When the world shut down, I looked for peace… in a bag of flour.
I received a text message notification that yet one more thing was canceled, and I walked to the kitchen on autopilot. With a haze of confusion descending before my eyes, I opened my canister of flour. I measured equal amounts (by weight) of flour and water. I mixed them together into a paste and sealed them into a small jar. Every day, I took out a small amount of the mixture and added new flour and water to it. After several days, I added new flour and water to it twice a day. Two weeks went by, and I noticed that what would begin as a paste would rise and grow to twice or three times its original size. Eventually, this risen flour and water mixture had become a sourdough starter powerful enough to leaven an entire loaf of bread.
I did not really find peace in that bag of flour, but I did learn something about peace. I did not discover a step-by-step path toward finding peace in the midst of chaos, but I did catch a glimpse of what peace is and where it can be found.
For most of my life, I have tried to find peace in doing enough of the right things. I believed if I worked hard enough, busied myself with enough things, and developed skills in enough areas I would eventually arrive at some undisclosed location where there would be peace. I worked hard in school and got good grades. I practiced my clarinet and was accepted into a prestigious music program for college. I wrote words and studied languages. I found new projects to begin on a daily basis, and would fall into bed with all of the things I had left undone floating around in my mind like little gnats pestering my subconscious. I achieved many goals and learned many things, but I never did find a sense of peace. Perhaps peace was an out there and someday kind of concept. Maybe I would earn peace once I retired. I didn’t tell myself this consciously, but deep down I believed that until the day I eventually arrived at the peace destination, I would keep myself busy trying to figure out how to get there.
When my kids’ school moved to online learning for the rest of the year and all of my in-person meetings were canceled, I mused to myself that perhaps I would find peace in the lack of expectations and calendar events. I began my sourdough starter because I would be home and would have time to attend to it. I told myself I would catch up on all those books I had been meaning to read, and I would finish all of those projects I had put on the back burner. I had high hopes that peace could be found when all of the external expectations were stripped away.
Now that months have gone by, it is safe for me to say that peace is not something that can be obtained by working hard for it. Nor is peace something that can be embraced when all of the items on the to-do list are stripped away. Peace isn’t an elusive out there goal, nor is it something we find by getting rid of all of the expectations placed on us by ourselves or others. Peace is something that is not found in doing or in lack of doing. Peace comes from the realization that regardless of what we are doing, or accomplishing, or experiencing, that we are beloved.
I have long struggled to accept the truth that I am beloved of God in every moment in which I find myself, and Henri Nouwen struggled mightily with that, too. I suspect this is one reason his writing resonates so deeply in my heart every time I read his words. In his book Life of the Beloved, he writes, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core identity of our existence.”
But, what if I don’t have everything I want? Or, what if I can’t keep up with my friends? What if deadlines come and go, or I lose my job, or I experience hardship? Am I still the Beloved then?
These are questions that the Apostle Paul faced in his own life. In Philippians 4:11, Paul writes about having gone through times of plenty and times of scarcity. In the end, he writes “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” The word “content” in the Greek is a compound word that means “self-sufficient.” This does not mean that Paul learned how to get through both the hard times and the good on his own. “Self-sufficient” in this verse does not mean that Paul learned how to be thrifty or resourceful or get things done without asking for help. Instead, verse 13 explains verse 11, which says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul learned that he was enough because of Christ. He did not have to prove himself, or achieve enough, or accomplish enough because he was content—he was sufficient as a person— because of the love and mercy of Christ.
Perhaps this is why Jesus said the peace he would give to us is not as the world gives (John 14:27). Maybe this is why Paul describes this peace as something that surpasses our understanding (Philippians 4:7). In this world, we may have to earn our belovedness. We may have to jockey for our position. In Christ, our belovedness is not dependent on anything we do or do not do. It simply is. We may not have practice listening to his voice, and we may not make space to receive and nurture this realization, but it does not make it any less real or true.
I looked for peace in a bag of flour, but I did not find it there. Instead, I discovered that sourdough starters work because of the wild yeasts that become a part of them. These yeasts are present all around us every day, but when they are nurtured and cared for, these yeasts become active and alive. As they are tended to and fed, they are invigorated. Soon, they bubble and grow—not because they arrived, but because they were awakened to who they are.
This evening, I took a small scoop of sourdough starter and refreshed it with flour and water so that it will leaven pizza crust in a few days. Perhaps, as it rises and grows and thrives, God will whisper in my ear—and in yours—that we are Beloved. Perhaps we will allow ourselves to be quiet enough to hear the words from God that nurture us into who we were created to be.