“This is a book about prayer as a kind of open-ended doing.”
At Simple Church, we practice breadmaking as a form of embodied prayer. In fact, I’m currently creating a class on the topic. It was a love for kneading and shaping bread, and a fascination with its spiritual parallels, that first guided me to connect my work in pastry and my studies in gastronomy with my theological ponderings.
The writing of Peter Reinhart – America’s master bread maker and also a deeply devoted member of the Eastern Orthodox church – opened my eyes to the wonder of bread and the importance of Christ calling himself the Bread of Life. I assumed that there were few others – let alone few other Anglicans – writing along the same lines.
So naturally I was elated when Amazon suggested I read Preston Yancey’s Out of the House of Bread. Yancey, who is in the process of ordination in the Anglican Church, uses the making of bread to introduce readers to nine spiritual disciplines. Part memoir, part spiritual guide, written in the framework of a bread recipe, it’s the Protestant version of Reinhart’s Bread Upon the Waters.
“Being a temple of the Holy Spirit is not only about us but also about the larger witness of the faithful gone before us, who would offer back perspective and conviction and discernment of how to make interior spaces of our lives beautiful for God…Tradition need not be suspicious if we are mindful of its fundamental purpose: to root us, center us back again and again on the wonder and awe of God.”
Yancey opens with an exploration into what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, to understand ourselves as the image and the likeness of God.
“We know well what the image is, even though it is beyond us, but we know so little of the likeness, or becoming more and more like God.”
The spiritual disciplines are tools to help us through that process of becoming more and more like God. Yancey writes that breadmaking is one way through which to understand those disciplines, to “teach us something about the long haul of faithfulness, the tireless work of the easy yolk of Jesus.” (27-28).
The book is divided into three sections: In Yourself, In the World, and At the Table. Yancey recommends reading one chapter per week, offering practical applications for contemplation and for baking each week.
In Yourself aligns the Examen, Lectio Divina, and Intercessory Prayer – three internal disciplines – with the first three steps of breadmaking, Mise en Place, Measure and Mix, and Kneading.
As mise en place prepares the kitchen space for baking, so confession prepares the Christian for faithful living. As measuring and mixing transforms ingredients through methodical, repetitive movements, so re-reading and re-reading and re-reading the same passage of Scripture allows the reader to enter into it in a new way, transforming her approach to creation to be ever more like that of the Creator. As kneading pulls and stretches and locks together dough, following the firm guidance of the baker’s hands, so intimate prayer for guidance and help on behalf of others reminds the praying one of his interdependence with others, the need to be knit together by the hands of God.
In the World and At the Table follow this same pattern, guiding readers through the disciplines of Wonder, Rootedness, and Remembrance, and Fasting, Feasting, and acknowledging the Seasons.
This book is helpful for anyone that wants to become acquainted with the spiritual disciplines, particularly Christians of traditions that do not utilize them, or perhaps even fear them. Through Yancey’s use of storytelling alongside instructions, this book illuminates the purpose and history of these ancient Christian practices to those not acquainted with contemplative spirituality.
If your primary goal, however, is to understand more thoroughly the process behind making bread, this is not the book for you. While the metaphors are beautiful instructions to guide your practice of the spiritual disciplines, for a non-baker they do not provide adequate guidance to understand or troubleshoot the tricky process of making bread. Yancey does provide a recipe and general instruction, but bread making is a funny art that is quite simple to learn but tricky to master. If your primary motivation is improving your bread making skills, I suggest you turn back to Reinhart instead.
I recommend this book most highly to those who desire a tactile method to explore contemplative spirituality. When used weekly, as Yancey suggests, it will serve as a beneficial guide to enlivening spiritual practice.
Looking to purchase Out of the House of Bread? Buy it here: Out of the House of Bread