God’s Partnership is Yeasty

By Libby Tedder Hugus

Partnering with God is like wild yeast because love is available to all who will be infected with the positive viral change agent.

Yes, you read that right: yeasty. I love to bake. But not with yeast. Yeast is scary, unwieldy, mysterious. And you have to wait for yeast to do its intended thing before you can bake the thing you are eventually aiming to eat. So in general, I have avoided yeast altogether and left that to the professionals, or the risk-takers like my self-taught-gourmand-bread-and-pizza maker husband.

Baking is cathartic and healing and hands-on and even produces results. Sometimes it flops, but mostly it garners mouth-watering results. Science reports that smell is the one of the five senses most hard-wired to the memory-making part of the brain. It is no wonder we are all addicted to the smells and good feelings that emerge from ovens everywhere when we dare to bake. The memories we make connected to these warmth-soaked moments deeply impress themselves on us.

A brilliant and snarky friend of mine recently sent me a hilariously curated recipe she had adapted for gluten-free cinnamon rolls. I have loved cinnamon rolls from the time I was a little girl, when that irresistible scent wafted from the dessert cart at the buffet restaurant we frequented after Sunday worship gatherings. Unequivocally the kind with icing. Oh, the gooey, buttery, cinnamony lure of those warm, comforting treats.

In my mid-thirties my relationship to my body and in particular the alignment of all my intelligence centers (mind, body, emotions) shifted dramatically. I discovered that pain in my body was triggered by unrecognized stress and anxiety. I discovered what made my gastrointestinal system calm and functional, and what didn’t. I discovered there were environmental factors like foods that drastically affected my energy, my skin health, my mental focus, anxiety, and my muscular-skeletal system. Sigh. I had some growing up to do, and it was not (and still isn’t) easy. As a part of this change in relationship to my body, I can no longer indulge in cinnamon rolls of the gluten variety.

So when my friend sent her recipe adapted for gluten-free cinnamon rolls I did a happy dance, girded my baking loins, and set to work in the kitchen. My first attempt turned out more like a pan of fluffy cinnamon coffeecake than rolls, but hey, it was warm, smelled amazing, and tasted delicious to the last gooey bite. Instruction number four in the recipe under the “Make Dough” heading read, “add instant yeast to the sugar mixture, and allow it to bubble up for a few minutes. If it doesn’t, your yeast may be too old and tired.” Wise words from a woman who has exerted to excavate the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll; and has more experience with yeast than me.

When I say that partnering with God is yeasty, I am referring to the parable Jesus taught his disciples: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matt 13:33). The yeast used by the baker woman Jesus was referring to was not old or tired. It bubbled. It activated. It did what it was intended to do. It permeated every part of the dough. This is what it is like to partner with God and to partner with others in the kin-dom.

Kin-dom here is an alternative to the more widely used kingdom. Kingdoms are dominions where power is hoarded at the top of a sliding scale of power. Kingdoms determine who carries the power based upon a variety of factors including birthright, sexual identity, gender, social class, financial acumen and/or popularity. In kingdoms, built on a hierarchy, the power only trickles down to those who hold status, wealth, and ideal social pedigrees. There are few partnerships in kingdoms.

Kin-doms on the other hand, are realms where all perceive themselves as siblings in God’s family, sharing the power to act and influence and change and cooperate amongst each other. Every sibling is a partner in the kin-dom of God and knows their inherent worth and dignity, because they are created and imprinted with God’s image: emerging with scents of interdependence and uniqueness directly from God’s own love-imbued oven. Inside kin-doms, power is identified according to creative capacity, imaginative ability, and enthusiastic willingness to respond. In the peaceable kin-dom, every sibling is a partner, devoting themself to the flourishing of creation with God and all the other partners.

In God’s realm, everyone gets to bubble under God’s yeasty love and watch their partnership proof, rise, and come out of the oven to nestle deep into the memory-maker of the salivating.

Partnership with God is yeasty because it bubbles up in the dough into which it has been placed. It is universally available and particularly revelatory in each unique human who desires to cooperate with love. Partnership with God is not otherworldly or inaccessible, it is as close as the yeast in your kitchen or virus on your computer.

Re-think Jesus’ parable not as old and tired but relevant and active:

The kin-dom of God is like a woman coding a computer program. Even though the algorithm was simple, it infiltrated every part of the hard-drive.

