In a tennis match, before every first serve I bounce the ball three times, look up, breathe a sigh, relax and lower my jaw, toss and serve. Before every second serve the ritual is the same, except I bounce the ball twice.
Rituals calm and comfort. They deepen my concentration. They shield me from distraction. They are guiding rails to keep me in the groove of good habits.
In my kitchen, another ritual plays about every two weeks. After one man and three boys finish the last of the last four loaves, I make four more. For kneading bread dough, I have my “Kneading Psalm,” Psalm 65.
Thou dost visit the earth, and cause it to overflow;
Thou dost greatly enrich it;
The stream of God is full of water;
Thou dost prepare their grain,
for thus Thou dost prepare the earth.
(all quotes from Psalm 65)
Very appropriate, isn’t it? This Psalm is perfect for breadmaking!
Thou hast crowned the year with Thy bounty,
And Thy paths drip with fatness.
The pastures of the wilderness drip,
And the hills gird themselves with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with flocks,
And the valleys are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.
I have mixed the ingredients. Now, kneading time has come, and I eagerly anticipate the words dancing over my tongue and between my lips. Time for the Kneading Psalm!
My hands know what to do. Under my palms and fingers I feel the goodness and richness of whole grains and oil and honey. The heels of my hands push and fold the swelling dough—this dough which came from the earth’s fatness, from a year crowned with God’s dripping bounty, from valleys which sang and rejoiced in their grain-clothes. My ritual begins, and I recite:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom . . .”
My hands continue, but my mind halts. This is not my Kneading Psalm. My routine is interrupted! This is not my Psalm 65!
Yet I submit to the One who broke the ritual. I continue:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
(Why am I saying this? This doesn’t match what I’m doing!)
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
(But Lord, abundance is swelling under my hands. My pantry is full. My refrigerator is full. And I’m kneading four loaves’ worth of bread dough!)
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV)
The kneading is over. I cover the dough and wait for the rise. I am living in abundance. Why this Habakkuk prayer instead of my ritual Psalm 65?
And I understand.
His Word prepares. Memorization is preparation. Psalm 65 is a “now” word for the now—I live in plenty; food fills our kitchen; I am not currently suffering hardship. Yet I can and should pray the Habakkuk 3 prayer, for the same reason that learning CPR is useful only if it is learned before the emergency. I do not know what is ahead, but His Word prepares me. In my knowledge-faith timeline, what I know now will increase my faith for the future.
So I am ready. When the hardship comes, I will have already practiced the prayer.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom . . .
. . .yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
(Originally posted Sep. 29, 2009.)