education parish this week as a supply priest, and I preached on the prodigal son! You can check out my sermon here.
ii. Despite the warmth, cold, rain, and even hail, my container garden is still alive! The spinach, sorrel, chard, and kale are all showing signs of life, which makes me very excited for being able to harvest them in not *too* long. The overwintered parsley is still clinging on, and some (very belatedly planted) bulbs are beginning to show their stems. This week’s task will be starting summer seedlings indoors.
Happy Monday, and see you next week, friends!