These last few weeks have brought with them many changes, challenges, growth, and surprises. As I listened to the Spirit in prayer as to what I could share with you, I was inspired to do something different. So, I invited Tammy Townsend Denny, our communications director, to share with you some of her journey through this time. Welcome, Tammy, and thank you for sharing with us.
Till next week,
Many thanks, Sr. Theresita, for inviting me to guest write this “Wednesday Reflection.”
I have been thinking about my granny a lot lately as I shelter-in-place with my family. Granny was born in Pennsylvania in 1902. Family legend says she traveled by horse and wagon to Wyoming when she was in her early 20s, eventually marrying my grandfather whose first wife had passed away leaving him with three children. My grandparents went on to have three more children, raising all six on a ranch in northeastern Wyoming.
When she passed away at 92 years old, Granny had lived through World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the oil crisis of the 70s, and the bad hairstyles of the 80s. She was born into a horse-and-buggy world and lived to see space shuttles orbit the earth. And through it all, she made bread -- billowy loaves of perfection and cinnamon rolls so good I drool just thinking about them. I can still see her hands kneading the dough with a rhythmic grace. When she died, the recipe for her bread and cinnamon rolls died with her. None of her children or grandchildren had taken the time to learn how she brought together a handful of flour, a bit of water, a pinch of salt, and some honey or sugar to create culinary masterpieces.
In these recent weeks, I have tried my hand at bread-making, like so many others have. When yeast became impossible to find in the stores, I thought about what Granny would have done in the depth of a Wyoming winter with six children, a husband, and a ranch-hand or two to feed. Inspired by her spirit, I have taught myself to make sourdough starter – a natural yeast. The experience of working with the dough is a time of mediation and prayer for me.
As I find creative ways to use the ingredients I have available, like Granny would have done, I am reminded of Robert Farrar Capon’s 1967 book The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, in which he talks about the beauty of God’s grace in ordinary meals made from simple ingredients. Capon, an Episcopalian priest, describing what he calls “ferial cuisine,” writes, “Not only is the body nourished and the palate pleased, the mind is intrigued by the triumph of ingenuity over scarcity—by the making of slight materials into a considerable matter.”
Like others around the world, my life has changed over the last couple of months. Many material things that were once easy to come by are much more difficult to find. Yet, in the depth of our societal winter when we don’t necessarily have easy access to some material goods, I am witnessing “the triumph of ingenuity over scarcity” that Capon writes about. I see the ingenuity in the videos, photos, and stories of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth that I get to share. And I see it in the bread and cinnamon rolls I keep trying to perfect as I reflect on Granny’s well-lived life.
As we walk through yet another week in our “new normal,” I would like to leave you with one final thought from Capon -- hopefully something that can help nourish your soul this week: “To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is.” My hope and prayer is that you can look at the simple ingredients that are available to you right now and see God’s gracious and abundant love.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Photos: Tammy at about three or four years old helping her granny roll out the dough for cinnamon rolls.
One of the loaves of sourdough bread Tammy made.