On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Eve, Audrey, and I made pretzels. I showed my daughters how to roll the pieces of dough into long strips, bring the arms up to make a U shape, twist the arms, and fold them down. As we rolled and twisted, I demonstrated how the folded arms of the pretzel look like arms folded over the chest in prayer. I told them about the priest who, while making bread during the season of Lent, baked pretzels as treats for the children, either as rewards for saying scripture verses or as reminders for prayer. As we worked, we talked about how Lent is the forty days preceding Easter and how Christians for centuries have offered penitent prayers during these forty days. We concluded our afternoon gathered around the kitchen table snacking on warm, salty pretzels. As we sat there, I thought about this tradition being passed from 7th century priests to modern Christians, and I recalled who passed the tradition to me.
While in seminary, I met Joyce MacKichan Walker, minister at Nassau Presbyterian Church and walking archive of resources for Advent and Lent. Best of all, she is willing to share those resources. She gave me packets of resources from her Lenten Journey, a treasure trove of hands on activities, prayers, suggested hymns, and good ideas.
Using her resources as inspiration, I shared the tradition of baking Lenten pretzels with the church family of Bridgewater Baptist Church, where I served as a seminary intern. I have since shared the tradition with youth in North Carolina, minister friends in Tennessee, my current Sunday school children in South Carolina, and with my two girls. Because Joyce was willing to share her time and resources with a seminary student, the tradition of the pretzel has spread through many states.
Joyce and the priest of long ago are kindred spirits. They took their love of God and their joy of teaching and put it in the hands of those willing to learn. I am thankful for those mentors who share their talents and their experiences freely. During Lent, I plan to pray the names of the mentors who have shared their love of God and their joy of ministry with me. As I anticipate Jesus giving his life for us, I will offer thanksgiving for those who have given their stories, time, and guidance to me.
And I will eat pretzels. . .warm and salty.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.