My father was a wonderful baker. Have I mentioned that? His doughnuts were so light that you would think they might float away. His Danish rolls were sweet and delicious. He made outstanding cakes and pies. But what people came from far and wide to purchase was his bread. He made different kinds of bread – rye, wheat, cottage, and French. But his best-selling (and frankly, best tasting) bread was his plain white bread.
Every night except Saturdays (because the bakery was closed on Sundays) he would drive down to the bakery to “set sponge.” That meant he would mix the flour and the yeast and the salt and whatever else, mix it in the giant mixer, then dump the sponge dough into a big trough where it would rise over night. The next day, it was ready to shape, proof again, and then bake. It sold for 29 cents a loaf. Imagine that.
I think about my dad’s bread a lot, mostly because I simply haven’t been successful yet with my bread baking. And it came to mind again Sunday because the gospel this weekend was the first of a few weeks of St. John’s so-called Bread of Life discourse. The interpretation of this part of St. John’s gospel is one of the biggest differences between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that when Jesus said this is my body and this is my blood, he was speaking literally, while Protestants believe he was speaking metaphorically. I’m not going to attempt to change anyone’s minds, although I will tell you that these upcoming gospel readings are some of my favorite. After all, that’s what the Catholic Mass is all about – the Eucharist.
St. John starts off the discourse with the story of the loaves and the fishes. In John’s version, it is Jesus who hands people their bread and fish, enough to feed them all with plenty left over. And when he saw that the crowd was so awe-struck with his miracle that they would immediately try to make him king, he went scurrying. He didn’t want to be their king. He wanted to offer them the bread of life.
Here’s the thing I have to continually remind myself when I pray: God wants me to ask him for what I want, but he also wants me to be open to what he wants for me and what he knows I need. He also wants me to be open to what he needs from me. It’s easy for me to kneel down (now that’s a lie; I’m afraid I rarely kneel to pray) and ask him to heal a loved one or return my child to the faith or keep my family safe when they travel. But I’m afraid to open myself up to listening to what he wants me to do because it may be something that’s difficult or unpleasant.
When I was a little girl, the nuns at my elementary school always told us to listen for God’s call to the religious life, that is, being a priest or nun. I clearly remember going to bed at night and being terrified that I would hear God calling me to be a nun. I needn’t have worried because I’m not cut out for the sisterhood and he, of course, full-out knew that. Still, it demonstrates that my unwillingness to listen to what God wants from me started a long time ago.
As I ponder this reality, it occurs to me that God doesn’t actually need a single thing from me. He’s perfect. But he asks things of me to make me a better person and to make my life and the lives of those around me better.
As always, it just comes down to opening myself up enough to listen to him speak to me.