November 2015 Field Notes
When you study God’s creation in detail, you discover not just the world in all its glory; you also uncover all kinds of metaphors for the spiritual life.
Take mycelium, for example. Another word for fungi, mycelium grows in the darkness, connecting the world of the living and the dead. Only rarely do we see its “fruit”: the mushroom. While writing a book about gardens as a metaphor for the spiritual faith, I visited a group of Trappist monks who cultivate mycelium for mushrooms. While working with the monks, it occurred to me that mycelium was a near-perfect metaphor for prayer. You can read an excerpt of that story here, but my point is that this insight would not have come to me had I not first learned with my own hands how to cultivate mushrooms.
The central metaphor of the Christian faith is the Bread of Heaven. In the Hebrew Bible, manna was the bread that came down from heaven. In John’s gospel, Jesus reinterprets that phrase to mean something that was appalling to his first audience, as it should be appalling to us: that his own body is the bread of heaven. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus’ own body is the bread of heaven? Despite centuries of theological jousting, nobody has ever wrapped their minds around that one. Nor will we ever fully comprehend such a comparison. Metaphors by their very definition resist fixed meaning. To say that A is B when A so clearly is not B forces the interpreter to return again and again to the comparison, each time discovering something new.
Metaphors are best understood from the inside. That is, they are best understood with one’s sinews and muscles. And taste buds. That’s why Christ’s followers can’t just take the Eucharist once and call it good; we must return again and again.
Which poses the question: how would we experience the power of the Eucharist if we knew how to make bread? The concepts of bread-making are not difficult to grasp. But as any baker will tell you, the art of bread making takes a lifetime. And even then you will never fully understand all its mysteries.
With these thoughts in mind, my colleague Jill Crainshaw will be co-teaching a workshop in Asheville on December 5th called Bread of Heaven, Bread of Earth. Jill is a gifted liturgist and theologian, and has been teaching a string of classes the past few years that link sacraments like Eucharist and baptism to their everyday elements: bread, water, wine. When teaching divinity students about baptism, for example, she takes them to a local creek and then to a water treatment plant.
To teach the art of bread-making, Jill is teaming up with David Workman, one of Asheville’s most talented bakers. If you’ve eaten bread at either City Bakery, West First Pizza, or Flat Rock Village Bakery (where Dave now works), you know the level of quality we’re talking about. Dave is involved in the farm-to-bakery movement, using organic flours grown on North Carolina farms and ground in Asheville at Carolina Ground Mill. He’ll be teaching all the basics of how to make your own bread. And for lunch we’ll be eating Dave’s pizzas and pastries from Flat Rock Bakery, all made with organic locally ground flour.
In addition to teaching hands-on baking skills, the aim of the December 5th workshop is to “explore the liturgical and spiritual significance of bread during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Preparing, waiting, and feasting–each is connected to bread-making and each is connected to the Christian rhythms of incarnation.”
This workshop is the first of three Jill will lead this year in a series called Saving Places, Savoring Graces: Exploring a Grounded Worship Spirituality. On April 9th we will host a workshop on watersheds and baptism in Elkin, and a third workshop on liturgy and community gardening in Winston-Salem is also in the works. Stay tuned for locations and dates.
Director of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and
Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ecological Well-Being