It’s Sunday night, around 6pm, and I am sitting in my kitchen writing this. Some red peppers and onions are roasting in the oven, and I am watching dough rise. I made pizza dough, on my own, for the first time. I normally stick to Trader Joe’s handy dough-in-a-bag. But I couldn't deny that making dough is so easy -- you do so little work -- and so I went for it.
Just 10 or so minutes until the dough is done rising, and I can start stretching it and pulling it and placing it on a cookie sheet to go into the oven. The peppers will come out just as I’m finishing stretching the dough. (If only I could time all of life that well). The smell is divine — peppers, onion, garlic.
There are other things I could be doing — I could be packing, as I am moving sometime in the next few weeks.
I could be cleaning out my work computer, as I’ll be turning it in a week from now.
I could be talking on the phone, calling my sibling or a friend or a parent.
I could be watching the umpteenth episode of The Good Wife this past week.
I could have music playing — dancing with myself while I cook in the kitchen.
I've been cleaning as I go, and the dishwasher is loaded. And so I just decide to sit. To watch dough rise.
Consider it an exercise in being present. An exercise in practicing presence. An exercise in slowing down, in paying attention, in taking note of what’s happening around me and inside me. An exercise in giving up efficiency and effort for patience and peace.
There are meals in the kitchen that are fast and quick. Lots of chopping and preparation and little bowls and bottles preparing for the eight minutes you actually spend over the stove with a stir fry. Or there’s the multiple pots, juggling things on different burners all at once, working yourself into a sweaty tizzy, with multiple dishtowels draped over shoulders and yet you can’t find one when it’s time to pull something out of the oven.
But pizza dough is different. You aren’t the one doing the work. The yeast has been silently doing the work for you, over the last two hours, and in the last thirty minutes as you’ve watched it rise. Directions: mix, cover, let it rest.
I'm thinking now about Jesus’ words. About his story of the leaven. Of how the Kingdom of God is like yeast that is working its way through dough. That through no effort of man or woman, that it’s patiently and silently and smoothly working it’s way through the earth.
I start to pray that the Kingdom — righteousness, joy, peace — is working its way in me like that.
The peppers and onions are done; the dough is ready. I stretch it out and pull it, and there are small holes that tear as it sticks to the pan. It retreats, falling back into itself. Directions: If it resists, which it usually does, wait. Let it rest a few minutes.
So it’s back to watching pizza dough. Just a few more minutes and I can tug at it and stretch it again.
I’m finding that as I stop and intentionally slow my world down (even if just temporarily), I’m not just paying attention to what’s around me; I can pay attention to what’s inside me.
And recognize that I too am like the pizza dough. That life is a lot of waiting, and being covered, and things being worked out. And that often I want to go before it’s time to go, and I want to move before it’s time to move. And I pull and tug, but things resist and go right back to where they were. And I try again. But most of the time I’m better off just letting things rest. Of stopping, and coming back and trying later.
I wrestle with whether or not I’ve just Jesus-juked pizza dough. Of finding meaning out of nothing. But I decide I haven’t. Part of practicing presence, as I’ve been learning from the saints, is finding God in the mundanities of life. Granted, I think pizza is anything but mundane. But you get my point.
You see, being present isn’t just about being self-aware and world-aware… it’s being God-aware, Spirit-aware. It's about yes, finding Jesus in even the smallest of things. About recognizing myself and my humanity and His grace and His goodness in all the nooks and crannies of life. (Now I want an English muffin).
I pray again, and realize that while I resist, and I’m impatient, and I rush things sometimes… that His Kingdom is indeed forming and flourishing inside me. That I can breathe, knowing it’s not dependent on my effort. That who I am becoming is enough.
The dough has set long enough, and it now pulls perfectly into the corners.
Olive oil, garlic, ricotta, some mozzarella, the peppers and onions, the last of last week’s spinach. Basically the dregs of my groceries from the week before. Cracked black pepper, and some sea salt, and the pizza is in the hot oven.
If you’re making pizza, please please put some sea salt on it. I’m sure that pizza people have long put salt on their pizza they cook. (They do). But somehow it never occurred to me until tonight to do that. I mean, we salt everything else we cook, and it makes it delightful, does it not? Why would I neglect my pizza? So I did it, and it’s a game changer. So next time you make homemade pizza, try putting some salt on it. I promise.
The things I need to do and could be doing are still there. I still have things to pack, and I still have too many things to wrap up at work. I should probably have started a load of laundry an hour ago. But I chose to be still, and I chose to practice presence. And I am less anxious, less worried, and hopefully a little less impatient than I was just an hour ago.