I’m sitting at the picnic table in my parents’ kitchen, the mess of art projects and nubbins of flowers picked by siblings and half-finished notebooks and Costco packs of food surround me. Walking down the hill this morning to make coffee cake before they left for church, I had to stop and soak in the lilting sounds of life on the air—the birds announcing their delight at the change in the weather, my brothers laughing on the trampoline, the wind hitting the blossoms in the trees and setting them to whispering. My sister was playing Minecraft when I came in, and while I dumped spices into the flour, she darted through, clambered up the counter and plopped white azaleas into dishes of water dyed with food coloring. My mother hugged me from behind while I made my brothers and me our first cups of coffee, and then they were gone and the house was still while the oven chirped and hushed itself into heat and the cake baked.

Here, I have been very lucky. Here, I have circled back and through and am again facing forward, about to launch myself at something unknown, leaving behind something I know all too well. Here, I try to savor up these moments and be grateful.

This last year has been a year of intense periods of growth and learning, which is an abstract thing to say, intended to make you nod and smile and agree (for it must be that you feel the same about this past bit of time, too) and leave me alone about what exactly I learned and how exactly I grew. But it would diminish the lessons to tell you, to try to sum up the breath of moments hitting my soul and inflating and tapping me into new shapes.

Usually I think that I want to be a fiction writer, that some day I want to make my livelihood with my hands and my pen, cooking up stories to delight and amuse and provoke. But I have been compelled to write poetry for the longest time, and I suppose I should be honest with myself that right now, I am not writing fiction; that right now I have a life that demands poems for survival and for joy. Poetry is the necessary outcome of my experiences, poetry is the colors on the wall when light hits the shards of moments on the floor of my head. Poems change me, too, each one turning and turning a moment over and around to look at it from funny angles, catching glimpses of myself reflected in it, and laughing in surprise when I sometimes see the sky looking back at me, too. 

When I came back to Richmond this winter, I knew I had a chunk of poems about these last few months that could probably be shaped into a chapbook—the story they tell is a beautiful narrative, but it’s also intensely personal (which is scary). Every time I sat down to write something else, this story pulled me back in, and I found myself arranging and rearranging and revising and refining these poems. The story was wiling itself into life. I couldn’t resist.

This last year I started reading tarot, and it has been an utterly joyful thing to play with for this English major who loves tropes and archetypes. And as I kept coming back to these poems, the framework of a tarot reading—which is to say, the narrative of a major life lesson learned at a moment in one’s life—bled into the organization of the story and I found that I had a poem cycle in the shape of a Celtic cross reading on my hands. So here we are.

On Wednesday, I shut the door on this season of my life and leave the country for the next two years to serve as an English teacher volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic. I want to give this little book of poems to you as a parting gift, both to remove myself from it and let it live on its own (as it wants to do), and to try to share the beauty that blessed me with whoever wants to enjoy it as well. 

It’s a little terrifying to be leaving for so long, and it’s a little terrifying to trust that this is the right thing. And it’s a little terrifying to share these poems with the world and expose myself. But I’m learning that the things that scare me the most are the most satisfying things, well worth doing. These are the things that expand my capacity to love, to learn, to be present, to not be ashamed or afraid. So I’m going to give fear the middle finger and I’m going to go on an adventure and I’m going to share some poems with you. 

With love,
H

Poems


I have been waiting impatiently for this day to come, and now it’s here and I can finally tell you what I’ve been working on for the past two months.

Introducing! The Swan Children: Art Without Apologies

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The Swan Children is a bimonthly online art gallery and magazine founded to curate and showcase the creative work produced by artists of homeschooled, Quiverfull, and conservative Christian upbringing.

We are the Swan Children and we look after our own. We have inherited the kingdom and we’re singing for our lives – on street corners, in attics, in spare bedrooms, in the shower, at the family dinner table.

THE BACK STORY

I realized that everywhere we’re talking about these communities and social groups online, our discussions are analytical, first person, and are driven by debate and didactic analysis. This is the way a slice of this population processes our religious heritage, but it’s not the way most of us function best.

