At the Abbey of the Genessee, a Trappist monastery in the finger lakes region of New York, the monks bake bread in observance of St. Benedict’s motto: Ora et Labora. Since the bakery and the chapel are both in the same building, the smell of fresh bread permeates the sanctuary and mingles with the smell of incense and candles. It is an intoxicating aroma, and every time I visit the Abbey I linger in the chapel after services just to breathe it in. In the silence of the Abbey that scent is almost audible. It seems to speak of peace and stability, of the simple awareness of God’s presence in everyday activities.
The monks’ bread is a symbol of Jesus, the the Bread of Life, who comes to us so inconspicuously. He is simply there, like the loaf of bread on the dinner table. And like the bread on the table, Jesus nourishes us. And, just as bread is often taken for granted, so Jesus can be forgotten as we go about our daily routine. But here, in the silence of the Abbey church, breathing in the scent of work and prayer, Jesus speaks again and reminds me to pay attention. And now, every time I smell baking bread I am drawn back to God.