Friday, February 08, 2008

Bread and wine

It’s astounding how much we fumble when left to our own devices to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist to each other rather than being allowed to simply take it passively from the deputized lay-people of the church or the pastor.

When I was at my conference, we took communion Iona style, which meant that there was a long table in the middle of the room with 20 or so settings of wine glasses and plates of communion wafers. We walked up in a polite mob and served whomever stepped up to the table across from us. So I joined the mob, a little concerned that I wouldn’t get served in time to get leave the service early to get back to the hotel and check out, then catch the airport shuttle by noon. This was not the best state of mind in which to become one with the body and blood, but I was full of Father Richard’s admonition that we are never truly ready for that.

But in this state of anxiety, I zoned out and kept the woman across the table waiting for me to snap out of it and step forward in an open space. I hadn’t been able to see the table before this point and in my embarrassment, I didn’t get a chance to assess the logistical situation. I must have been looking a little lost because the woman kindly offered me a plate and told me it was the body of Christ something something something. I popped the wafer in my mouth, said, “Amen,” then realized that now I was expected to offer bread to her with a statement of welcome. I should have waited until she was served and we would partake together. Now, I would have to talk with my mouth full of Christ’s flesh, since this was a Catholic service and they go for that whole transubstantiation thing. So, I did a basic mastication, shoved the lamb of God in my cheek with my tongue and hesitated again when I couldn’t figure out whether I should take the plate from her or pick up the one that was on the table in front of me. I ended up taking it from her and offering her the body of Christ, broken for her, Score! I had thought briefly while waiting my turn that it would be good if I used one of my liturgical traditions in offering the sacraments, which are different from the Catholic ones, as far as I knew. I thought it would make a good metaphor for all of our traditions coming together. Of course, when I offered her the wine next, I screwed it all up and didn’t use the parallel, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” I mixed it up with, “This is the blood of Christ, cup of salvation,” which goes with “This is the body of Christ, bread of life.” This eliminated any poetry since that was what my partner was prepared to say, also.

She touched my arm consolingly, which distracted me from drinking with the proper dignity, eyes cast down into the glass and instead I watched her while I drank then felt weird about it since that’s what I do at parties ever since I heard when I was in college that Bill Clinton did it. Then, she walked away before I had finished my sip and wiped down my glass, so I had to return her gesture awkwardly to her retreating form.

I left the conference with a dissatisfaction in my soul, a dry mouth from the communion wafer and a slight warmth in my stomach from the wine.

Now that I’m over my initial mortification, I realized that she must have fumbled, too, or she would have waited until after I had finished partaking to make a gesture of friendship and we would have left the table simultaneously. Also, at the very beginning, she held onto her plate even when I had one in front of me. Later, she looked uncertain as she wiped the wine glass, rubbing down only the outside and not folding the napkin over the top like the professionals do it.

This is, of course, the great metaphor of human relationships.

We try to say namaste to each other and mean it. The god in me acknowledges and honors the god in you. We try to feed each other and hope that we will be fed in return.

And we fuck it all up. Yeah, food ends up in our mouths, but usually there is no style or proper ceremony or romance. It's just clumsy and anti-climatic.

This week has been an awful one in this sense. One on my friends was a total asshole to everyone over the weekend and now I'm just getting to the point where I can pick up my pieces that were shattered by his explosion, although I've had to dodge and catch the debris that others lost all week. Also, I had to negotiate a trial separation with one of my best friends because we can't stop hurting each other: I make her feel unworthy and she makes me feel unimportant.

I come out of all this feeling like I'm not very good at this thing called community. That I never will be. That's there's something fatally flawed within me that prevents me from being able to close to people. That I will be lonely forever.

The wisdom of the metaphor provided by my faith is that regardless of how it gets there, food and wine ends up in our mouths. God is within us and sometimes we can see her in each other. That I'm not supposed to be anything other than broken. That I am loved anyway.

It is enough.

I wish there were more.

I believe. Help my unbelief.


Ali BG said...

I'm printing this off for David to read--you're hitting something on the head here. The loving is in the fumbling, somehow. It's like funerals and weddings and baptisms--the awkward silences, crinkles in dresses and crying babies are actually part of the holiness, in the same way farting is part of lovemaking. Our humanity becomes real and there is suddenly, in that, the imago dei.

PrincessMax said...

What a fantastic comparison between the sacramental ceremonies and sex. I love it!