The first week of my lenten bread-making practice has ended. The first couple of days were spent gathering the necessary things: a large glass bowl, a kitchen scale, clean tea towels, a wooden spoon, flour and filtered water. Elemental as this exercise was, as I was going about gathering, it struck me that I have been given so much.

 As I snapped this picture, I realized that every item in the frame is a gift.

As I snapped this picture, I realized that every item in the frame is a gift.

Usually, I am struck by how much I have been given as I walk. As I walk through Leuven, I am awed by the privilege of living in a safe, beautiful, medieval Belgian city. On my way to classes, I think about how much others have given so that I can be a student. I roam through gardens and parks around town and consider how natural beauty abundantly fills the cracks and crevices of my inner landscape. In this abstract way, I experience what St. Ignatius taught, that all is gift.

During this lenten exercise, though, I have been struck by how many concrete things I have been given by others. The large glass bowl which now holds my wild yeast sourdough starter is a gift from the family that I babysit for. The kitchen scale is a Christmas gift from Ellie, the tea towels are from Faith and Linnea, the wooden spoon is from Carrie. The only items involved in this process which are not direct gifts from others are still concrete gifts: clean, filtered water and milled flour, available in abundance in this beautiful, prosperous country.

So I have two notable thoughts from this first week of Lent: generosity and gratitude. First, I am surrounded by the most generous of people. Generosity is a reflex to reach out and lift up. There is a sort of deep, unaffected generosity that I’ve observed in my community, in people who give because it is their reflex to give. Second, gratitude is simply overwhelming me in this lenten season. Meister Eckhart, the 13th-century German mystic, said, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” I offer thanks for each of these generous people as I make my lenten bread, along with the many others who come to mind as I measure and stir, watch and wait. My dear spiritual director in Chicago taught me quite a bit about the way that gratitude transforms our outlook on life. Gratitude is a gateway to abundance, a path to contentment, a protest in a consumptive world.

These two qualities, generosity and gratitude, are not unrelated. One fuels and inspires the other. As St. Ignatius said, “All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully.” As I enter week two with generosity and gratitude, may this bread-making practice help me to know Christ better.

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