Saturday, 24 September 2011

Contemplative bread making

Here is the script (liturgy) for a contemplative bread making session. Upload it here. This is a slight modification of the one that I used for some contemplative bread making that took place at Holland House, Cropthorne, Worcestershire on the 21st September 2011. To the left you can see a picture of this session – this was near the end when we were shaping our loaves.

Please feel free to use the liturgy yourselves – although you will need to adapt it – and I would really appreciate anyone’s views on how to improve it. It is probably too wordy. I’ve also included instructions for the equipment you’ll need and some (but not many) ‘stage directions’. Finally, at the end, there is a list of biblical verses about bread to read at some point and a recipe ‘card’.

I think that for contemplative bread making sessions you should use flour that has come from locally grown and locally milled wheat as it was at Cropthorne. In Oxford I use Dove’s Farm organic flour to the same recipe. Ideally the flour should be organic or at least produced to some other agreed standard for environmental sustainability such as LEAF. I think you should know – as far as possible – where the salt and yeast have come from. Fresh yeast is best to my mind because it is smellier than dried yeast. I think that is perhaps important that the yeast smells of putrefaction (see Mark 8: 11-21)

I’ve run one of these contemplative bread making sessions twice now and my main reason for doing so is to help people connect with food, where it comes from, and its symbolic meaning.

Bread of course is central to Christian worship but we normally eat it at the Communion Service, Eucharist, Mass, etc without any regard to where it comes from. The exception is where we say this prayer at the preparing of the table:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.
Making the bread as part of Communion is really just to lengthen this prayer. Hence the liturgy is designed to make us think more about ‘fruit of the earth and work of human hands’ and this is why there is some rather technical material about tractors, petrol, stainless steel salt pans, etc. I am loath to leave this out. But this material is also combined with making use of the ingredients of bread and the processes involved in its production as symbol that these might ‘become for us the bread of life’.

Of course you probably couldn’t make bread as part of a Communion Service on a routine basis! For the two contemplative bread making sessions I have run one had eight participants and one had 15 so not a whole church(?) And if you worry about crumbs at a Communion Service then you’ll worry even more about the mess of making bread. (There’s a bit of a theological question here: ‘At what point does the dough become bread?’)

Moreover bread making takes quite long with lots of waiting around. It takes longer than a regular service. One of the contemplative bread making sessions I have run took a morning and then there wasn’t time to bless, break, share and eat the bread slowly – as one would at normal Communion Service although we did eat one of the loaves with local butter and honey. The other took a day and there was. On that occasion we piled up all the loaves we had made before the table and the priest used one for a ‘traditional’ Eucharistic ceremony. (The liturgy for this I haven’t included).

Please do let me know what you think, particularly if you ever try this yourself.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Meditation on eating a satsuma

This meditation is designed to be read to a group where each individual has been given a satsuma. The reader should pause after each paragraph. It should take about 20 minutes to read. It can be done in a church service of say 80 people, or in a small group of about say 10.

I want you to take the satsuma in your hand. Close your eyes for a moment. Feel its shape, feel the texture of its skin: is it warm, cold, hard, soft, rough, smooth?

You will note that the satsuma is a thing but it’s also, a living being just as you are. Savor that for a moment.

Open your eyes. Now try to look at the satsuma as if you had never seen a satsuma before. And indeed you have never seen this particular satsuma before.

For a start therefore, notice that the satsuma has a top and a bottom. The bottom is where it was attached to the tree via a stalk. The top is where there the flower used to be. This being has a history. It has a past, a present now, and a future.

Notice the particular shape of your satsuma: it’s not really a sphere it is flattened at its top and at its bottom.

Now look more closely at the satsuma. See if you can see the remains of leaves round the stalk, the particular wrinkles in this particular satsuma’s skin, any blemishes your satsuma has.

Look at the colour of the satsuma.

[Here is something you might think about: the uniqueness of this situation. You are in a particular place at a particular moment with a particular satsuma. This uniqueness in time and space is primarily because you are holding this particular satsuma. The place or time could be different but the particularity of the satsuma would still make the situation unique. Place and time are, in effect, irrelevant. Heaven is like this: place and time do not matter. What really matters is not where Heaven is or when we will be there, but who - what real beings - are with us. In that sense Heaven - when and where we see God face to face - may well be the placiest of places, the eternal now, the most gloriously material of all meetings – a bit like this meeting with the satsuma]

Now smell the satsuma. Notice the smell of the satsuma itself and notice the smells that it has picked up on the way: from the bag it was carried here in, from your hand.

Now carefully and slowly peel the satsuma listening to the sound it makes as you do so. What noise does it make when you break into it?

Only tear the skin as much as is necessary. Try to keep the skin intact and the segments together. Notice how the white of the inside of the skin and the segments are slowly revealed.

Notice the smell as you peel the satsuma. Notice how the smell of the satsuma that was just a hint before is now released.

Hold the flesh in one hand and the peel in the other. Look at the shape of the satsuma and look at the shape of the peel. Look at their different colours. How different they are.

[Here is something you might think about: What was once one is now two, and for the moment at least, both are just as important as one another. What you can now see – the outside of the flesh and the inside of the peel - no one but you has ever seen. They present themselves to you as the animals to Adam, as nameless until seen by Man, to be met and to be known. And they come to you – as to their God – for your astonishment at their great glory.]

Put down the peel. Hold the flesh in both hands.

Now carefully separate out just one segment. Gently detach it from the others. Listen carefully as you do so: you might be able to hear the faint squeak as it comes away from the other segments.

Look at the segment, its shape and its colour.

Put one segment in your mouth without biting it. Feel it with your tongue. Is it cold, warm, rough, smooth?

Bite it just once. Can you feel the coldness of the juice? What can you taste?

Slowly, very slowly chew the satsuma segment as long as you can and then swallow it.

[Here is something you might think aboutl: What you have seen to be sure is only the smallest part of the uniqueness of your satsuma, the merest hint of the stunning act of being that it is. For somehow, beneath this gorgeous paradigm of unnecessary being, lies the act by which it exists. You have just now reduced the satsuma to its parts but you might have caught the hint that a thing is more than the sum of the insubstantialities that comprise it. Hopefully you will never again say that the solidities of this world are mere matters of accident. Perhaps now you have seen at least dimly that the uniquenesses of creation are the result of continuous creative support, of effective regard by no mean lover. He likes satsumas therefore they are. The shapes, the textures, the colours, the smells, the tastes are a response, not to some forgotten decree that there may as well be satusmas as lemons, but to His present delight. His intimate and immediate joy in all that you have felt, seen, smelt, tasted. With Peter the satsuma says, Lord it is good for us to be here. Yes says God. Very good.]

After: Robert Farrar Capon (1969) The supper of the lamb: a culinary reflection. Doubleday: New York