During these pandemic days and months, many of us have retreated back into the warmth of our kitchens to comfort bake. Such was the case for me on an early Saturday morning just a few weeks ago. I wanted to bake my 87-year-old mother’s Irish bread; the bread she had baked for me for my lifetime. Not only did I want the sweet aroma to wrap me in my mother’s love, but this time I wanted the bread to wrap my mother in my love for her. I was baking the bread for her, hoping that severe dementia wouldn’t take away the tasty recognition of her baked prayer.
Growing up, my mother baked this bread each day to “celebrate the goodness of the day.” I have memories of racing home from school, trying to beat my brother and sisters to grab the first slice and devour it with butter and her grace.
What my mother didn’t realise at the time was that her daily blessing of bread reminded us that we were home, safe, provided for, loved. So, when our daughters were big enough to sit on a stool and stir batter, together, we began making my mother’s Irish bread. We would bake dozens and dozens of loaves and then dress the bread with artwork and notes of “happy good wishes.” Loading up our trusty wheelbarrow, turned makeshift “breadmobile,” we would travel around the neighbourhood, leaving the bread gifts on doorsteps.
We soon abandoned our list-filled afternoons and began baking more and more bread. The girls loved “spreading the bread” to local nursing homes, shelters and pantries. Looking back, God had a plan. We were now the bakers of Mom’s bread so the bread could speak to others and be spread for others to offer: hope, inspiration and gratitude.
Bread became our thing, our gift, our mission, our ministry. Then, when September 11th gripped our country and our world, bread called us back into the kitchen and our community followed.
The bread whispers travelled quickly. The message was clear; gather your family, young ones and friends and get back into the warmth of your kitchens. Find a favourite bread recipe and make that bread. While the bread is baking, take time to have an important and empowering conversation about our world. Define heroes and talk about the needs in the community, because this conversation will lead everyone to their bread beneficiaries.
What happened next was nothing short of spectacular. Breads were baked, wrapped like gifts of adornment and then collected. They arrived in all different shapes, sizes and flavours and shared stories from many cultures and traditions. The breads were then spread back into the community to our heroes: police, firefighters, postal workers during the anthrax scare, and veterans. They were also spread to local food pantries, senior centres, nursing homes and shelters. Spread the Bread was officially born.
The concept was as powerful and as pliable as the dough. Now, years later, Spread the Bread is an international grassroots organisation, using the gifting of bread to unite communities, teach community philanthropy, empower our youth, thank heroes, help the needy while defining tradition and culture. One bread spread has become millions of breads spread by others, for others around the world.
Sitting with my mother on that Saturday, eating her bread together, I watched her delicately devour each morsel. Her smile was filled with the warmth of God’s love, simply beautiful. It got me thinking, during these times, we are all being called into the warmth of God’s love. That love carries within it a promise to do good for others.
No, we don’t know what lies ahead, but we can find great comfort and strength in knowing that we are being led by God’s grace to be bread for others.
Karen Kiefer is the director of the Church in the 21st Centre at Boston College, author of the children’s book, “Drawing God” (www.drawing-god.com) and mother of four daughters. You can learn more about Spread the Bread here: www.spreadthebread.org