In my experience, homeschoolers are highly creative and the arts thrive organically in all of the communities I’ve been in–I’ve seen homeschoolers making paintings, murals, writing novels, putting on plays, composing original music, and excelling in fiber arts, fashion design, and graphic and web design. I love this and I think it goes unnoticed too often.

Whether or not we ideologically agree on whether or not homeschooling is the best educational method, whether or not we think one church group or another is abusive or healthy, whether or not we think that conservative politics reflect Christian values, we can all agree on the power and value of artistic expression as an avenue for the soul to thrive. 

I want to honor this vulnerability and draw attention to the beautiful things being created by people who were homeschooled or grew up Quiverfull or in a conservative Christian community.

The Swan Children, lead by our Editor in Chief Connor Park, will function as a place where art made by these people can find a home, where there will be no value judgment of “good” or “bad” or “appropriate” and where the artists will not be making apologetic explanations for their pieces. The Swan Children will showcase these works as they are, no apologies, no comments or commentary, no criticism.

While our first issue will be entirely made up of work from homeschool grads, we also welcome creations from those currently in (or from) Quiverfull or generally conservative Christian communities. We are eager to show a broad spectrum of perspectives as we do so. We want art by current homeschool students and by graduates–there are no restrictions other than that the work has to be compelling and executed well.

OUR FIRST ISSUE

We’re launching on March 1st! This first issue is so cram-packed with talent that I can barely contain my excitement. We have fiction, poetry, drawings, paintings, handmade baskets, slam poetry, original music, song covers, dancing, photography, and more. Every piece tells a story, every piece is moving, and every artist is generous to open up and share a piece of their soul for us to cherish.

Our community is so much more than arguments about policy and theology. Let’s show the world our art.

Excited? Go sign up for our first issue at www.swanchildrenmag.com!

We want to show you something.


Spring arrives late this year.
The cherry trees in front of my building already
dropped their blossoms, suctioned to the pavement
but I’m still wearing my wool coat in the mornings.

“Dreaming of April” is my March song
But she came and is slow to breathe life into the city this time.
I don’t resent it. I’m surprised by this.
But when my soul is slow to germinate toward the light
It seems right for the thaw to match the pace.

My hair is starting to grow back now
from when I sheared it off —
Happy Valentine’s day to me.
She called it “situational depression.”

I don’t want to jinx the shift,
but I’m counting bright mornings.
We’re at three in a row, today.
Maybe, maybe?

Everything is intuition right now,
feeling the edges of decisions,
Fingering the shapes of new things.
Breathe into the stretch. Close your eyes.
Feel the burn and release.

I wrote this after it snowed at the end of March and the cold was lingering long. But a few days more turned everything around and it was hitting the 80s, and I got happily sunburned. -H


I overslept this morning. I’d set an alarm for 5:15 am so I could make the 7am Ash Wednesday service at my church in the city. But I woke up at my usual time instead.

Sometimes waking up is the hardest thing for me, especially when my day-to-day life is in upheaval and so much is uncertain.

Someone died today, jumping in front of a train on the metro. Our conductor announced it and delays on the other lines. Death is close to us.

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

Ash Wednesday is a new thing to me. I’ve appreciated it from a distance more years than I’ve observed it. The ashes, the reminders of mortality, the abstinence for promise of greater celebration at Easter — all these things speak deeply to me.

I am fragile. I am scattered. I feel overwhelmed by everyday stuff right now. Things like dinner plans are just too much to figure out sometimes. I feel tense and weary. I’ve never been so aware of the fragility of life, promises, health, love.

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

There are some things I’m just trying to remember. Slippery new things that I keep bumping into in the dark ways of habits not yet unlearned. The prayers on Sunday mean so much to me, their lines and boundaries hold me together.

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

On Sundays I go to church for the children I teach before the service. The commitment and the simplicity of that world is a gap of light through which I can turn and return to the sanctuary. To kneeling and prayers, to stillness, to vulnerability and blessings, to receive and be told again of wholeness, of love that doesn’t change.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Ashes and oil, reality and promises. Bread and wine. “Put your hand in my side.” 

