A friend of mine reacts to stress in a particular fashion — she cleans. Instead of channeling negative emotions into negative behavior, she polishes, vacuums, dusts and mops. This week, her house is spotless. (It’s been a bad week.) Call it therapeutic behavior. I call it a spiritual practice. Bear with me — I’ll try to explain.
When times get tough, I bake. Pies, cakes, cookies, custard, you name it. Not to toot my own horn [sound of honking], but I’m good at it. Mind you, I react badly when asked to bake, or worse, forced to bake. But baking by choice — that’s my go-to for troubled times.
Baking is calming. Spooning flour into a dry measuring cup, sweeping the top with a knife…combining spices, butter and sugar…watching liquid batter rise into edible solid…I find these things soothing, and sometimes just-this-side of miraculous. When I bake, I commune with my patron saint, St. Lawrence, patron saint of cooks (he was roasted to death on a grill but kept his sense of humor). I participate in creation, albeit in a small, sugary way. I labor with my hands to cleanse my mind and heart of worry. What could be more prayerful than that?
Monks know the value of work as prayer, and of prayer bearing real, tangible fruit. When I have finished my labors, I have something to show for it. Granted, these things are not good for me or my waistline. I’ve tried giving away my baked goods — to cancer patients, to my local parish — but more often than not, I’m stuck with the results. There is nothing quite like the prayer of my banana bread…there is also nothing particularly healthy about it. But to not bake would not only cause increased consternation, it would be burying my gifts, hiding my lamp under a bushel basket. What would God think of that?
I heartily condone any practice that brings a person peace — whether that’s yoga or meditation or German chocolate cake. I wish my prayers were less caloric. But I praise God for the ability to summon serenity with a few teaspoons of vanilla, a pinch of nutmeg, and a rounded spoonful of baking powder.