It's around this time of the year most people have struggled, failed and conveniently forgotten about their impulsive New Years resolutions.
The trips to the gym have diminished, the diet is no longer as paleo as planned, Facebook is still consuming hours of your day. But, for the first time in many years, my January 1st dreams are slowly but surely coming to fruition. I am becoming a sourdough maker.
Sparked by the gift of two cookbooks for Christmas and inspired by the beautiful reflections that Erwin McManus gives on artisan bread, I decided I was going to follow in this ancient tradition of baking. Gathering my ingredients (wholemeal flour and water), I shaped a starter, lavished my attention on a leaven, lingered expectantly on the electrolyzing process, and then kneaded the dough with dexterity. Finally, I placed the bread into a steaming hot oven, stepped back and awaited the result.
It was glorious. The sourdough was flavoursome, the crust was inspiring, the texture was transcendent. This wasn't just bread. This was art. I was the artisan. I was the sourdough master.
From Master to Apprentice
Elated with my natural talent, I quickly began preparing for the second batch. Days of preparing the starter and readying the leaven passed by – it was crunch time. It was bake day. The dough went in. The bread came out. I eagerly cut into the crust, awaiting the heavenly goodness that was about to come my way.
The dough and my dreams came crashing down, into a gooey, undercooked mess of disgust. The master was no more. Defeated, I grabbed the excuse-for-a-loaf and headed outside. There, I ripped it to shreds, throwing pieces out onto the lawn.
Suddenly, a sparrow fluttered down and began pecking at the bread. He chirped, and more birds gathered. Sparrows, mynahs, starlings and thrushes excitedly chattered and celebrated this free feed. At least this sourdough wasn't going to waste.
Over the next few weeks, I continued in my quest – and continued in my failures. Each time resulted in me standing outside, casting bread to the awaiting birds. But as I did this, I realised something. I was smiling as I threw.
The Bird Whisperer
Perhaps not everyone shares this trait, but my failed bread making made me realise I love to feed birds. As I see the first sparrow swoop down to feast on my failure, I grin. As the masses begin to congregate, I feel genuine joy. I love feeling like I am looking out for my flighted friends. I love thinking that I'm giving them a treat, breaking up the monotony of their day and providing them with sustenance to keep on flying.
I don't think I'm alone in this regard either. Wherever there's a lake, you can be sure there will be someone feeding the ducks. At the beach, we fling hot chips to the ever-present seagulls. We hang bird-feeders from the trees, place bird-baths in our garden and provide safe sanctuary for new feathered families in bird houses.
A simple truth, to be sure. But it sparked another thought within me. I loved feeding birds – it gave me a real sense of joy. Why do I feel like God doesn't particularly enjoy providing for me?
God is Not a Sliding Door
So often, the love of God is portrayed as a cold, impersonal, mathematical love, like a politician's claim to love their electorate. For those who grow up in the church, we risk becoming so familiar with God's love that it appears automated, like the sliding doors at a supermarket. When the doors open, they aren't doing so out of care and service – they are doing it because they don't have a choice to not do it. Sometimes, God's love can be communicated like this – and love that is automated is not love at all.
But, the Scriptures say God is just as loving of birds as I am. Asaph, the Israelite poet, wrote of God in Psalm 50, saying he "knows every bird in the mountains". And Jesus, walking through the bustling centre of Jerusalem, taught a crowd of thousands that even though five sparrows could be bought for two pennies, not one of them would be forgotten by God. This God seems to delight in feeding birds, caring for them – and knowing what each one is doing.
These verses aren't here just to remind us that God is good at minding the animals. Jesus goes on to say, "Don't be afraid, you are worth much more than sparrows". Just as God loves to feed the birds, He even more loves to provide for us. Giving isn't a chore for God. Giving isn't automated for God. But giving is what this God loves to do.
Learning From my Feathered Friends
I may be biased – in any of those "Find Your Love Language" quizzes, I always come out as a gift giver. I love the surprise of an unexpected gift, the thought of someone preparing something with me in mind, and the mystery of not knowing what present has been planned.
But – even more so – I love the thought that this God loves when we look to Him for provision, and loves to gift us what we need. This understanding opens our eyes to see that – in the words of Brennan Manning – all is gift. All is grace.
One last thing must be said: when that first sparrow excitedly discovers the bounty of doughy bread, their first response is to chirp. I can't speak their language, but judging by the quick flurry of friends who join the party, I assume they are calling for their fellow birds to join in. Here is a gift! It is a gift for all! Participate! Enjoy!
So perhaps the sparrow gets the gifts of God a bit better than I do. These gifts aren't just for my own self-betterment, my own pleasure, my own joy – that's far too small a view! But the gifts of God are for the community, for sharing, for all – we are gifted, to be a gift; we are blessed to be a blessing.
Jeremy is a student and Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) who can bake muffins, cakes, biscuits – but not sour dough.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html