I keep hearing Eliot’s other poem in my head. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We fuss and fluster and make plans and deadlines and listen to our music and talk and Tweet and stalk each other on Facebook.

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

I’ve been living a personal sort of Lent since Advent. Sara’s stuck in my head again. “Everything in me is tightening.”

So I think I’m going to be trying some more positive disciplines this time around, instead of abstaining. I’m learning about boundaries and trying to live in a way that’s healthy. I’m working on being aware of my limits and creating a balance that is not burdensome. Things like rising promptly when my alarm goes off, practicing mandolin, writing every day, doing yoga every day, drinking enough water, giving myself mental space to breathe.

These are my small attempts at creating wholeness and accepting limits.

I am just dust. I have breath in me. I need to care about that.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover

I read Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” twice a year. It’s slowly sinking into my bones.

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

This, today, me. This is my reality. It’s what I can do. Here is my limit. That’s okay.

I’m learning to breathe more slowly and remembering to walk with less frenzy. This is okay.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
– T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”

Last year, I started writing this post. But life swallowed me up and my job was difficult and my husband started working at a restaurant, and suddenly our life was stretched too thin for me to think real words anymore.

I was having a discussion with a friend (who is now a new sister!) and she asked me something or other about how I felt about Christmas coming. I paused. I felt strange answering her question honestly, because she probably expected something about how happy I felt about decorating or making Christmas desserts, or how good it would be to spend the holiday with family. But I was weary and emotionally drained, and I told her that I liked the season of Advent, anticipating Christmas, because it is a penitential season. I said that I always feel more like fasting than feasting while I wait for Christmas.

She asked me to explain what I meant and got me thinking on this. Since I still feel this way a year later, returning to the Advent season, I think I will return and finish my thought.

Advent is a season of anticipating God’s arrival in the flesh, of waiting and watching. It is much like Lent in this yearning and anticipation. But Lent is a time when Jesus was on earth with his disciples, and I feel it’s more appropriate to be meditating on mortality, penitence, and abstinence during the time leading up to the incarnation, while we prepare for his arrival. The time leading up to Jesus’ birth was a time of silence among the prophets, and the Spirit had left the temple, I’m told. Everything was centered on keeping the feasts and waiting for the Messiah, not unlike the Jews still do today. There was an absence of God’s presence among his people.

Likewise, during Advent, we wait and we watch. We hunger for the coming of Christ the baby like we hunger for heaven or for his eventual return, because it parallels that scene so well–the common yearning for God with us. We speak of heaven: Jesus is coming. But not yet. Reflect and watch and pray.

Advent is a picture of where we are now, everyday. We don’t find Jesus in the plenty–though we can. Instead, he more often comes to us in the silence, in the waiting. We anticipate him and grow tired. But then he comes and finds us in the aches and pains and weariness.
And then he dies. And Easter has so much power and might and life and joy, but we know the promise of heaven best in Jesus incarnate. So we wait for the “second death” when we live with him, like the Eliot poem says.

The magi saw the Christ, they rejoice, and then they go home, tired and weary. And they wait for death with quiet reverence and anticipation of the promise fulfilled in death by the baby king. And like them, we wait for his arrival at Christmas just as we wait for death to unite us with him in the flesh.

This Advent (which starts on Sunday), I’m going to be meditating on the incarnation and on mortality. I’m going to be choosing something to fast from in the spirit of Lent, and I will break my fast at Epiphany in the spirit of the resurrection promise made in the incarnation of Christ. Join me?


We hide our gazes in blue-lit boxes,
hurtling into the dark, dutifully ignoring the scene if we pass daylight,
sliding our glances away from the searing contact of other eyes.

After my morning meditation of group isolation
I rise to the fifth floor and wash the subway off my hands,
Having passed through the brood of escalators
with their squawks and sighs as they lift and sink
into the earth with their load,
clusters of socially impoverished commuters
blinking in the light as if it was a threat—
if ignored, might leave us alone.

