In our Epistle today, Paul reminds us that it doesn’t take much bravado and braggadocio to have the same effect as too much Saccharomyces cerevisiae (that’s baker’s yeast, for the non-scientific among us), and the results can be a little unpredictable. Much like that classic old episode of I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Viv get a little over-zealous in their baking, boasting tends to have a global, rather than a selective, effect.
The most skilled bread bakers would tell you that there are five factors involved in the optimal action of yeast on bread, and wouldn’t you know it, those factors also seem to be at play when it comes to how self-embellishment can bubble up in the strangest places in our personal or community lives.
What does it take for the yeast in our lives to create an out-of-control oozing lump?
First, yeast needs heat. So many times, when we puff ourselves up at the expense of others, it’s a time when we feel the heat is on. Stress brings out a natural tendency to put ourselves above others, or a need for attention.
Next, yeast needs time. The longer you let it work, the bigger the dough gets. When we hide from the times we’ve had a blown-up opinion of ourselves, it just gives the sticky mass of our unwelcome grandiloquence time to get bigger and stickier, and ooze over the countertop and make a mess.
The third factor is the amount of yeast itself. Clearly, the more exaggeration we put to a given situation, the faster it’s going to rise to the out of control point.
Fourth, yeast always needs something to feed upon–and in the course of our complicated lives, that’s often the sugar of self-satisfaction. When we continually strive to feel safe in our own intellects, it cuts us off from the needs of others.
Finally, yeast needs the tiny pH change that salt provides. Feeling a little threatened or inadequate? Just toss in a salty dash of sarcasm or indifference, and watch that baby take off!
Lent is the perfect season for being a little careful about the yeast that raises our sense of self above and beyond the needs of others and keeps us overly self-focused. As with most foodstuffs, a little bit never hurt anyone, but too much can get our egos looking a little like Jabba the Hut. Backing off on one of those five factors can be a Lenten discipline in itself.
Which ingredient tends to get your yeast working a little too optimally? Where are the places we could replace the yeast of self-importance with the leaven of Christ instead?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.