There is an especial quality of healing in the smell of baking bread.
For me, it is not just any bread but the warm, yeasty smell of my mom’s homemade bread. It seems no matter what darkness enters into my life, the smell of her bread reminds me that somehow — however remote that how appears — all will be well.
It usually begins sometime in the morning. Mom pulls out her bread bowl, measuring cups, flour, and yeast. She makes sure her pans are prepared and that a warm space for the bread dough to rise is ready. Good bread takes time. It takes patience, effort, and intention. Did I mention Mom grinds her own wheat?
When I finally get to sink my teeth into a tender-soft piece, it needs to be enjoyed with a bit of butter and a dollop of Dad’s homemade strawberry-vanilla jam. There’s really no other way to appreciate the entire process from wheat berry to bread.
Sometimes I wonder if we gloss over the presence of bread in the Holy Week story. I wonder if Jesus’ disciples kicked back and relaxed not because they were unaware to the mounting stress around them, but because they were acutely aware of growing tensions, and the smells of back home — of the simplicity of baking bread — helped soothe their spirits. I wonder if, in preparing for the Passover in the marketplace or in their billet, the disciples began to breathe out the stress of angry mobs and to breathe in the practice of the presence of God. I wonder if much of Jesus’ own grief was not so much over the extraordinary that was to come, but rather of the loss of the ordinary he already had — like breaking bread with his friends.
The rhythms of ordinary life can be lifelines. In times of deep distress, I know I look for the extraordinary to rescue me from pain. Yet I’m coming to learn that often God works in through ordinary, drawing us back to places of stillness and simplicity. It’s no wonder that the abuse and neglect of these precious spaces causes us so much trauma and woundedness. When simple experiences contain such power to create safety and relationship but are used to hurt and destroy, that power transmits as pain and suffering upon us.
Make no mistake about the power of simple things. Grief, pain, and suffering are not linear and will wash up again and again in ways new and unannounced to us. Sometimes, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling the world around us are the only ways we can experience love and relationship. Cognitive arguments around those experiences mean little during seasons of darkness. We need our sensual brains to connect us back to our experiences of love.
I may not always know off the top of my head why the smell of Mom’s bread always creates a sense of immediate safety in me. But in darker moments, I don’t have to. The air is filled with love and security already. I can relax into that moment and draw assurance from the presence of love simply by breathing.
Whether you nourish yourself with yeast bread or non-yeast bread; with bannock, or tortillas or pita bread; with gluten or without gluten; as a loaf or as a wafer, may partaking in it root you in simple spaces filled with love, hope, and peace. May you breathe in its power for healing and wonder.
Sometimes, receiving love in breathing is the most courageous thing we can do.