I place my lunch in the fridge and murmur a word
to the girl passing me for coffee.
We do not know each other’s names,
for if we did, we would stop being alone.


I feel like I should have posted more this week. I know I wanted to write another Immodesty Rail post, and I wanted to tell you about the author readings and book signings I’ve been to this last month (Lorin Stein, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins). But it’s been an exhausting week, and some people took offense at my post on loneliness, and my sister is moving, and I’ve been remembering that I’m an introvert and the emotional fullness of this week  has taken its toll. I’ll get y’all caught up soon. But when I’m ready.

For the time being, I’ve found some noteworthy pieces worth your reading attention. 

Golden Sea, Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura, one of my favorite Christian thinkers and a gifted artist, lost a lot of his more recent work in the rising waters of Hurricane Sandy. There’s no insurance money or FEMA help for the damage done to the gallery and his art, and they’re taking donations to try to repair the damage.

Justin Welby is the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I admit I was hoping John Sentamu would get this post, but we will see how Welby does.

Rachel Held Evans writes her best post yet, and what I think should have been the preface to her latest and highly controversial book. This is a fantastic read.

A Christianity Today blog post on reading modern-day assumptions into the Bible and Mr. Mom.

My dear friend RoseAnna reflects on what she’s learning in dating after her divorce about grace and people.

The Greek island Ikaria is, according to the New York Times, the island where people forget to die.

Preston writes a beautifully poetic post on what the phrase “pro-life” evokes in his mind.

I just discovered this blogger this week, and I was surprised and impressed at his love poems–they’re quite good.

This may very well be the best thing I’ve read all week: The Trinity in Gender DebatesIt’s the perfect follow-up to this post I read earlier, where Libby Anne observes that Debi Pearl’s concept of wifely subordination is based on her assumptions about the Trinity (which I found to be hugely problematic and borderline heretical). I recommend reading the Love, Joy, Feminism post before reading the first essay, to understand what this looks like in practice before digging into the theological nuances of such statements.


Previous posts in this series: Loving Your FoodEating in Community, and Jesus Ate.

For the benefit of my readers: I write this for Christians, with the understanding that communion is a sacrament and an essential, regular part of a healthy practice of faith and a healthy church. For my own part, I am of the Anglican persuasion, believing in what is called the doctrine of “real presence” (as opposed to transubstantiation or the idea that communion is simply a memorial act). 

Anglican service in Portland, ME last week.

As I touched on in my last post, Jesus eating, as a man with ordinary people, transformed the manner in which we as Christians and humans can relate to each other and food. But that Jesus ate is really the fluffy part of his reinvention of community and eating through his incarnation. The real weight of this new perspective comes in his institution of the sacrament of communion. Every time he ate was either a foreshadowing or echo of this act, and every time the church gathers, we dutifully walk through the ceremonial reverencing of this act and acknowledge our odd but profound need for it.

The most sacred act of the church is the practicing of the sacrament of communion. This is really rather odd. It’s crass—the idea that we receive grace and sustenance because God died and we can eat his body and blood? It’s a repulsive concept in the elemental ways. Perhaps as a result, most evangelical churches skirt around the reality of what is implied by communion by sanitizing the sacrament  into a mere memorial act, a bread-and-wine mimic of the last supper to honor Christ’s final hours. The idea in these circles is that we eat the bread and wine a few times a year to remind us that Jesus broke bread and drank wine with his disciples as a foreshadowing of what would happen to his body, and so the church now mimics this last supper to recall what was done to his body for us. It’s tidy and clean. All symbolic, no gore, no rush to do it every week. This perspective is Gnostic, which is to say, it is a heretical mockery of the real thing.

