Author shows how bread making is like God’s transforming presence


COLUMBIA — Working with yeast and experiencing the joy of successful bread making can seem like a religious experience for people like Peter Reinhart who have a passion for baking.

However, this Johnson & Wales University professor has found a way to help everyone see a heavenly correlation between the art of making bread and God’s transforming presence on earth.

Reinhart is the author of six books on food, including “The Bread Bakers Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread,” which won 2002 Cook Book of the Year awards from several international culinary organizations.

He gave a presentation on “The Leaven Factor – Discovering and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life” at Our Lady of the Hills recently. His lectures, like his books, give more than technique and recipes; they give inspiration on how to discover God.

In a long and winding faith journey that went from Judaism to Christianity, Reinhart was influenced by challenges proposed by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a Jewish author, neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Auschwitz death camp during World War II. Frankl wrote about the unavoidability of suffering and the ability to bear it if one understands one’s purpose in life.

“You can’t be a Christian without suffering,” Reinhart said. “Jesus laid out the blueprint.”

He quoted Frankl, saying: “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’ ”

Reinhart discovered his “why,” or purpose in life, through his God-given abilities as a cook. Baking came easy to him, and he found that he could share the message of Christianity through his talent. He started a restaurant named “Brother Juniper’s Cafe” in San Francisco that blossomed into a highly successful bread making business. He ended up selling the café so that he could dedicate more time to evangelization. Now he teaches full time at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte.

He said that bread making became the “driving metaphor” for his life because of its transforming and life giving processes. In his talk at Our Lady of the Hills, Reinhart walked through the actual steps of making bread, adding analogies to Christian living, especially with the action of the leaven or yeast.

“Jesus said that we should be leaven,” he said. “That is our mission as Christians.” The baker then explained that it is the leaven that transforms the dough and brings it to life. In the baking process, the yeast dies, allowing the last transformation of the dough to become a new creation, bread.

“We must realize our ‘leavenness’ and bring new life to every situation. Then our lives will have a full and deeper meaning, even in suffering,” he said.

The author gave three missions for people to consider, the first being a universal mission to “stand in the presence of God.” The next is “to do what you can moment by moment … to make the world a better place, following the leading and guidance of God’s spirit,” and lastly to “exercise that talent, your greatest gift, the one you like the best, in the setting you are most comfortable in.”

Reinhart acknowledges that it is not always easy to do what is right, but said that the combination of God’s will with human effort will produce the grace needed for success.

“You have the ability to create the condition where transformation can occur, and by practicing virtue you can transform yourself and then transform others,” the speaker explained.

Parishioner Jeannie Butler enjoyed the program.

“I liked how he brought out the Scripture meaning of bread, especially the action of the leaven,” she said.

As a cook, she also understood Reinhart’s passion for the subject of bread making beyond the religious metaphor.

Sister of Notre Dame Christina Murphy, pastoral associate at the church, organized the event because she felt it would be an appropriate part of the church’s celebration of the Year of the Eucharist.