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I’ve never tried to make bread myself, but I’ve watched others do it and find the process interesting. When the bread dough rises, it seems almost magical.
It must be very difficult to make perfect bread, but the process is made much easier for us by the mysterious effects of yeast. The baker adds just a tiny pinch of yeast, and it transforms the dough into a completely new and different substance.
Thinking about making bread always puts me in mind of this mystical quote from the Baha’i teachings:
The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 156-157.
The Oxford dictionary says that “leaven” is “a substance, typically yeast, that is used in dough to make it rise.” So, it seems that the messengers of God—the prophets like Christ, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad and now Baha’u’llah—have a function in the world similar to that of yeast. Their influence transforms us, re-creates us, and causes us to rise.
So what exactly is yeast? It’s a tiny single-celled microorganism that causes fermentation. Fermentation is the process so essential to the creation of the fluffy bread loved by many, particularly in the west. People have made bread for many thousands of years, but only recently have we begun to understand the science behind it.
The fermentation process caused by yeast was first analyzed and explained by scientist Louis Pasteur about a hundred and sixty years ago. Essentially, he found that yeast cells feed on starch in the bread mixture, or dough, thereby converting carbohydrates into carbon dioxide gas and other substances. The gas bubbles then permeate the mixture, causing the dough to rise, ready for baking. The heat from baking then kills off the yeast cells. That wonderful smell that emanates from baking bread? That’s the yeast, sacrificing itself in the heat and giving its own life to sustain us.
Meditate for a moment on that analogy—just a few of those tiny microorganisms make the bread into something completely different.
The Baha’i writings say that we can look to nature to help us to understand spiritual attributes and principles:
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. – Ibid., p. 65.
So, if we explore the nature of yeast and its role in the world, it could help us to understand something about the spiritual role of the founders of the great Faiths.
A yeast cell can make amazing things can happen, creating one of man’s most enduring, important and delicious foods. In the same metaphorical way, the effects of the spiritual teachings of one of God’s messengers can transform humanity and create new civilizations:
All the Prophets of God, including Jesus Christ, appeared in the world for the education of humanity, to develop immature souls into maturity, to transform the ignorant of mankind into the knowing, thereby establishing love and unity through divine education and training. The Prophets have not come to cause discord and enmity. For God has wished all good for His servants … The Prophets have appeared in this world with the mission that human souls may become the expressions of the Merciful, that they may be educated and developed, attain to love and amity and establish peace and agreement. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 40.
A few pounds of yeast can raise up to five hundred pounds of bread dough. The yeast is a catalyst, providing the conditions necessary for the grain to express itself in the most pleasing way.
So, going back to the initial quote, what can we take away about the role of the prophets and founders of the world’s religions?
The most urgent requisite of mankind is the declaration of the oneness of the world of humanity—this is the great principle of Baha’u’llah. That which will leaven the human world is a love that will insure the abandonment of pride, oppression and hatred. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 45.