[I would consider it a mistake to start this message without offering prayers to all affected in the horrific Las Vegas shooting, or those affected by the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and throughout the Carribean]
Mmmmmm! I can smell it. Maybe you can too. In fact, I can almost taste it. What is it, you ask? Warm, fresh, homemade bread. Whether it’s at home, or in a bakery, there’s really nothing more amazing than the smell of fresh bread. That is, maybe other than the taste of warm, fresh bread.
But have you ever seen the process of making the bread? In all seriousness, it’s a physical process. I mean, just the mixing of the ingredients is challenging enough, but watching the preparation of the dough before it finds its way to becoming that irresistible, delicious, warm loaf of goodness, is pretty daunting.
The dough has to be prepared just so, and to get it to “just so,” requires some physicality. Sometimes it’s a hand-driven pounding the dough takes, sometimes this big wooden (or plastic, but wooden is way better) stick called a rolling pin has to be pile-driven on top of the dough seemingly incessantly, flattening and flattening. Then, just when it seems the pummeling is through, you re-dough the dough, and commence with the pummeling again. The process is called “kneading.” But it looks like something that should be in a ring and require the services of a referee.
Then when the kneading is through – essentially when the dough and the preparer yell, “uncle!” – the reward for the dough’s resilience is to be stuck in an oven at 425˚. Hardly a kinder, gentler experience for the dough. When, and only when, the heat chamber (er, oven) has enveloped the dough sufficiently, can the dough be proclaimed to have entered the intended state of being delicious, warm, fulfilling bread.
Therein lies the topic that arose in my mind as I completed my reading the past few weeks (yeah, I’ve been away from it for a while … tough, busy season at work … or perhaps God has ordained it for a purpose – more likely). For the bread, and I’d suggest for us as we progress through life, it’s good to be kneaded. For the bread, frankly there is no other way for it to reach its most scrumptious existence. For us, I’d argue there’s really no other way at times for us to reach the pinnacle of God’s loving plan for our lives. But we’ll get to that point shortly. By way of Esther 1 – 10, Zechariah 1 – 14, Haggai 1 – 2, Ezra 1 – 10, Psalms 137, Daniel 1 – 12, Joel 1 – 3, Ezekiel 24 – 48, Nehemiah 1 – 13, and Malachi 1 – 4, this point jumped out at me in Ezekiel 34:25-31 which states …
“I will make a covenant of peace with my people and drive away the dangerous animals from the land. Then they will be able to camp safely in the wildest places and sleep in the woods without fear. I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord. They will no longer be prey for other nations, and wild animals will no longer devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them. “And I will make their land famous for its crops, so my people will never again suffer from famines or the insults of foreign nations. In this way, they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them. And they will know that they, the people of Israel, are my people, says the Sovereign Lord. You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”
The Israelites in both the northern and southern kingdoms had been kneaded. Painfully, thoroughly kneaded. Through their own actions, of course. Falling into idolatry, disobedience, and disregarding God’s continual provision, protection, and blessings, God allowed the surrounding nations to attack and overcome His people, taking them into exile. The oppression they underwent was as much for their remediation as it was for their punishment. In the Ezekiel passage, God is speaking through His prophet to unveil His ultimate restoration of His people. In short, the kneading was complete, the baking was underway, and God was about to take fresh-baked bread from the oven. In no small measure, the kneading had accomplished its purposes, but the kneading brought the pain and anguish one would associate with a lump of dough.
I’d have to imagine that if the dough were anthropomorphized, it would hardly enjoy the process of being kneaded. It’s physically-intense and looks painful. The pseudo-violent manner in which the dough is kneaded, thrown around, re-lumped, thrown around, kneaded, etc., isn’t particularly enticing, if you ask me.
But like it or not, it’s necessary for the dough to become its eventual destined self. That is, dough isn’t what it’s supposed to be in the end. It’s supposed to be a loaf of bread, and there is no way for it to become a loaf of bread without the kneading. It’s good to be kneaded. Now, after the kneading, there’s a process wherein the beat-up dough is left to sit around for a seemingly incessant period to “rise.” For it to become the expected final product, it needs to recover from the kneading and capitalize on the yeast, sugars, carbon dioxide, and alcohol within it to enhance its stature and prepare for the final stage of its fate. There’s no way for it to become a loaf of bread without the kneading and the rising.
Same thing with the oven. Who in their right mind would want to spend 20 minutes in a 425˚ enclosure? Well, I daresay, neither does the dough. But the burning and baking unlocks and promotes expansion, substance, structure, and growth. It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of, being locked in a small box at an ungodly temperature. And yet, there’s no way for it to become a loaf of bread without the kneading, the rising, and the baking.
And so it is with us. Life presents itself at times a combination of kneading, rising, and baking. In no way am I saying that God always provides the kneading for correction or punishment, as was often the case for the Israelites. But He does allow the kneading for our growth and transformation into what He is creating of and in us. He allows the process of kneading to form and shape us into our future selves. There’s often an emotional impact, and there’s sometimes a physical contact and yet the kneading is necessary for the change. Kneading is essential for the beautiful, delicious, wonderfully odoriferous loaf of bread. The bread that feeds, satisfies, fulfills, and sustains with pleasure and joy.
Is kneading painful? Yes. Is kneading necessary? Yes. It’s good to be kneaded.
Soli Deo gloria!