Gnosticism is often explained in terms of its mysticism and achievement of holiness via secret knowledge and gradual initiation into said knowledge. But the reason it existed (and is still alive and well in a new form in the church today) is because the humanness of Jesus and the physicality of the cross and resurrection and ascension were difficult paradoxes in the ancient world. It didn’t sit well in the context of philosophies like Stoicism to have a God who affirmed the body. To accept the paradox of incarnation and Jesus as fully God and fully man would require believers to accept the worth of one’s own flesh and physicality. Instead, Gnosticism simplifies Christianity and removes this paradox, and allows Christianity to be all about the intellect, spiritual experience, and the knowledge of truth.  There is little value in the body or the physical life—because the flesh is wholly sinful, it should be dominated and made as irrelevant as possible to the spiritual life. The creeping discomfort of the Gnostic Christian with the physical aspect of being human undermines the sacraments and the daily routines of life. It says that your time is better spent in the Word than studying for tomorrow’s test at school. It says that prayer is more valuable than doing household chores. It says that worship songs are inherently better than any other songs. It says that art should only ever be beautiful, because only the true things are beautiful, and the nude body is always pornography and that a mundane or grittily gross scene from real life can’t be true art because it has ugliness (e.g., Thomas Kincade and his ilk). In essence, Gnosticism is an impatience with the realities of daily life and the sin and ugliness and slow realities of a physical body, and tries to practice Christianity as a sort of pre-heaven escapism by devaluing anything that is physical or mundane or ordinary. [My apologies to Dr. Messer for the content of this paragraph.]

Now, I understand the impulse of this skewed perspective. Life as a physical being is contradictory, and the most beautiful and the most gross are usually two sides of the same thing. Sex, for example, is a beautiful union where the purest of passions can be expressed in the safety of your lover’s affections and embraces. But it’s also a gross bodily function with funky noises and awkward angles. Likewise, eating can be an almost spiritual experience if the food is really good. But you still have to digest and pass it later. Childbirth, as well: it’s a life-changing and beautifully holy moment when a baby is born and takes its first gasping breathes and begins to cry, and suckles at the breast of its mother. But there’s also blood and mucus and feces to be cleaned up, and the mother may have tearing, and will usually be exhausted, pale, with greasy hair, and sweat trickling down her face. These ugly and gross sides of these events are things we’d like to do without, but because we are physical beings in a physical world, we cannot. Likewise, to sanitize communion as only a memorial act is an immature escapist impulse. We are physical beings, Jesus is a physical being, his death was a physical act, and communion cannot be just symbolism. To treat communion as if it was just symbolic is to cheapen his death in a way that is dangerous and irreverent.

[Before I continue, I must ask my readers to do me a favor: be comfortable with mystery, and don’t expect of me a theologian’s precision. I am not trying to give a completely thorough, systematic apologetic for the theological nuances of “real presence” in communion. I gave up on being Presbyterian in part because of the OCD-like obsession with a wholly reasonable theology. Paradox is an essential part of the Christian faith, and I am not equipped to be an educated defender of it. I am only trying to impart here my layman’s understanding of the significance of communion as a physical sacrament whereby God imparts grace tangibly to his people.]

So here we are: Gnostic Christianity creates a bad substitute for the real meaning of communion. Having explained this, I can now continue onto my larger point: Jesus ate and because he ate I can eat with a holy enjoyment of food and fellowship, imitating his united experience of food with people as a centering activity for healthy relationships.

Jesus was God incarnate, and as God incarnate, he achieved a restoration of relationships in the context of food as good and a guiltless pleasure.  When he ate the Passover feast with his disciples he made this personal, as he broke the bread and passed the cup and said to them “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Suddenly it became more obvious what he meant during a talk with leaders of the Jews, when he said to them,

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:44-58, NIV

Jesus’s body as manna for his people is, clearly, symbolic of God’s provision of the appropriate salvation for the needs of his people in the physical wilderness wanderings and in the spiritual desert of the old covenant isolation from God without blood appeasement for transgressions. This is an appropriate metaphorical parallel for Jesus, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, to draw. Whoever fed on the manna was saved; whoever puts their faith in Jesus’s sufficient sacrifice on their behalf is saved.

