I watch a fair bit of Netflix when I’m at home, and one of my favorite shows to watch is the Great British Bake Off. Any other fans of the show here? It’s a great show – it’s shot in Britain, as you might have guessed. Twelve amateur bakers from around the country gather together and, over several weeks of baking challenges, the show’s judges narrow down their numbers until they’re left with one winner. It’s amazing to see the stuff they come up with – fantastic creations made with intricate combinations of flour, eggs, sugar, water, yeast, and all kinds of other baking ingredients. And what I find even more amazing about the show is how the judges evaluate all the different bakes. They’ll just look at something someone’s made, or maybe slice it open, and just by looking at it, they’ll say, “Oh, that needed 5 more minutes in the oven,” or “You should have added one more egg,” or “You should have added the sugar at such-and-such stage.” It’s amazing to watch. They’re like baking wizards. And it really underscores how every single component of that recipe is needed – it’s needed in the proper amount and at the proper time. When you do it wrong, it’s a mess, but when you get it right, these ordinary ingredients become something much greater than just the sum of their parts.
When I was in seminary in Chicago, I took an intensive class with a small group of people from all different faith backgrounds. One of my classmates was finishing his studies to become a Catholic priest and a monk. He used to describe the monastery he was going to live in to us. It sounded beautiful, but the one thing that most stuck with me was his description of the communion rail around the table. They had a polished wooden railing – like a lot of sanctuaries do – that ran all the way around the chancel in a big semi-circle. All the brothers could fit around it together as they gathered for communion. Outside the sanctuary, on the other side of the chancel wall, the circle was continued in stone, and it came together to make one big ring around the table. On this side of the circle was the monastery’s cemetery. Every time they gathered for communion, this circle reminded the living brothers of the monastery that they were also gathered with the dead brothers of the monastery. And they remembered that no matter which side of the wall they were on, they were all part of the one, same community.