Sunday, August 12, 2018

Baking Communion Bread

A few years ago I received an email from one of the pastors of the church I attend asking me to bake five loaves of bread for communion the next Sunday. Five loaves seemed overwhelming, so I agreed to two.

I remember I hardly felt worthy to bake bread as I was dealing with with anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness, and confusion as well as forgiveness in the tangled web I imaged my life. I was afraid all of my feelings would transfer to the dough I kneaded and molded.

Baking bread is usually one of the ways I connect with God. I even wrote a day-long retreat "Praying with Bread."

That day, however, I was in a different state of mind. I went through the motions, mechanically, not prayerfully or reverently, gathering and combining numerous ingredients, putting the smooth dough in my favorite brown glass bowl for the first rising. The bowl was the last of a nesting set we received forty years ago for a wedding gift. The bowl held hundred of batches of dough, but that day's batch was the first to become the body of Christ.

The dough quickly doubled in size. I took half the dough from the bowl, powdered a handful of flour on the sticky places, molded a circle and placed in a buttered aluminum pan. I repeated the procedure with the remaining dough.

Before placing the pans in the oven, I studied the loaves. In those mounds of flour I saw the yeast of anger, loneliness, resentment, anxiety and other areas of disconnect in my life, along with forgiveness, blended into bread for God's people on Sunday morning. Oh, my!

When I arranged the two loaves in the over I prayed that all negative feelings would bake out of me and right to the heart of Jesus, whose body I formed that day.

Sunday Morning

I walked into the sanctuary the next day and found a pew close to the front in sight of the two oval forms of bread covered with embroidered white cloths resting in the middle of the altar. I thought about the sugar, flour, yeast and milk, which I had plucked from noisy grocery shelves days before, now transformed into one of the most meaningful aspects of Christian liturgy in a quiet church on Sunday morning.

Then I recalled my prayer the day before, as those loaves entered the oven. As I sat in that pew and examined my heart, I realized even before receiving communion, I felt peace. The negativity had burned away, my feelings now resting in Jesus' heart.

Mike and I assisted the pastors serving communion. I baked the body of Christ, and gave the body of Christ to those attending, completing a holy cycle.

Maundy Thursday

Sometimes during Holy Week I think about the bread served on that first Maundy Thursday. Who baked the loaf of bread Jesus used that night? Maybe the person was someone like me, filled with anxiety, anger, loneliness and other troubling concerns. Maybe they felt that same sense of release and relief in baking the bread? Someone always prepares the bread to offer God's people - I pray each baker always finds release as they pass along through the body of Christ, a blessing and peace to all who believe.

Prayer: Thank you God for the way ordinary tasks can bring us into your presence. You are in all we do. Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

If You Find This Letter

Two years ago our family celebrated the marriage of our oldest daughter, Sarah, to her fiance, Ryan.. We met several of their friends, including, Adam, who introduced them.

As we talked, Adam said, "I really appreciated the letter you wrote me a few years ago when I took Sarah to the airport. I'd never received a letter!"

Never received a letter? Ever?

Astonished, I asked a few questions and discovered that Adam is from Denver, (where Sarah and Ryan lived). He had always lived in Denver so there wasn't any reason for anyone in his family to write him. So the only person far enough to write was a mother in the Midwest, grateful for his kindness toward her daughter who was living in his hometown, hundreds of miles away from Indianapolis.

Letters and Hanna Brencher

Following our return from the wedding, Adam's comment stuck with me. I made a trip to Barnes and Noble to get a book for a friend having surgery. and found Hanna Brencher's book If You Find This Letter.

Letters were important to Hannah. She cherished the letters her mother wrote when she was attending college. In fact, when she moved to New York City following graduation for a job, she decorated the walls of her apartment with letters from her mother and friends.

"Even after I packed up the letters and took them home, " Hannah wrote, "I always wondered what it might be like to give something like that - a bulging package of love letters - to someone I don't even know. To someone who might never get that sort of thing otherwise. Stranger or not we all need the same kind of reminders sometimes. Your're worthy. You're golden."

In her search to find meaning, purpose and direction in a large city, she wondered if other people would like to receive a letter as a way  to bring love and affirmation to their lives. Riding the subway gave her ample opportunity to observe the cross-section of people living in New York. She focused on those who looked forlorn and lost, an image of how she felt inside as she adjusted to a new job and acclimated to a new home.

Writing Letters

Hannah wrote letters to people she saw describing her struggles, trying to find her way emotionally, professionally, as she tried to create a sense of place in a large city. She tucked the letter in an envelope and wrote on the outside, "If you find this letter ...... then it's for you." She placed the letters in subway seats, on bathroom sinks, slipped a few into coat pockets in department stores, in fitting rooms, in the library, all over town.

Over time, the act of writing letters to hundreds of people brought her to a place of peace and purpose, and the loneliness that seemed to follow her every step since she arrived  disappeared.

My Letter Writing

I enjoy writing letters too. I can often express thoughts from my heart more deeply when I write. My daughters who live far away, receive letters from me regularly. While reading the book, I decided to follow Hannah's example not only as a writing exercise, but also an activity to expand my heart and deepen compassion toward those strangers I encounter.

I reminded myself each morning to be alert to someone to whom I could write a letter. I held the image of that person in my heart throughout the day and when I had a moment, I wrote a letter I  would "give" them. A few of the people who "received" my letters include a woman at the post office carrying two large parcels one under each arm, a neighbor who has yellow chairs in the front yard, a young woman walking into the library with a coffee cup held high and a large book under her arm.

Like Hannah, however, I grew weary of writing letters in a notebook and carrying them in my bag. I decided to duplicate Hannah's method; write a letter, put it in an envelope, and drop the envelope wherever I went. At least someone will receive my words of encouragement and love.

I wrote ten letters with the message below:

     "Dear Friend,
    The cloth heart is a reminder that you are loved just the way you are. You are valued and loved for all you do. Your life matters to so many and the love you give sustains and provides comfort.
                                                                             A Friend

I folded the letter and tucked inside a heart I cut from fabric scraps. I also included on a separate piece of paper this sentence of explanation" "A letter of encouragement and love to a stranger." - based on Hannah Brencher's book, "If You Find This Letter."

Addressing the envelope according to Hannah's directive - "If you find this letter it is yours," I  set off with my bundle.

Where Did I Place My Letters?

The ten letters I wrote found homes in a restaurant, a confessional booth in a Catholic Church, at a local YMCA, a grocery store, on a stack of books at the library, and in the pocket of a jacket at Target.

Interestingly, during the two-week time I was delivering letters, I received three letters in the mail; one from a former neighbor, one in the form of a picture from my nine-year-old friend, and a thank you note.

My story with Adam's letter has come full circle. Writing a letter of gratitude to him left an imprint on his heart. His comment awakened me to Hannah's book reinforcing the importance of the lost art of letter writing.

Reflection Question

1. Who among your circle of friends, family and acquaintances would benefit from a handwritten note? Take a moment, put your thoughts on paper and mail an envelope of compassion and care.

Prayer: God, you give us the example of Paul, who wrote letters to people in the churches he established. He offered encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and blessing to each since he was unable to regularly visit. Let us model our ways of expression to others following Paul so we can have a record of thoughts and feelings toward others they can reference forever. Putting our hearts on paper leaves a cherished legacy to the recipient. Amen.