Life culture is a way of life based on the belief that human life at all stages from conception through natural death is sacred. This belief informs how we respect and value ourselves and others. Reflections on generating and preserving a life culture led me to discover similarities to starters or cultures required to make sourdough bread. Let us examine some of these shared characteristics.
Homemade. When the COVID-19 pandemic created shortages of baker’s yeast in stores, many turned to sourdough starters, which, like a life culture, are created at home.
Basic ingredients. You begin with just flour, salt, and water, but it calls for lots of practice. Similarly, creating successful and lasting life culture requires faith, love, and desire. It’s no wonder that this “starter” is sometimes called “the mother.” Mothers and mother figures take those basic ingredients and create masterpieces of lasting traditions in partnership with fathers and other like-minded family members and friends.
Gradual growth. Sourdough rises more slowly than dough made with baker’s yeast. Life culture also grows slowly, imperceptibly. As the sourdough starter ferments over time, it grows by additions of flour and water, called “refreshments.” If you keep feeding it regularly, it will remain active. Likewise, we must not be too impatient when our personal or family culture seems stagnant and struggling; we just keep refreshing it. It may seem dead, but faith, love, and desire will keep it alive. An interesting aspect of the starter’s growth is that it takes in bacteria from the baker and even the location where it is growing. It is not only alive, but unique. It is a priceless home-created family heirloom.
Resilient. The gradual growth of our starters, both sourdough and life, may try our patience, but this very quality makes them resistant to spoilage. So, when you feel you are failing and not seeing the progress you desire, know that you are building resilience for generations to come by your steady love, desire, and persistent effort. That strength also resists spoilage from the forces of the world seeping into our homes that ignore the sanctity of human life and marital intimacy.
Appreciation. Looking back from where I now stand, I thank my own parents and generations gone before who created the culture of my life. Like sourdough, it was an acquired taste. At first, I didn’t appreciate its signature flavor. I wanted my family culture to be more like the plain white bread of the world. Over time, I see that ours is more of an heirloom artisan variety—much more unusual and satisfying than what my younger self craved. It still requires continual refreshments, and I can’t wait to see what will evolve as my children and grandchildren (and their children) create variants by adding their unique gifts. Now I’m trying to continually refresh, refocus, and give a start to my children and grandchildren and those who will follow them.
Influential. A portion of a sourdough starter is added to each new batch of bread. Its presence permeates the dough with properties that produce that slow rise and resistance to spoilage. The rest of the starter waits in the wings to lift other loaves as needed. We can be starters who enrich the world around us. As Big Ocean Women connected with our friend Marta who runs a shelter for women and children in war-torn Ukraine, we saw this personified. Amid enemy attacks and threats, Marta and other women there are welcoming new babies and expectant mothers, playing with children, and baking bread for themselves, their soldiers, and others in need. They took risks to get needed supplies and food to a children’s hospital. They never stop believing that God will help them, and they must help each other. They value life above safety. They refuse to let the ugliness of war interrupt their celebration and reverence for life.
Let me end with an example closer to home. We attended a wedding celebration for my husband’s grandnephew and his new bride. As we waited to greet the couple, other guests told us of their great admiration for this nephew’s parents and family who love, serve, and inspire their neighbors and friends. As the evening progressed, we saw more of the groom’s siblings and their families and recognized the unmistakable family culture that their parents passed down to them including faith, valuing parenthood, kindness, hard work, generosity, and love for others. Their parents gave them the starter, and they have grown it into their own version of goodness. But it didn’t even start with those remarkable parents because their parents and ancestors had passed their version of the starter to them. My life and the lives of all who know them have had the culture of our lives changed and improved by absorbing a portion of their starter into our lives.
So, as we grow our own life and family cultures, may we be grateful for those who shared their start with us and generously share ours with others who need a bit of refreshment.