Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Easter bread

Appearances can be deceiving.

The Easter bread, as my family recipe indicated, was supposed to rise "like our Lord." The dough was not supposed to stay the same height despite hours of cajoling rest, nor was it supposed to remain as dense as the rock guarding the aforementioned Lord's tomb. Yet there I was on Holy Saturday, observing with dismay a long-awaited loaf that stood only two inches high and weighed 1,000 pounds.

To be honest, I wasn't completely surprised. How could this finicky dough avoid absorbing the unusual stress of this year's "holiday" -- the rush of baking with a toddler underfoot, the poignant loss of a long-anticipated family visit, the pervasive, pandemic-created existential dread that felt at exact odds with resurrection. Previous success with this recipe guaranteed nothing in our new reality. Adapt or die, the dough seemed to tell me, and it illustrated its advice by dying.

In a way, though, the bread's failure was the perfect invitation to submerge myself in the fatigue, grief, and fear not just of our current boundless crisis, but of Holy Week itself. As this moving reflection from Lyz Lenz about Holy Saturday put it, "We want to skip to life, without sitting with death. We want resurrection without sitting with the grave."

Here was my moment to acknowledge all the deaths, great and small, that had dogged me for weeks and were continuing unabated. So I leaned in. I wept. I journaled. I blasted the soundtrack of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and keened from Judas' betrayal onward. I allowed my bone-deep sorrow to fully surface, and I laid it out like a sheet on the clothesline, letting it billow and swell in the prevailing winds, allowing the sun to bleach it.

By the time my husband and I tuned into our parish's livestreamed Easter Vigil service that evening, I was wrung out. But my annihilated defenses also made me more drawn to the candle flame flickering in our home votives, more invested in the psalms, more receptive to this promise in the Exsultet:

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.

On Easter Sunday, I cut into my Easter bread to find it ... not half bad. The consistency was off and some parts weren't totally baked, but there was nothing a light toasting and dollops of butter couldn't address. And though imperfect, the taste was acceptable enough to convince me to reinvent the failure, to make sure its precious yeast, eggs, and embodied energy did not go to waste: I cubed the remainder and improvised a caramelized onion strata topped with melted Gouda.

It was delicious and unexpected, not at all the flavors I associate with the Easter holiday, yet exactly what this year's rare circumstances required. From disappointment came nourishment; from failure, inspiration; a timely reminder that we have many ways to rise.




Prayer #356: Catch the Wild Yeast

Pervasive God,

At present, I do not have the will to expend energy on anything beyond survival. So leave me on Your counter draped in soft cloth (whether blankie or shroud, I leave to the eye of the moody beholder), and help me grow comfortable with accepting the mysterious transformation rippling through me.

Eventually, under Your nurturing care, I will activate, bubble, and metabolize again. Just not yet. For now, You are starting me for ends unknown.

Amen.

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