• Marisa Guerin

Irish Brown Bread and the Alchemy of Time

Updated: Jul 9, 2019


Marisa Guerin, PhD, March 15, 2018

Pretty much every culture has its version of “daily bread”, in a thousand forms from dozens of grains. I’m not an anthropologist, but I’m pretty sure bread didn’t become a daily feature of human nutrition until the hunter-gatherer tribes domesticated grains and animals and settled into agricultural communities. Only when people were anchored much of the year in one place would there be enough of the secret ingredient: time. It takes valuable, irreplaceable time to plant, to nurture and grow, to harvest, to grind and finally to bake or cook the grain into the staple of daily human life.


****For the foodie ones among you – now is the moment to take a short break from the philosophical reflection and send you to a wonderful recipe for Irish Brown Bread that I just recently found and tried. It’s even gluten and sugar free. I am delighted to assure you that it really works if you follow the explicit directions about what kind of yogurt and what kind of oats to use, etc. Here is the link to the recipe in the Washington Post. Make two loaves while you’re at it. You’d be glad you did. If the link doesn’t work for you, try Googling “Jan O’Halloran’s Brown Bread.”****


Back to the reflection:

Just as our daily bread wouldn’t land on our tables without the time to be grown and tended, so the projects and relationships and creations of our lives need the luxury, the cost, of time. If we are lucky, we are given the time needed to bring to fulfillment the endeavors of our minds, the relationships we treasure, the gardens we tend, the work of our hands.


Unfortunately, the time we may want is not guaranteed. Not all of our precious life-projects or life-companions make it through the whole journey with us. I grieve the losses along the way. Who can say why dear ones fall ill, why the love of a friend withers? Who can explain why we find endings where we sought thriving? Who can make sense of the disappointments, tragedies, injustices that happen in our human journeys? Not me.


But I do believe that Life’s silent, fertile mystery is that all true engagements of our hearts carry love forward in the world, regardless of whether they bring us sorrow or joy, celebration or grief, happiness or suffering. Most likely, the truth is that love brings all of the above at one or another moment in the journey. There is a profound unity at the root of what we think of as dark versus what we think of as light. All the moments are life. Time flows on, without a judgment, holding and cherishing all.


In her poem, quoted in my blogpost of February 7, 2018 (“I Choose to Inhabit My Days”) Dawna Markova gives words to my desire to live so that whatever does arrive during the time of my life may be ultimately fruitful, even if I don’t see or experience that next chapter of that project, that relationship, that idea.


How to live this desire? As usual, the wisdom of ages speaks to me.


“Give us this day our daily bread” is readily recognized by most people as an iconic phrase in Christian prayer. I note that it is followed immediately by the words “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I think that’s an important conjunction. It expresses in poetic, prayer language a yearning that recognizes both the hearty substance that is essential for our bodied life – symbolized by bread – and that which is life-giving in our shared humanity – tenderness, mercy, love, humility.


So I take the lesson to invest time, and to do it now. To appreciate the bread that has been prepared for me. To give my attention and energies to the “bread” I am baking with my life. To be gentle with myself and others when things don’t work out. To trust the slow and sure leaven of love, even when spilled as tears.


And to follow the example of my neighbor KS and her family: bake something good every week and have fun while you’re at it. Bring on the brown bread!