Bread: An Exploration of Incarnation

Aaron2

Aaron Jones

by Katie Linton Pinder

Years ago I lived across a creek from Aaron Jones in a small town in East Tennessee. Our paths crossed each weekday morning at 7:15, when he and I and half a dozen others would sleepily make our way to the small, quiet sanctuary of Hopwood Christian Church for Morning Prayer. There our minds and mouths recited the words written for us in the liturgy—In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—and we let its rhythm carry us along.

Towards the end of the liturgy, we served each other Communion with a loaf that someone among us had baked that week. This "became a bug" in Jones, a young, earnest student who began to feel the value of knowing the hands that shaped the small, homemade loaves he ate from each morning.

When classes wrapped up that semester, Jones decided to try his hand at baking. He made his first loaves with no guidance, rolling them out on a small square of kitchen counter in the apartment he shared with three others. "That summer," he laughs, "I was making really, really lousy bread."

With some help from a friend and a bit more practice, Jones became the bread making force for Morning Prayer. "I couldn't have articulated it then, but I was learning a new spiritual practice that year by baking bread and then eating that bread as more than bread in the Eucharist."

"In the bread of Eucharist God calls me back again and again to my own body and the bodies of my neighbors—bodies that are not husks to be abandoned but are eternally in the hopes of a bodily resurrection."

These days Jones can articulate it quite well. And he has done just that, in a 28-page document detailing an annual workshop he leads at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. The "Craft and Spirituality of Bread Making" curriculum includes everything from theology to bread recipes to quotes from the Desert Fathers. Every year that he leads the workshop, Jones tweaks the document a little, but the basic rhythm remains consistent: work, prayer, and the table.

I spoke recently to Jones for the first time in five years. He told me that once he started baking bread, he never stopped. First for Morning Prayer, then for professional bakeries, and even now for the micro-bakery, Levain, that he runs out of his home. He had also spent three years immersed in theology at Duke Divinity School, dedicating himself to the study of Scripture as a body-affirming text as opposed to a body-denying one.

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At the workshop, participants "experience the possibility that simple, methodical work can become a place for prayer."

"When Jesus said "I am the living bread. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,' he gave the meaning and importance of the body a whole new gravity," explains Jones. "He didn't give a law or a text. He didn't even give a religion. He gave his body. Bread, for me, is always a call back to the body; a call not to get lost in the labyrinth of the maze of my own spiritual confusion or my own obsessive curiosity about where God is, or what he thinks about this or that thing. In the bread of Eucharist God calls me back again and again to my own body and the bodies of my neighbors—bodies that are not husks to be abandoned but are eternally in the hopes of a bodily resurrection."

On a chilly Friday evening at Anathoth in March, Jones kicks off the annual workshop weekend. By Saturday morning, the 12 or so participants are learning to make their first loaf, and Jones is all over the room—demonstrating, correcting, encouraging. After a short break, participants rolls up their sleeves to begin the second loaf of the day, only this time, Jones informs them, they'll be shaping the dough in silence.

Eyes widen, protestations erupt. This is only the second time in their life they've made a loaf of bread! They don't remember a thing he just taught them!

Jones explains that the silence creates a space "to experience the possibility that simple, methodical work can become a place for prayer."

So they begin. Five silent minutes of kneading. Rest. Five silent minutes of kneading.

"I tell them to stop and wait. There is so much in the pattern of bread making that can be useful to us." Ultimately, he's educating them not just in the rhythms of bread making, but on the rhythms of prayer.

That evening, with counters clean and loaves cooling, the workshop participants gather for compline and Communion. They break the bread they've baked together, and Jones concludes with a word that resounds beyond the world of the workshop, and beyond the scope of baking: "We would be deceived if we thought that we were the ones making things. That we were the ones making bread and that's what mattered about our pattern and our time. It's God who has been making something of us through this pattern and this process, shaping us, making us into something that is new and wholesome for God's world."

Register for the Craft and Spirituality of Bread Making workshop at AnathothGarden.org.

Katie Linton Pinder holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Membership coordinator at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia by day, she moonlights as a freelance writer.

breadRelated reading:

In Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, Preston Yancey creatively engages the symbolism and experience of spiritual disciplines with the baking of bread. An invitation into a more holistic (both contemplative and embodied) experience of worship, the book is a glorious celebration of the sacraments and seasons of God.

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1 Response

  1. Christian says:

    That manual labor can be prayerful is a good and important reminder. Let us also be reminded that, for many, manual labor is not a rhythm, not a prayer. It is labor. And when labor is anything more than just that, it is a privilege.

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182873

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