Leaven: A Parable for Lent

Three minutes a day.

That’s all it takes to maintain a sourdough starter. Such a small investment — and yet so hard to accomplish. During busy months, you can even pop your starter in the fridge for weeks at a time, removing it only for quick feedings.

Starters are significantly harder to build than they are to maintain. It takes me a week to build an active culture; two weeks to build something with reliable strength and complex flavor. And yet — knowing all of this — I invariably neglect my starter during the busy seasons of life.

I don’t even leave it in the refrigerator. I leave it sitting out on the counter, or on top of the refrigerator, where it’s warm. Day by day, as I tell myself that I’ll feed it “tomorrow,” the once-vital culture sinks into a sludgy morass and clear alcohol builds over a black film.

It’s disgusting. It’s depressing. It’s avoidable. During the first weeks of neglect, I could rip off the bandaid at any point and nurse the neglected culture back to health. But I don’t. I tend to ignore it — until it’s too late.

I killed my last starter by neglect in January and February. The busyness of the holidays distracted me from confronting the problem that darkened daily in a bowl on top of the refrigerator.

But on Ash Wednesday, I faced reality. I scraped the inert sludge into the trash can, washed the bowl in hot soap and water and burned a candle to freshen the air (in anticipation of my wife’s protests). The bowl, empty and gleaming, was ready to be filled.

Three days ago, I mixed rye flour, water and a teaspoon of honey, and I waited. Twice a day, I’ve discarded half the mixture and refreshed it with more flour and water. This morning, I saw the first signs of activity — wild yeast, latent in the flour and in my kitchen, have begun to do their silent work.

As Lent lengthens toward Easter, the earthiest of ingredients — wheat and water — are poised for new life. So am I.

One thought on “Leaven: A Parable for Lent

  1. Joel, this is just a beautiful reflection and something that touches on many parts of my own life inner and outer. Thank you so much for you poignant words and the depth they hold.

    Liked by 1 person

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