‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’
T.S. Eliot, East Coker.
Our kitchen table has become a battle ground between woman and bread. This Saturday, the Holy Saturday before Orthodox Easter, my mother was in the front line, trying to gather up an uncooperative, sticky mass of traditional Greek Easter sweet bread, known as Tsoureki. Rewind one week, and there was I, on ‘Western’ Good Friday eve. ‘You look stressed’, my father had remarked as he found me fighting with my first sour dough.
It was not how I had imagined my foray into sourdough artistry. Rather I had thought I would tune into some kind of magic ancient rhythm, connect with an inner divine baker soul. But life is not like that, and neither, it seems, is art. My mum couldn’t figure out why the Tsoureki dough was behaving unusually. I couldn’t figure out why my sourdough was breaking up instead of developing the resilient membrane demonstrated in the youtube video. The disobedient doughs somehow summoning up all the unspoken tensions in our hearts as we daily stare into mundane and terrifying new realities and hovering unknowns.
‘How long will you leave it?’ I asked my mum as she finally wrestled the dough into a bowl. ‘It depends if it rises’, she replied. Another unknown, reflecting my own anxiety a week before as I awoke early on Holy Saturday anxious that my dough would have resisted natural processes and remained a small stubborn ball.
There seems an obvious connection between leavened bread and Easter. While Jews eat unleavened bread during Passover to commemorate a hurried flight from Egypt without time for their bread to rise, now we sit in wait by a pale form hidden under white cloth, yearning for a rising, a marker of the restored order of things. And since my church normally celebrates Easter, like any East London community worth their salt, with sourdough, my bread making was far from the contemplative process I had imagined. It had taken on universal significance, since it would be also be standing in (non-theological term) for the Body of Christ at our zoom Easter Sunday service. Now, more than ever, I needed to count on the rising.
The doughs did rise. More crucially, He is Risen. But perhaps I need to stop imputing metaphysical significance or read a story into everything I do and see. The difficult task may now be to dwell in the ordinary, amidst the extraordinary.
On some mornings, the view of the peninsula on the other side of Dublin bay is obscured by fog. It reminds me that rather than trying to get a view of the uncharted country ahead, I need to sit in the ‘waiting without’. Or, between the dying and the rising again.
Having now tried a few recipes for sourdough, I can recommend this one.