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 The Writer's Desk:  an NCR Web column
Each week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 8, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 3




Pat Marrin I look out the kitchen window

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

It is the middle of the night. The night shift for police and fire departments, at hospitals and nursing homes and other essential services. It is when bakers work.

I have learned over the years that when everything seems to be falling apart, we have two choices. We can take the long view, the big picture approach, that over time things always work out, that, according to the laws of probability, we will win some, lose some, but the world goes on. Or we can try to go to the source of the crisis, grapple with it and with ourselves, and if we do this, deeper renewal and change can occur, breakdown can yield to breakthrough.

This is why I am up, in the kitchen, baking bread. I am trying to get to the heart of Holy Week. My Lenten practice this year has included a commitment to read and listen to the news each day, no matter how unsettling, to try and absorb a troubled world, its conflicts and frustrations, to take it personally, to feel the implications of my own role in what is happening. This has been an especially violent and tragic week in Iraq. Any long view of this crisis seems to lead to even greater uncertainty. What is the heart of the matter, and what must change before peace can be restored?

I look out the kitchen window. No lights on next door means a sick baby and his young parents are sleeping through the night. Life is most frail at the beginning and at the end. Other houses have their own concerns. A yellow ribbon tied around a tree in front of a house across the street, a death in the family up the block, cancer surgery, family conflicts, ordinary anxieties and sudden reminders of mortality shadowing our days, inhabiting our dreams.

Also by Pat Marrin
Apr. 6, 2004 Gray water and an armload of soiled towels
Apr. 5, 2004 Recovering Christianity's core drama
Feb. 6, 2004 When a local church is decapitated
Feb. 5, 2004 The Good News meets the daily news
Feb. 3, 2004 The sacrament of touch
Dec. 5, 2003 We are expecting a baby
Dec. 1, 2003 Peace: the minimum requirement
Oct. 30, 2003 The burden of servant leadership
The ritual of making bread, mixing salt, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, water, flour and yeast is an affirmation of order and predictability, but also of mystery. Sometimes the yeast does not work; the water was too hot, the enzyme was inert in the package. But for now, the dough is soft and warm under my hands. It reassures, like holding the hand of someone you love, feeling the pulse.

Holy Week takes us to the climactic moment when, for Jesus and his followers, everything seemed to fall apart. A hopeless situation, a night of sorrow, betrayal, abandonment, violence and death. The death of Jesus will mark a new Passover, the breaking of a bread whose ingredients had been slowly and carefully gathered for this crucial test of love. Jesus and the small community he convened during his years of ministry and preaching will make up the loaf that will initiate a new way of being human. In action and parable, Jesus has often used bread as the sign of promised life, miraculous abundance and growth. His death on the cross will test this hope. Will the leaven survive the process, will the mysterious enzyme hidden in the mix, create new life out of death?

In our prayer this week, Christian assemblies will perform the familiar rituals of commemorating the first Holy Week. Our sacred texts, recapitulating the story of salvation, are the only recipe we have to answer life's challenges. The symbols of light, water, oil, bread and wine will provide a focal point for our renewed trust in God, who alone can hold everything together, show us how to find breakthrough where there was only breakdown.

The night work is done. Eight small loaves come from the oven. I assign them, one for each day of creation. They will feed my family, some for next door, some to friends, to the potluck before our church service this evening. Small Holy Week gestures to express deep, unfinished prayers for the world, for those I love, and for myself.

Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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