The kin-dom of God is like a woman who posts a meme that goes viral. Even though its intention was minor, it blew up beyond her expectations and seeped into the consciousness of everyone in her social network.

The kin-dom of God is like a woman who timidly whispers a truth at a justice demonstration. Even though she only intended it for the one next to her, it caught fire and spread through the whole crowd until it was being chanted passionately by all present.

That is yeasty partnership—active, relational, infiltrating. An algorithm powerful enough to reach the hidden corners. A tidal wave of infectious passion. An agent of transformation. A catalyst for change. God’s influence can go viral through any social or digital or communication or personal network when given the opportunity to steep in the central nervous systems of those in its path.

A bread-baking aficionado friend of mine recently brought to my attention the difference between chemical-leavening and wild yeast. Some bread can be baked by exposing the boule during the proofing stage to be acted upon by wild yeast in the environment, as opposed to directly applying chemical-leaving yeast as part of the baking process. Maybe this is more accurately how partnership with God is yeasty. God’s wild-love is everywhere and always available to act upon us and with us, should we choose to cooperate.

Just like I had some growing up to do in relationship to my body recognizing the foods and stresses it could not tolerate unexamined, I had some growing up to do in my partnership with God. Partnership with God is about responsibility (the capacity, ability, and willingness to act) and responsiveness (consenting to be acted upon like yeast on dough). The famous quote popularly credited to Carl Jung, “bidden or unbidden, God is present,” is not his original thought. The Swiss psychiatrist discovered the statement among the Latin reflections of Dutch philosopher and theologian Desiderius Erasmus, who stated that the statement was originally a Spartan proverb. Jung certainly made it popular and felt it so important he had it inscribed over the doorway of his house and on his grave. It seems to hint at how God’s partnership, if left unexamined, can be like how I used to react to working with yeast: scary, unwieldy, mysterious.

But when I acknowledge God’s presence as a catalyst for love’s virus to spread throughout my sphere of influence, it is yeasty. A yeasty partnership with love does its thing prior to and after baking, actively bubbling and infiltrating my world and beyond.

Let’s partner with the God whose imprint is yeasty. Let’s partner with the God who invites our participation and promises never to grow tired or old. Let’s partner with the God whose wild-love bubbles as mysteriously hidden as the next computer virus and as obviously unavoidable as the next viral meme. May we all commit to partnering with the God who invites our yeast-like whispers to become the oven-fresh aromas of justice and peace in our time, in our world, in our bodies and throughout our lives. Amen.

Join me in praying this poetic prayer by the Rev. Alla Renee Bozarth: another woman who, like the one Jesus described all those years ago, was not afraid or ashamed of hiding just a little of God’s partnership into the flour she was working with—enough to permeate the whole dough.

Bakerwoman God,

I am your living bread.

Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,

I am your low, soft, and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,

well-kneaded by some divine

and knotty pair of knuckles,

by your warm earth hands.

I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,

put me in your own bright fire.

I am warm, warm as you from fire.

I am white and gold, soft and hard,

brown and round.

I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.

I am broken under your caring Word.

Drop me in your special juice in pieces.

Drop me in your blood.

Drunken me in the great red flood.

Self-giving chalice swallow me.

My skin shines in the divine wine.

My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up

in a red pool

in a gold world

where your warm

sunskin hand

in there to catch

and hold me.

Bakerwoman God,

remake me.1

Question: When you consider partnership with God as cooperating with the influence of love, “like wild yeast,” what becomes possible for you? Your worshiping community? Your neighborhood?

Libby Tedder Hugus is curious, courageous, and compassionate. She aims to embody, embrace, and empower more love. She is a wife, mama, reverend, coach, author, and obsessive podcast/audiobook consumer. She is organizing pastor of The Table in Casper, WY. She loves mountain air, the magic of shared tables, international submersion travel, and sipping well-crafted beverages with friends.


Unlocking Us – Podcast with Brené Brown: studying the emotions and experiences that bring meaning and purpose to our lives, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s this: we are hardwired for connection, and connection requires courage, vulnerability, and conversation.

Soul – Disney movie by Pixar Animations

The Seventh Story: Us, Them, And The End of Violence by Brian D. McLaren and Garett Higgins

A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal, edited by Sarah Bessey.

1 Bakerwoman God, Rev. Alla Renee Bozarth (From Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey; Paulist Press, 1978).

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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