I’ve got a Zip-Loc bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter sitting on my kitchen counter.
If you don’t know, Amish Friendship Bread starter is the baked good equivalent of a garden full of zucchini. It’s great, but it’s easy to get too much of it and it can be hard to give away.
For the first 9 days, the starter is pretty low-maintenance. It just rests on the counter in a bag as a peaceful, creamy, bubbly blob. My kids enjoy squishing it as they go by. Since mixing it up is part of the project, I don’t object.
On Day 10, though, things become more pressing. Recipe instructions specify how to add flour and sugar and divide the start to share with friends. With what’s left, you add a few more ingredients and bake a yummy batter bread.
I’m not sure how authentically Amish this recipe is, since it calls for a box of instant pudding mix and is basically sugar with just enough gluten to hold it together, but I’m no expert.
I’m on my third go-round of baking this bread since I received a gift of a starter, and I am now nearly out of friends who are willing to accept a starter from me. So this “Amish Friendship Bread” may not be Amish, is a dubious symbol of friendship, and not really even bread.
The timeline of the recipe has made me think of it as “Bread With A Deadline.” Every 10 days, I have to reserve an afternoon to bake this stuff. It feels like a duty to tend the starter on my counter. All this baking has given me a lot to think about.
People are obsessed with checking things off our to-do lists. Just like how I need to bake with my bread starter every few days, I also like to cross off chores and routines and work obligations and declare them “done.”
But what if we’re not ever done?
I’m not talking about the seemingly endless piles of unfolded laundry or employers’ performance expectations. Recent events have me thinking more about personal spirituality, the work of anti-racism and how to mitigate a pandemic.
It would be nice if we could simply make a donation or declaration, and the nation would immediately “come to itself” like the Biblical Prodigal Son, so we could have liberty and justice for all.
But I think it’s going to take a lot of frank conversations, sincere empathy and plain ol’ work, starting yesterday and continuing forever. Like forgiveness and repentance, the deeply personal work of sitting in discomfort and dismantling biases is an ongoing effort.
Same with managing the threat of novel coronavirus. When I remind my second-youngest son to go wash his hands, he resists.
“I already did that!” he tells me.
I know, I reply, but you need to do it again. And again. And then start over again tomorrow. It’s going to take ongoing, deliberate, compassionate effort to regain even a semblance of our past lives of convenience and presumed good health.
I got an email from my LDS bishop last week, reminding the ward members to study scriptures and pray regularly.
Tending to one’s spiritual growth is never really checked off the list, but I don’t mind. The COVID-19 pandemic brought plenty of reasons to worry, but it also gave me a cleared calendar. Finally, more opportunity to ponder and pray.
I haven’t attended church in person since early March, but maintaining my personal efforts to connect with God has ensured my spiritual health has not suffered.
It’s easy to want to be “done,” and check obligations off our lists. But some things, like my bread starter, require ongoing attention in a never-ending cycle. But, there are rewards along the way as we learn and grow.
Every 10 days, I eat a slice or two of delicious cake-bread and resolve to keep working on expanding my capacity to love and appreciate the divine all around me.