On Cardinals and Bread Making

A female cardinal heads toward our bird feeder, interrupting my thoughts as I stare out the window. She is not the dazzling, deep red of her mate, instead her beauty is more subtle – a beak that the most beautiful lipstick could scarcely imitate, a warm red hue at the edges of her wings, but otherwise a light, lovely brown. Her mate is nowhere to be seen, smartly taking cover on a chilly May morning. It is early morning and her interruption is welcome during this time of solitude, nature reminding me that all will be well.

I am deeply influenced by the weather and I look out the window toward the city of Boston, grateful for sunshine and blue sky. Despite that, I find myself sighing, willing myself to focus on the beautiful distraction of the cardinal and not the unknown of the days ahead.

The spoken and unspoken words within all of us are “When will this end?” And even as we speak the words, we know that many have gone through far more difficult times for much longer periods. The cry “How long, Oh Lord?” daily escaping their lips, seemingly without answer.

Those daily chores of eating, taking walks, working from home, video chatting with friends and family, texting and more texting have all achieved heightened importance.

But by far, the most therapeutic, calming act for me has been making bread. I have loved making bread. Not sourdough, with its complicated starter that seems to the uninitiated an organism as needy as a newborn baby. Instead, oatmeal bread – a tried and true recipe that has fed our family through new born babies, tragedies, cold winters, and joy-filled soup suppers. It is therapeutic to create and it is therapy to eat.

I love eating bread, I love making bread. I have written in the past that making bread is better than a counseling session. It is redemptive work, this work of bread making. It grounds me in something solid and sustaining. It is no wonder that throughout history, from France to Egypt to Boston, bread riots have come about when shortages occur or prices rise. Bread is symbolic to life.

Every place I have lived in the world has given me more and more appreciation for bread and the thousands of ways to create it. Each type comes with a unique flavor despite most of them using fairly standard ingredients. Head out to the bazaar at dinner time in Kurdistan or Pakistan and you will hear vendors shouting, luring customers in to buy the fresh naan, fresh bread, hot out of clay ovens.

During this time of worldwide uncertainty and fear, we all long to have something to sustain us. The abundance of recipes and people creating starters for sourdough bread is evidence of how we look to bread to do this for us. In the midst of so much unknown, we want to hold on to the known and the stable, want to grasp things that will take us through uncertainty. No wonder Jesus said “I am the bread of life” to his disciples.

Bread. Beautiful, life-giving, life-sustaining bread – both the physical, tangible bread that I eat and the less tangible spiritual bread of life that I daily seek. Bread that brings order out of chaos, comfort out of despair, and peace out of pandemics, and with it the reminder of words that have lasted thousands of years. “Take. Eat. My body broken for you.”

[Picture Credit: Image by Laura Retyi from Pixabay]

6 thoughts on “On Cardinals and Bread Making

  1. I love making bread: flat bread, yeast bread, Naan, potato, oat, whatever I have. Sourdough is harder, but I’m determined to figure it out and add it to the repertoire.

    Thank you for sharing with us. I love your posts that come out of your contemplations.

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  2. I have only just baked bread from scratch in the past few weeks. Part of it was due to boredom, or rather, an excess amount of non-directed free time. The other part was the extremely limited choices I have to buy glutenfree bread in the store here. I had brought glutenfree flours with me to Korea, and a friend from back home urged me to try a recipe that she’d found that wasn’t too complicated.
    WOW. It wasn’t pretty, but it was delicious. I never want to buy bread from a store again! My second loaf turned out better, but that used up the rest of my bag of flour.
    I just got the text that my Amazon shipment arrived about an hour ago. I’m heading to the post office to pick it up just as soon as I finish today’s episode of ‘working from home during a Global Pandemic’.
    I’m planning to make bread every week. One small benefit from my nine weeks of isolation.

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  3. I love this Marilyn. As you know, I didn’t grow up with my Mom making bread. She did lots of other baking, but the bread I remember from my childhood and youth was mostly white, Wonder Bread! In other ways Mom was was quite health conscious in what she fed us: fruit and vegetables, skimming the grease off the gravy, color on our plates. So I learned to bake bread in Pakistan. I remember a guest coming out to the kitchen, drawn by the aroma of the bread I had taken from the oven, and set to cool on racks. I told him how therapeutic I found baking bread: with the kneading I beat out my frustration as I pummeled the dough. And at a stage in my work life when I always had more to do than I could accomplish, I could start in the early morning and enjoy the fruit of my labor by lunch time! It gave so much satisfaction to slice off the end, and eat it myself while the bread was still warm. I was too selfish to offer it to anyone else! Except the year Ann Irish was living with us and for Christmas I gave her a gift certificate for the first slice off every batch of bread! She enjoyed it as much as I did, so for those months, it was my gift to her. So glad you get so much joy from making bread.

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