Rector's Blog: Nourished by Giving
When I first started making bread I got to a point where I was making up to 20 loaves per week. Yes, it was excessive. It was the Fall of 2020, and we were all homebound. The church building was still not open, the kids were still learning remotely, and we hadn’t discovered Ted Lasso yet. After receiving some starter and a basic sourdough recipe from a parishioner, I, along with many others that year, dove into breadmaking headfirst.
I became obsessed very quickly. As I’ve written before, it was actually lifechanging for me in ways that I still don’t know how to describe. But one thing I can tell you is what I did with all that bread and what it did for my soul.
Because obviously I wasn’t eating 20 loaves per week.
No, what I got into the habit of doing was driving around town and dropping off loaves of fresh bread at the houses of friends. The first loaf I ever gave away was to the parishioner who had given me the starter. I was under no illusion that my bread would be better than what he was already making, but still the joy of giving him something of what he had given me was palpable.
I know people generally liked the bread, and I know they very much liked being thought about, but I wasn’t looking for compliments or thank yous. I just really wanted to feed people and find ways to show them I loved them.
Do you remember how that pandemic took away some of our simple ways of loving people? How it took away casual interactions and daily routines? How accustomed we became to looking at that mirror image of ourselves on the Zoom calls instead of actually making eye contact with people who made our lives better? I do. I am still recovering from it, honestly.
But I could drop a loaf of bread off on your doorstep and ring your doorbell, and see you smile through a window, or from a bit of a distance and we could have little awkward conversations that meant I love you even when we didn’t say it.
My job is to facilitate a community that is founded on love. And most of the ways we knew how to share that love were just gone for a devastating amount of time. We are nourished by love and for a time there, many of us felt like we were starving.
I began to pray while mixing the dough together. I would say a prayer for the specific people for whom I delivered the bread. I would think of them as I removed the lid from the piping hot Dutch oven and saw how the bread had risen. I did not wait around to watch them eat it; I did not sit by my phone waiting for thank you texts. I’m not saying I didn’t care if they liked it or not. I always hoped they did of course. But I was not fed by gratitude. I was nourished by the giving.
The feeling of being able to do something for someone else is deeply fulfilling, and that is no accident. It is built into us. It’s part of our very being – the giving. Selfishness, greed, avarice, the hoarding of wealth – we recognize these things as sinful specifically because they work against our very humanity. We were made in the image of the God whose most loving, most powerful act was one of self-giving. When we give something of our selves, of our hearts, of our joy, we are not becoming better people, we are living into our birthright.
Prior to becoming a priest, I was an actor. Which is to say I was a waiter and a personal assistant and a few other things who acted as often as he could. And I acted in theater throughout high school and college. At first, I thought having people clap for me would be amazing. And y’know, it wasn’t terrible. Appreciation is nice. But what I found out very quickly was that applause was nowhere near the best part of being an actor. No, the best part was the chance to actually give people something on stage. To be a part of a team that made people laugh or cry, or escape reality for a moment, or even to face reality differently because of something they saw in us. That was the part that nourished my soul – the giving.
We are coming up on the time in the church when we will directly ask people to give to the church. We are a non-profit organization and people’s giving is what empowers the building of this community. For me as a priest, it is always a strange time. Because I am always concerned that people will think it’s a transactional conversation. It is not. You will not get a reserved pew (somewhere in the middle because Episcopalians don’t want to sit up front) or a shout-out in my sermon, or special treatment. You will get the opportunity to give. And that is its own blessing.
What happens when we think about giving not as a transaction or an obligation, but as a way to nourish our own souls?
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us the chance to give – to give of ourselves, to share our love, to share our life, to give something of our hearts and our prayers and our work to others. We were made for love. Give us this day the nourishment of giving.
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