We experience the movement of time in at least two distinct, grossly-oversimplified ways: linearly and cyclically. In linear time, we think of a three-part structure of past, present, and future, with time moving in one direction (like an arrow) without repetition. The arrow cannot be reversed back: time marches forward such that we cannot return to the past and we cannot skip ahead to tomorrow. But in the church, we also experience time in a cyclical way. We mark the passing of time on the church calendar, which repeats rhythmically, year after year. The calendar begins with Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, just recently passed, in which we remember the coming of Christ to earth as a man. The calendar then moves on through Lent, Easter and Ascension, during which we remember the death of Christ and His resurrection. After his ascension into heaven, we celebrate Pentecost, when he sent his spirit to comfort us until we are reunited with him. After Pentecost, the weeks on the church calendar are aptly labeled “ordinary time”… these are months of time which pass without extraordinary incident until we return to Advent and Christmas once again. So even as time shoots forward like an arrow, the church calendar repeats and reminds us that we also live in rhythms and seasons.

I have observed the cyclical, circular calendar of the church for about five years. Through the rhythm of the church calendar, I return over and over again to what Christ has done, in becoming incarnate, in showing us what God looks like, in shining light in our darkness.

Lent occurs as spring emerges, when creation is undergoing a seasonal process of renewal. When I lived in upstate New York and kept a garden, this was the time of year when the snow receded from the perennials and revealed dead, decayed organic matter beneath. I would collect the dead leaves and use a sharp hoe to incorporate them into the soil, causing them to decompose quickly and provide vital nutrients to the roots awakening below.

The Lenten season is likewise a season of renewal. I approach Lent as a season in which to look at my life, notice what is dead and what is growing, and cultivate a life-giving practice. I try practices which renew my spirit and raise my awareness of God’s active presence in my life. (In this chapter of my life, fasting doesn’t provide renewal and heightened awareness for me — I fixate on “deprivation” more so than I hear and see God. Maybe one day that will change.) One year, I learned how to pray the rosary. Another year, I explored breath prayers. Once, I replace watching TV with an emphasis on hospitality by planning and sharing meals with friends.

But yesterday, when I attended our beautiful ecumenical Ash Wednesday service with St. Martha and St. Mary’s Anglican Church and the Justus Lipsius Catholic Community, I didn’t have any ideas for Lent. I sat uncomfortably praying to God to give me some idea or focus for this season. What needs to be cleared away and what needs to be cultivated?

Then our priest, Jack, said something in the homily which arrested my attention: “Quite literally, the human body is composed of, among other things, roughly 50% oxygen, 10% hydrogen, and 30% carbon… dust we are, and to dust we shall return. Lent is not about beating ourselves for wrongdoing, mea culpa, mea culpa. Lent is about remembering the dignity of what we are: we are dust, and when Christ came to us, he came as dust.”

Over the course of these forty days, I am looking to recover the dignity of what I am in light of this incarnate God of dust. Man does not live by bread alone, Jesus said during his own forty days of wilderness desolation, implying by those words that man most certainly does live by bread. Later, bread would become the chief medium through which Christian celebrate the presence of Christ. So for Lent this year, I’ll be cultivating a practice of bread.

Before the advent of commercial yeast, bread was made by fermenting water and flour slowly, over time. The bacteria naturally present in the flour, water and air are fed daily and bubble up, over time, into an active and vibrant community of yeast. A practice that requires discipline and dedication and perception, cultivating wild yeast is a practice of mystery.

In his extraordinary work of culinary devotion called The Supper of the Lamb, Father Robert Farrar Capon expresses the depth of what it means to live by bread: “The company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity… food is precisely an epiphany of the greatness of our nature… it is a sacrament, a real presence of the gorgeous mystery of our being” (p. xxvi).

Over the next forty days, I will attempt to cultivate a practice of bread-making, a labor of love and perception and epiphany. I’ll take a few notes each week and share them with you here. If you’re in Leuven, come over for a visit to taste and see the results of this practice! And if you don’t object, would you share your Lenten practice with me? What practice of awareness and renewal is God calling you to this year?

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