(An edited post from the archives as we enter this week of thanksgiving and time devoted to family.)
Each week I grab the yellow-flowered apron from its hook, measure the yeast, test the warm water on the back of my wrist and fill the bowl with flours, honey and oil. After a spin in the mixer, I put the newly made dough into loaf pans and cover them gently to wait for their rise. Finally, I slide them into the hot dark of the oven and let their fragrant perfume fill the house.
It's a ritual I practice regularly, this making of the family bread. I began years ago spurred on by a reference to the table of the showbread in Exodus: "Put the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times." Though Exodus is rife with commands, I hung at this one. I repeated it throughout the day, wrote it in my journal once, twice, three times. I woke in the morning and found my mouth rehearsing it before I swung my legs from the bed; an imperative: "Put the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times."
Hands went to work alongside spirit, creating in the physical world an echo of a spiritual calling I wanted to grasp. Its spiritual urgency has long since mellowed, but participating in the provision of such a basic family need has illustrated for me a beautiful aspect of our Lord. When Jesus called Himself the Bread of life, He was providing imagery that would have had particular immediacy for the people of His day (and, one thinks, especially for the women and the poor.) In His kindness, Jesus offers Himself to us as daily, elemental sustenance.
With patient faithfulness He sets the table before us, a fragrant and nourishing supply, provision for everything He asks of us. All we must do is partake. Our Lord taught us to pray in just this way, "Give us this day our daily bread."
There is another aspect as well. "Put the bread of the Presence on the table...at all times" is also a command I read as a mother. I must set the table each day to welcome the Presence of the Lord and I must teach my children how to partake of the Daily Bread, to regularly taste and see that the Lord is good.
We are called to nourish our children mind, soul and body. As we provide food for the body, so we set the spiritual table before our families. I have never been one for elaborate schedules or activities; instead I try to live simple rhythms that nourish and strengthen. Four or five verses read at breakfast, urgent moments seized for prayer, drawing attention to the work of God in the every day, photos of our sponsored kids on the shelf above the dinner table to remind us to pray and give thanks, awareness and celebration of the church calendar, really loving people and serving them instead of just talking about it. All of these things coming together to awaken and enrich the soul and spirit.
So I get up early, eat my own Bread, and set the table for the children. I light the candles, put on the worship music and a pot of oatmeal, bring out the thrift store bowls and the orange juice. It's a ritual I practice as often as I can, spurred on by a bit of scripture and a loaf of bread.