Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bread Upon the Waters

I have been working through some of my bread-making skills to help some friends pull together a Lenten series based on the stages that bread goes through as its being made. I pulled out again a copy of Peter Reinhart's Bread Upon the Waters. Peter Reinhart is a lay member of an Eastern Orthodox monastic order, but he's also one of the pre-eminent breadmakers and teachers in this country. Rereading through that little book reminded me again of how much of my own spiritual journey gets mirrored in the things I love to do.

This week, given the ways in which I have functioned and failed to function, the chapter on degassing (also called the "punch down") spoke strongly to me. In it, Reinhart speaks of running Brother Juniper's Cafe with his wife:

(page 65) "Despite [the support structures set up to help us be channels of grace as we ran our cafe], we had many moments of crisis and disagreement surrounding management issues, cooking choices, short-temperedness, and other manifestations of fatigue and stress. We often felt like play actors, putting on happy, cheerful, courteous faces for customers when inside we were grappling with upset and anger. There were times when we were actually afraid to pray to be used by God because it seemed as if we were setting ourselves up to realize our many inadequacies. We often wondered if we were failures...Despite the many difficult days and challenges to our personal sense of virtue and civility, we forged ahead knowing that our obligation to our customers was to model the courtesies that we espoused."

That line about not even being sure that we wanted to pray rang true with me. Sometimes I don't want to pray because I'm not sure I want to hear the answer...don't want to deal with inadequacy. I'm supposed to have competency, but I'm running out of steam for it as well. Sounds a lot like I need to let go. But what does it look like to be "punched down" for the sake of the Kingdom?

(Reinhart, pg. 68) "When we punch down bread dough, humbling it as a creation dependent upon the baker's beneficence and skill, it springs back, stengthened in flavor and character, building upon the fermentation already present. Letting some air out of the dough is a necessary passage if the dough is to become truly great bread. ...
There can be no growth, no evoking of the fullness of our own (or our bread's) potential, without enduring punch downs. They lead to humility. But humility is a powerful creative force; it is a manifestation of one of the energies of God, and what could be more empowering than that?"

Humility. Not a virtue I've ever sought after. Perhaps it's time. Perhaps it's time for all of us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Emergent Merton

Last week, I was at Perkins School of Theology for Ministers Week. The topic this year was the emergent church, and as I've read a lot but never heard anyone actually talk about it in person, I went up. I felt behind the times while at the same time ahead of many of my colleagues, who are still discussing how to get a contemporary service up and running. It was challenging to take some things that I had been thinking even further, especially in how I communicate--communicate the Gospel, communicate about the church, and foster communication within the church and about the world.

But then in my reading today, I came upon this:

"The 'spiritual preoccupations' of this time--the post-Vatican II Conciliar years. ... I need perhaps to be less preoccupied with them, to show that one can be free of them, and go one's own way in peace. But thee is inculcated in us such a fear of being out of everything, out of touch, left behind. This fear is a form of tyranny, a law--and one is faced with a choice between this law and true grace, hidden, paradoxical, but free.

"An unformulated 'preoccupation' of our time--the conviction that it is precisely in these (collective) preoccupations that the Holy Spirit is at work. To be 'preoccupied with the current preoccupations' is then the best--if not the only--way to be open to the Spirit.

"Hence one must know what everybody is saying, read what everybody is reading, keep up with everything or be left behind by the Holy Spirit. Is this a perversion of the idea of the Church--a distortion of perspective due to the Church's situation in the world of mass communications? I wonder if this anxiety to keep up is not in act an obstacle to the Holy Spirit." (February 4, 1966)

I think this may be where I could run into trouble with emergent--not that it is inherently a trouble with the idea of emergent churches. It seems, instead to be something that is built into the system--that they don't read everything everyone is reading or know what everyone is saying--that it, instead, emerges out of who the community authentically is and what it is authentically connected to in the Spirit. But I will be tempted to read my way, to knowledge my way, to network my way into it because I am so thirsty for this kind of experience in all its creativity and vitality and out-of-controlness.

But where on the circle do I start?

I remember as a young girl trying to figure out when to jump into a game of double dutch. Maybe it's just a question of finding the rhythm of those who are already turning the rope.