But it’s much more literal than just this, as became evident during the last supper. Jesus reiterated the literal command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, passing the bread and wine as physical symbols of this. He was there with them in this shared, communal experience, and partaking of it was in a way, the last seal of the fellowship existing between the disciples and with their Lord.

And when Jesus died on the cross, bleeding and mangled, and the propitiation for sins was achieved, the reality of partaking in the supper as partaking in his death and living by his death—both physically and spiritually—the deeper truth was made firm. At the command of Christ to remember his sacrifice by sharing the bread and wine as they shared in his body and blood whenever the disciples gathered together, the routine of communion was established, and fellowship with each other was renewed by the common need and the common cup, and the Holy Spirit sustained the fellowship and blessed the act of communion to the church.

This is, sort of, what is implied by the term “real presence” in communion: Christ is present through his Spirit when the believers gather in his name, and Christ is made tangible in the body and blood, the bread and wine, and the Spirit restores and renews the faith of the individual believers taking of this food, and restores and renews the unity and fellowship—the communion—of the church, of the saints.

And because of this, I say that tangible grace is directly imparted to the soul of the believer who partakes of the sacrament of communion. To take part in this sacrament requires nothing of the believer except for an acknowledgement of his sinfulness and need of spiritual food, his need of grace, and his need of fellowship with other believers to sustain his faith. (This is why, in the Anglican church, one joins in a congregational confession of sin and hears the words of peace from the scriptures, and then offers the hand of peace to the other congregants, before processing to the altar to kneel [an appropriate posture for those dependent on Christ for life] and receive [not take, but passively receive, reflecting our helplessness and God’s willingness to meet us just where we are in our worst selves] the sacrament and the blessing.) Grace is unmerited favor poured out with generosity from God on man—communion is the most physically real experience of grace in its purest, most elemental form a believer can have.

I like how one author describes it,

“Not only is Christ present at the altar, but He also gives Himself to us. As we eat the bread, we are receiving, in an intimate and personal way, His body that was broken on the cross. When we sip the wine, we are receiving His blood that sealed the covenant, assuring the forgiveness of sin. We are literally united with Christ—Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended—bridging the gap between here and Golgotha, now and eternity.

It has been said that this contact with Christ is more direct and closer and more intimate than what His disciples enjoyed. Again, Christ comes to us. It is not something we do, but something Christ does, which we have only to receive. The Lord’s Supper is nothing less than the Gospel. . . .

There is nothing vague here. There is no need to worry about my decisions or whether or not I have been elected to be saved or whether or not I am sinful. In the Sacrament, Christ gives Himself to me. All of His promises and everything He did for my redemption and forgiveness on the cross are made so tangible, I can taste them. I am touching, in fact, the risen Christ, as the first disciples did. And God’s Word, ringing in my ears as I take this nourishment, tells me that His body and blood are for me. That means that my sins are actually forgiven, that I can be assured of God’s favor.” (The Spirituality of the Cross, Veith)

Because God incarnate as the man Jesus made such a big deal of instituting the sacrament of communion food, for the Christian, can never again be just something we put in our mouths to give us energy. Seriously, just reread the gospels with an eye out for the phrases, “body and blood,” “eat my flesh,” and for the idea of Jesus as food for eternal life. It is a central theme in his ministry, intertwining elegantly with his affirmation of the physical body as he walked about the country healing the bodies of those who believed, and eating with them and knowing them intimately through that fellowship.

God has taken flesh and eaten with us and made the very act of eating together with him and others a vital part of how we relate to him and each other. I would argue that a church isn’t a church if it’s not celebrating communion together regularly, because without it, our fellowship is only a heady and intellectual, rational sort of relating to God and to each other. With communion, our practice of faith and our need of grace and our need of each other suddenly become powerfully physical, and we must be united to take the elements in a sacramental, reverential way. It is the literal lifeblood of the church.

In our church on Sunday mornings, the priest prays over the elements and when he is done, he lifts them up for the congregation to see, saying,

The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

And when I kneel to take the bread, he says to me,

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

And then as I am given the cup,

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

Some versions of the liturgy has this, instead:

The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.
The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

The wedding feast of the Lamb. The body and blood on the cross. The breaking of bread with the disciples and with the faithful, socially despicable. The God of holiness in human flesh, hungry. Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

Eating can’t be done just for its own sake ever again. It is now Christ-haunted.

