A Notion of Sacramental Bread
Note from Peter: We welcome Michael Hanson back with another thought provoking and, maybe even, controversial guest column. I am very curious to hear what you think of his ideas; whether you understand his vision and if you agree or disagree with his world view. This is an open forum and we encourage dialogue with all of our readers. It’s okay to voice your opinion as long as it’s done in a respectful way; nothing touches a nerve quite like commentaries that refer to God and the sacred. Now, here’s Michael:
“The Bread in your hand
Is the Body of the Cosmos”
Thich Nhat Hahn
Many times recently I have been asked to explain my idea of Sacred Baking in more detail. Many of you may have read my previous article about my life journey and my idea of baking an honest, holy or sacred loaf. Here I want to explain my practice in more depth and welcome your thoughts. I have moved beyond “artisan baking” for two reasons. First, the term artisan, as many people have noted, has been stolen by the mass retail marketing experts; most “food porn” perverts the language to such an extent that factory made food now often gets called “artisanal.” Second, my personal journey has brought me to a new place of understanding and connecting with the Divine, that which is bigger than ourselves.
Our ancestors had a direct and deep connection to the earth and the fruits of the earth: tilling, planting and harvesting in cycles to feed themselves. Around these tasks built up ceremonies, rituals , songs and dances which, in our culture have all but disappeared, the remnants of which exist in ancient folk customs, many of which were expropriated by the religious orthodoxy and institutions and transformed into “religious” ceremonies; that most fundamental to Christians being the Eucharistic bread proffered in the form of a blessed sacrament.
In existing older societies and cultures around the world there still exist ceremonies, songs, and dances in which the people honor and give thanks to the earth for its abundance. In the Christian west we have given over this role to the church. I believe that there is a need and desire to reconnect with the ancient ways of being, of living. In a small way, home bread making is filling this need. I believe that we can re-sacralise our lives through bread; by baking in a holy way we can create sacred bread.
As a third generation master baker and bread oven builder I have a deep understanding of bread and baking, and the important role of the village baker/bakery in the creating and sustaining of the village. One cannot have a village/community without a baker and an oven. Home is where the hearth is, and a sacred hearth can bake communion bread for the community without the need for priests and their process of transubstantiation.
As a ceremonialist I understand the importance of personal and communal ritual in thanksgiving for the food we eat. Grace is a state of being, of communion with the Holy, as well as a prayer said before a meal. Bread is perhaps the foundation of “modern” civilization, the staff of life, and for over seven thousand years societies have found ways to honor and give thanks for grain, whether it be wheat, maize, barley rice etc etc. Their connection to and respect of the earth allowed them to bake in a sacred way. My intention is to do the same.
If one is to bake sacred bread I feel one has to combine the ancient wisdom of ritual with artisanship. When baking I feel a deep connection with the earth and my ancestors; additionally one has to source raw materials in a respectful way, honoring and thanking everything and everyone who has contributed to the wood, clay, water and wheat. This develops a way of baking with intention that enables the Divine to manifest through one’s hands and heart, and hence one can bake a sacred loaf. In short, honoring creates empathy which in turn creates sacred bread.
I feel my life’s work is to re-sacralise the bread we eat, the bread we bake, and through this the life we live. There are many thousands of home bakers who in their own way are feeding this process. I want to help them move beyond their desire to become artisan bakers to become Sacred bakers. I see bread as a “ferment” for change, internally and universally. I would love to know how you feel; do you bake sacred bread? Or does this belong only in the “priestly realm”?
Recent Articles by Michael Hanson
Pizza Quest Info
Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.
...and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com