I currently have six bags of flour sitting on my shelf. A couple of all-purpose, and one each of whole wheat, spelt, semolina, and barley.
I’d guess a bag of flour doesn’t look all that special to most people—that untouched package in the back of the cupboard left alone until it’s time to bake cookies.
It’s dry, lifeless. A bag of dust.
Some people might see its potential to become cake, or brownies or something good if blended with butter and sugar and eggs. But on its own, it’s not too much to behold.
Remember, you are dust.
And to dust you shall return.
These words strike me every year as I stand, head bowed, for the imposition of ashes on my forehead. In years past the pain of death has haunted my Lenten fasting. And that’s the purpose, isn’t it, of this centuries old tradition drawn from Genesis 3:19? A reminder of the inevitability of death, of our place in an aching world that will continue even after we pass on.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, until you return to the ground. Since from it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.
But a return to the soil out of which we are made means that death is far from final.
Soil and flour are teeming with life and with the potential to foster new growth. They compost that which has died in order to feed new life. And so a reflection on the dust to which we shall return is only just the first step into a conversation on resurrection.
Yes, that’s the purpose of this centuries old tradition. Of this season leading up to Easter.
To end with a celebration of resurrected life we must first begin with a reflection on death. We must acknowledge its somber reality and this broken, hurting world.
So we look at the flour, parched and dry. Not much of a sight to behold.
But we know that for wheat, its death to become flour is not going to be the end. We know it’s just dormant, waiting patiently to bubble back to life. It's a mass of proteins and starches wound up tightly, ready to be released and transformed by water.
Today, as you mix together flour and water to bring the wheat back to life, meditate on Genesis 3:19. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, until you return to the ground. Since from it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Pray that as you reflect on the inevitability of death and your place in this broken world, you will grow eager to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and to take part in fostering the kingdom of God here and now.
Many of us do not have to feel the full impact of the first half of this verse. Woven into the brokenness of the world is a system that allows us to sweat very little in order to acquire the food that we eat. So as you mix, pray also for those who work in the soil and behind the stove—many of whom here in America work for unjust wages and in fear of deportation.
Pray for their safety and consider how you might take part in fostering the kingdom of God here and now through your own choices in purchasing food.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water, room temperature
Mix together the flour and water in a glass or plastic container covered with a kitchen towel or coffee filter. I prefer to mix mine in a mason jar covered with a coffee filter and screw on the lid ring without the insert to hold the filter in place.
Leave this mixture at room temperature for two days. It will start to thin out and bubble just slightly. On days 3, 4, and 5 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), add another 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of water. By day 5 (Monday) you will have close to two cups of happy starter ready to bake its first loaf of bread.