The first is when seeds are harvested (a euphemism for death) in order to become wheat. The seeds contain potential for life and must be crushed in order to release that life.
Next, the wheat, when combined with wet ingredients, forms a clay. [Side note: the Hebrew word for clay is related to the same word used for Adam in the creation account of Genesis.] As the clay is mixed with yeast (i.e. leaven), the death of the seed is transformed into the (rising) life of the dough.
This dough, however, goes into the oven where it experiences a second form of death via heat. At 140 degrees, bread reaches its thermal death point (TDP in technical baking jargon). The dough gives up its life in the oven in order to become the bread that will soon emerge.
Finally, this bread (which was once dough, which was once clay, which was once flour, which was once seed), is consumed; the final death that gives sustenance and life to he who eats it. I live only because the bread gives up its life.
I love everything about this. I love making bread and eating homemade bread. Using my hands to knead clay into dough and then waiting with anticipation as it rises. I love the smell of my house as bread bakes in the oven and the smiles on friend’s faces when you surprise them with a loaf of homemade bread. Really, truly, nothing is better.
But I also love how bread helps me understand life and death. The bread making process gives me a lens for understanding how life and death are connected. Making bread helps me in my struggle to live inside the mystery of being human. Of being both creature and creator. Of living as I die and dying as I live.
If we are what we eat – and we feed on death – we are forced to rethink what it means to live and to die; to begin and to end. As we eat, we are forced to face this quintessential struggle of our own creatureliness. We are also given new eyes to experience what it means for Jesus to call himself the Bread of Life.
Becoming a bread maker, even of the amateur sort, will change the way you live, the way you read the bible, and the way you relate to death. If you’re up for it, here is one of my favorite recipes to get you started.