{This post was written with this song on repeat in my “mental stereo.” Go listen.}

Iron and marble, wood and stone
Craftsman’s chisel, hammer and nail
All the straight lines form our gath’ring place
At the Altar of God, at the Communion Rail

And the powerful and common, we all come alike
With our faith so weak and our souls so frail
To dine upon the promises of Christ the Lamb
Kept safe for His sheep at the Communion Rail

I can’t help but watch this blessed parade
Of strangers and neighbors, we all fall and fail
We come to have our lives made new again
And to return our thanks at the Communion Rail

And a great cloud of witnesses surrounds us out of time
We will follow their footsteps beyond this earthly veil
We will all join together at the Supper of the Lamb
And we glimpse that shining time
At the Communion Rail

We will follow their footsteps beyond this earthly veil
And we glimpse that shining time now
At the Communion Rail 

Bob Bennett, “The Communion Rail”


This week has been for me a meditation on the Eucharist, thanks to some beautiful writings on it. Here are the highlights:

From “Small, Good Things” by Casey N. Cep at The Paris Review:

One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.

Discussion of open communion vs. closed communion fall to tatters in the face of real Eucharist as Jesus’s body and blood are real sustenance for a homeless man in “Good Tasting Theology.”

I was sitting near the back and watched him go up to the table and look for a minute before taking a piece of bread (gluten-free!) and taking a big bite. Most people couldn’t or didn’t see him, but I caught the eyes of a few others and exchanged smiles as he then, after few seconds, lifted the cup to his mouth and took a big sip. That widened a few eyes since we’re a community of dippers not sippers (to serve the germophobes in our midst). And then he walked out of the room.

And finally, the first piece mentioned a Mary Oliver poem, which I will post in full here. Savor it.

The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist

Something has happened
to the bread
and the wine.

They have been blessed.
What now?
The body leans forward

to receive the gift
from the priest’s hand,
then the chalice.

They are something else now
from what they were
before this began.

I want
to see Jesus,
maybe in the clouds

or on the shore,
just walking,
beautiful man

and clearly
someone else
besides.

On the hard days
I ask myself
if I ever will.

Also there are times
my body whispers to me
that I have.


I’m pushing through today on ibuprofen and weak coffee
Trying not to register spring’s appearance this morning
for fear of feeling the life-beat vibrating outdoors.
The sunlight shifted yesterday, and the sky removed her dressing gown

If I ignore it, it never happened.
I didn’t notice the smallness of your kiss,
the withdrawing of your body from mine,
the shudder you gave when I touched you.

I want to make this work out so badly.
But when I can’t touch you, I don’t know you at all.
And this hangover of absence makes my eyes burn.
It’s just allergies. Did you see the pollen coating my car?

We’re both suffering from intimacy intolerance, I announce.
ADHD of the heart, addiction to voyeurism and sensations.
You mutter that you hate acadamia
and so we disjoint again, limping in our harness.

You slump into introspection, blue over the pictures you dream
and I push you away because I can’t follow you there.
I was never part of the dream and I am a wounded animal
thrashing when touched too truly.

I’ll go and work it out. I’ll stop crying when I fall asleep.
You stop thinking when you forget to think,
and then your ache wanes; out of sight, out of pain.
Let’s get drunk and go to Jackson, I think. Maybe I’ll see you better there.

But Lent paroles my border, keeping me from pressing the razor into my skin
and letting it all out quickly. So I have to feel the slow fullness of this,
I have to hemorrhage awake. And since I don’t understand it all
The gradual unravelling will tear me apart all the more.

If I want to rebuild our dream-castles, I can’t start at our beginning
and I can’t do it alone. If your eyes become clear again, let’s hold hands
while we go to the quarry and sort through the rubble.
Just touch me, I say, meaning: put me back together again.