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What we knead to know

Photo: Nadya Spetnitskaya/Unsplash Photo: Nadya Spetnitskaya/Unsplash

In early March, I went to Sam’s Club to stock up for the coming shelter-in-place order. On a whim, I put yeast and a large bag of flour into my cart. Having never baked bread before, it was the definition of a random purchase. Something in me thought bread may be hard to come by, so I wanted the ingredients to bake it myself if need be.

As things became more uncertain with schools and businesses closing, public Masses suspended and all my speaking events canceled for the coming months, the very scary reality of “I’m not in control of any of this” began to live rent-free in my head.

The world seemed to stop, and answers were less clear each day. I found myself in my kitchen with nothing but time, a lot of all-purpose flour, and this shrink-wrapped pack of yeast, with the one thing I could control: learning how to bake bread.

A month into this, the yeast has definitely earned its spot in the fridge and my stand mixer has proven its weight in gold. The Great McGrady Bake Off happens daily, the 2-year-old ready to taste test everything. 

So much has been lost in this pandemic — time with friends and family, the chance to worship together in our parishes, even the feeling of security and safety. Uncertainty reigns supreme.

With the loss of control came a great sense of fear and panic, but with that a remarkable chance to stop, to settle and to trust, not just in my own plans or desires but perhaps in the bigger plans of an all-knowing God who never permits an evil from which a greater good cannot be accomplished.

As churches had to close their doors, priests and bishops became very creative with how to reach their people. The first week that public Masses were suspended in my diocese, my pastor did a eucharistic procession throughout the whole parish territory, Jesus literally exposed in the monstrance on an altar in the back of a red Ford pickup.

Online conferences were developed, youth groups began gathering via Zoom and Skype, and a hunger began to grow within us — a hunger for the Eucharist and for our community. With that growing hunger, I am convinced we will see churches packed to the brim when this is over, people renewed in their desire to go to the Mass they have missed so much.

Bread goes through a few stages on its way to the oven. Measuring and mixing ingredients leads to kneading the dough, which some could argue is its own form of therapeutic punching. Then the dough rises, giving the yeast time to do its job.

It’s the rising of the dough that is perhaps the most important step. Letting the bread rise — giving it time to settle, rest and grow — is critically necessary to good bread. Throw it in the oven too soon, it’s flat and dense. Let it rise too much, it overflows and cracks.

But if the rise is timed well, the yeast does its job — leavens the dough and converts sugar into carbon dioxide — and the bread becomes something truly lovely.

I think this pandemic has turned us into loaves of bread. We’re mixed together, punched around by circumstances far beyond our control. We’re sitting in a pan (our homes) rising slowly. And something truly remarkable is happening, if we give it time and pay attention to what God is doing rather than what we cannot.

Perhaps God is leavening us in this moment, converting us into something new — a people who hunger for him, pay attention to our neighbors, make sacrifices for the common good and never again take for granted the gifts we’ve been given.

It may take some time. The rise doesn’t happen immediately, after all. But maybe, if we’re patient, we’ll learn what we knead to know.

Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author. She is project manager of Ave Explores from Ave Maria Press and logs over 100,000 travel miles a year speaking to audiences of all ages and sizes. She has her degree in theology from the University of Dallas and lives with her husband and daughter in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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