As someone who has never made homemade bread with yeast–except in the bread machine, if that counts–I was surprised by how appealing and, yes, nourishing this book was. By Bread Alone is written by Kendall Vanderslice, a baker, theologian, and founder of the Edible Theology Project. I thought this narrative would be more of a dry theological treatise on bread, but I was surprisingly drawn in by its compelling storytelling; it’s part food memoir and part devotional reflection.
Of course, bread is a major image of our faith. In the Lord’s Prayer, for example, bread is “one simple substance which functions as a metaphor for all our basic needs,” she writes. “Our spiritual lives are deeply connected to bread–the bread we break with family and friends, and the Bread that is Christ’s body.”
It’s also a food that has played a big role in Vanderslice’s life, both as a favorite thing to eat and make but also as something largely forbidden in her life for years at a time, starting with her studying and training in grueling ballet programs that frowned upon her rounder shape.
In ballet school, her weight was always an unspoken–or spoken–concern. “Don’t eat anything white,” her ballet teacher warned her. “No potatoes. No pasta. Definitely not bread.”
Vanderslice developed seriously disordered eating as she flogged herself to be thin enough and good enough to advance in the sometimes cruel and competitive world of dance. Then a physical condition made it necessary for her to severely limit her bread intake.
Later bread became something to engage creatively; as a missionary on a “mercy ship” sailing in Benin and other African countries, necessary ingredients for making bread were not always available. Bread eventually became a way that the author made her living as a baker.
Her faith journey from denomination to denomination is especially compelling. From a Baptist childhood in Texas to a Presbyterian church to a more charismatic tradition and ultimately to becoming Anglican, Vanderslice and her view of bread and God evolved over time. In her Anglican tradition, she receives communion on a weekly basis. “Just as this water navigates deeper and deeper into the grain–unlocking starches, pulling out the flavor and building up the strength–this baptism, this bread, opens me to the holy mystery of faith, one repetition at a time,” she writes.
As Vanderslice follows a quest of flour, water, salt and yeast, we as her readers learn about the alchemy and mystery of breadmaking even as we get closer to the Bread of Life. We understand more of what it means to pray for daily bread, and we are assured anew of “God’s presence, provision and love.” For anyone who loves food memoirs, breadmaking, and theology, By Bread Alone is a rich kneading of those elements into one substantial, life-giving read. (Tyndale Momentum)