by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I suggested the church bake bread for the third week of Advent, the JOY week because food brings such joy.
But many failed to bake bread. If you wanted bread for Sunday dinner or even for 7:00pm for an Advent candlelighting, then you really need to get the bread going by halftime, noon Chiefs game. Personally, I fell asleep when I got home from church and when I woke up it was past halftime. I scrambled in between plays to make bread (luckily the Chiefs played poor and had lots of penalties – so more time). I got the first loaf of focaccia out of the oven at 5:53pm. Others were not so lucky. One person failed to get their bread to rise – ever. Another bailed out and just did PopnFresh crescent rolls. Another baked bread but it came out well after 7pm. Many others just said ‘no way.’ They must have baked bread before and knew better. Still others produced great loaves of bread and everyone ate them with delight.
Baking bread takes a lot of time. That’s why it is a spiritual discipline. For centuries humans have baked bread. It is a constant human life-rhythm. Jesus said he is the bread of life (Jn 6:35). The Lord’s Table (communion) uses bread and drink as symbol and presence of Jesus’ presence in our lives. Jesus is as real and present as daily food, which we enjoy several times throughout the day.
To fail to bake bread may very well be your best symbol of your spiritual life: You just don’t have time to bake bread.
You just don’t have time to be Jesus; no time to pray, no time to listen for the Spirit’s voice. So in some respect failure to bake bread is a spiritual practice: is tells you something about your soul’s condition – not good. Those of us who are “soul doctors” call this the “via negativa,” the negative way. It is a discipline of absence, that is, the absence of us! We just fail to show up for God. We attempt to bake the bread of our soul quickly, or go to church or listen to a podcast and get some “store-bought bread.”
But the spiritual life does not work that way. It takes time. Prayer must rise. The Spirit’s yeast must be allowed to activate. This is why I switched out my model and method of discipleship to a retreat format. On retreat you are “forced” to spend time with God, whether you want to or not. The long hours, the long “divine waste of time” walking, sitting, doodling, journaling, reading, staring at tombstones and stained glass, trudging through snow or blazing fields gives time for your soul to rise up to the Father.
It is okay if you failed to bake bread for Advent. But pay attention to the via negativa: the big obvious lesson is staring you in the face: you don’t have time. You’re too busy to make humanity’s most basic meal: bread. And you don’t have time for your soul to rise up, bake under the fire of the Spirit, and be consumed and provide sustenance for others. Just what are you offering others if you are not close to Jesus? Are you offering to others Ho-Hos and Twinkles? Junk food? Is it food only fit for idols, the idols of “hurry” and “go-go-go?” Or is it food fit for God?
Here’s your via negativa spiritual lesson: what kind of food are you producing these days? And would anyone enjoy it?