Sunday, June 24, 2018
lt's All in the Hands - Baking Biscuits Full of Love
"Crafting Happiness" an article in Whole Living magazine (June, 2010) speaks to the value of hands-on work to satisfy a primal craving to create solid objects. Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College, made an interesting observation while reading the Little House on the Prairie series to her daughter.
Thinking of the contrast between her own push-button lifestyle and Ma Ingall's day-in-day-out labor, she realized that hard physical work producing palpable results might be a source of pleasure. Ma's chores - collecting rainwater for baths, sewing every article of clothing for her husband and children - were no laughing matter. And yet, Lambert came to think, as connected as these tasks were to the survival of Ma and family, they were also quite rewarding.
She also notes that physical labor strongly influences well-being. Whenever we make something - bread, a scarf, a piece of pottery, biscuits, a quilt, art, "the brain's executive-thinking centers get busy planning, then happy anticipation begins, reaching out to other parts of the brain that make us dive our hands into action."
I could identify with her observations because when I bake biscuits, I have quite a ritual that begins with the thought, "I want to make biscuits for _______. She is sick, celebrating a birthday, just had a baby, I enjoy being her friend, she is going through a rough time etc."
Then I light a candle to remind me I am in God's presence doing holy work.
Gathering the ingredients takes me to two cupboards. Pouring the ingredients into the bowl allows more time for reflecting on my purpose for baking.
Feeling the texture of the dough helps me know if I need to add more flour.
Finally, putting the dough on the kitchen table, ready to knead, allows me to add prayer and thanksgiving for the person I am remembering. Kneading my love along with God's love as I turn and fold the dough reminds me as I create I am not working alone.
The Pleasure of Baking Is Tied To Touch
About a year ago, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine section (April 30, 2017), "It's All in The Hands" featured Dorie Greenspan, a young woman learning to bake from her mother-in-law, a professional baker.
Dorie described her first experience touching dough. "Had I been more experienced, more attuned to the language of baking, I might have understood that everything I needed to know about dough was in my hands. But my hands didn't know enough then. Today they're my trustiest tool."
I know this from my own experience with biscuit-making. The touch of my hands on the dough is a good barometer of the readiness of the dough for baking. They are definitely my trustiest tool too!
Greenspan continues, "Baking is handwork and for me, all that is joyful, comforting, gratifying and even magical about this work is packed into the simple act of baking biscuit. I practice a kind of meditation while I make them. I concentrate on how each step feels - not because it makes a better biscuit, but because I like having my senses on high alert, anticipating and responding to the dough's change."
I thought I might be the only one who thought of the deep meaning and beauty of praying with thankfulness for the recipients of each biscuit I bake, kneading love into the dough itself, but Greenspan follows a similar process.
"By the time I pry open the baked biscuits, cover them with strawberries and top it all with whipped cream, my handprints are baked into them. So are a large measure of joy and a small pinch of hope. Maybe what I've baked will linger in someone's memory or even make a new baker."
Yes, I feel like Dorie, my handprints and love baked into each biscuit ready to share with someone else. It's all in the hands, but I believe it's all in the heart, too.
A Reflective Activity
1. Decide on an activity that you want to complete with an awareness of God's presence.
2. Light a candle. Take a deep breath. Say a simple prayer, "God, you are with me as I _____."
3. Complete the task.
4. Reflect on your experience of intentionally asking to be aware of God's presence while you worked.
Prayer: God, we find you in the everyday experiences of our lives. We don't have to go anywhere to have a glimpse of you because you are right where we are. Everything we do can draw us closer to you and enable us to listen more deeply for the Holy, a connection to the sacred. Guide our awareness so we can keep our hearts open to you for your words, your strength, perseverance, guidance, compassion or whatever we need. Amen.