It’s late morning late-June, and the house is quiet except for the rushing of traffic on I-10 which never seems to stop. Against its white noise, I hear the unfamiliar voice of the white-winged dove roosting on the back fence of our Fowler Street house. I watch her with mild curiosity through the kitchen window over the sink. Even the birds here are new.
My things are all in storage, the ones I’ve kept which are only a third of what I had in North Carolina, and I am living out of a suitcase in a bachelor pad. The boy is visiting his grandparents on my family farm in Michigan, a thousand miles away, but it might as well be a million. My soul, so made of dirt and wild, is in shock in the urban landscape – my soul, so made of winter, melts in the gulf humidity. The summer here is all sweat and breath.
My friend has graciously given me his room, which has a door, a gift beyond compare, for I can cry it out in privacy. He sleeps on the bunk-bed in the living room while we wait for Beulah.
I wanted this.
And, I wonder what I have done. I feel hollowed out, lost, reduced to all my animal instincts, now heightened and on alert. Every movement feels like a foraging for home. I am hungry for the familiar and for belonging.
They joke with me a little about having taken over the kitchen. To “what are you making,” they add, “now,” and they aren’t wrong. My days are spent with butter and onions as a base for everything. If I’m not cooking, I’m shopping, or Pinteresting recipes, or doing dishes – or sleeping off the growing depression which feels as thick and looming as the humidity outside. I live for their hungry question in the late afternoon. I live for dinnertime around the table with them.
This morning, I decide to make a loaf of bread, a pleasure I haven’t made room for since December. In the coming months, I will make hundreds of loaves, baking almost daily.
The process is the taste of home I’m looking for, and the prayer I don’t quite dare words for.
My hands pray it as I reach for the deep satisfaction of taking disparate tiny grounds of flour and salt and yeast, combining them with water and oil, until they come together, a gathering, a cohesion – a thing where there was no thing.
Turning the bowl over, the tender heaps and dry bits roll out into a pile. I fold and press, turn, fold and press, turn until the bonds form inside to make a ball of dough.
Bonds made from the gathering will grow by rising to become bread – bread we will eat together around the table, with potato leek soup. I pay exquisite attention to the minor miracle in my hands, a wonder I can feel as the texture changes.
Pulling the stray grains of flour into the gathering, I knead out a prayer that my life could feel this way soon. I am tender heaps, all piled up on the surface, my pieces spread out everywhere, everything so much pressing.
If it is the kneading I think about at Fowler Street, it is the shaping of the loaf that gets to me at Beulah.
A month and a half has passed, and my life begins to feel more cohesive, the bonds of friendship and life together strengthening, a regularity to my days that feels like a good rise.
We punch it down. We deflate the rise, and take new shape. At the end of July, we move, and the disorientation that is newness and change starts over again.
We have a year lease at Beulah, long enough for real rhythms. When we are honest together about what we are hoping for, this is what we say we need most, a life together with a shape. We soon plan out our practices of praying and of eating together.
As soon as the kitchen is unpacked, I make bread.
The things I live for at Beulah don’t change all that much – I still spend my days in anticipation of dinner together. We have a huge table my friend built that takes up half our living room. It is the center of everything. In the evenings, we all take turns cooking for one another and doing one another’s dishes, talking about our days. It might be the thing I love most. Sometimes there is also wine – the cheap kind from Trader Joe’s.
In the early mornings before light, we pray together wrapped in blankets and waiting for coffee, saying in unison the words “Give us this day our daily bread.”
This prayer, it’s about so much more than the physical hunger which returns in rhythmic waves throughout our day, though it is this too.
It’s prayer not only for the loaf, but for the making – a prayer for the process by which I am taken as my one self and brought into the gathering, given a place of belonging, a seat at the table and cohesion with the lives of the ones I love. The physical hunger and the emotional hunger may very well be one; eating together as a practice has marked all of human existence.
A loaf of bread is in itself a hospitality, bits clinging to one another, drawing one another into the center of a cohesion that will rise, becoming more than bits could be alone. A loaf is, in its essence, a belonging. Is it any wonder, then, that we break it at a table, sharing the belonging around, one loaf for many mouths?
This morning, I start a new loaf, mixing, kneading, thinking about the wonder I hold in my hands, this life I’ve been blessed to be gathered into, answered prayers and the home I’m finding here. I knead with gratitude. I knead with longing for our cohesion, thinking loving might be like so much baking. I knead with the loaf in my imaginary sight. “Give them today their daily bread,” I pray. “Let me be it, nourishment from your hand, a meal of belonging. Let me be home for them too.”