Monday, March 29, 2010

Chapters 8 & 9 ~ "The Back Story"

Chapters 8 & 9 -- "Myths and Traditions" and "History in Brief" give the "back story" of the sacred meal ... of Holy Communion ... of the Eucharist.

Here are a couple of my "highlights" from those pages:
If you make up a bunch of rules about who gets to take Communion and who doesn't, then Communion is reduced either to a special club with only certain kinds of people who are allowed in or magic.
The gospel story that makes the most sense to me about the Eucharist is the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus didn't ask those thousands of people camped out on the hillside whether they had confessed their sins or how clean they were. He fed them.
All of this got me remembering a meditation I wrote during seminary ... and today seemed like a good day to share that here.

It's called "Bread:

"I’ve always kind of had a thing about bread. As a child, I went off to school every day with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – only Weber’s would do – with the crusts removed. The crusts were saved in a plastic bag in the freezer to take to the Arboretum to feed the ducks – fat, waddling, noisy old things who lived off the bits and pieces rejected by picky little girls like me. My early years were filled with an abundance of both bread and people who prepared it to my liking. Pudgy, indulged and privileged it seemed that bread – soft, white and usually smeared with something sweet – was something I would always relate to.

But it wasn’t until I got to seminary that I got the chance to actually bake any bread. It was an awesome privilege to be asked to bake the bread for communion and as I worked the dough on the floured board one morning it occurred to me that when the church becomes more like the bread that feeds it we will have inched closer to the coming of the kingdom.

The ingredients were set out, ready to be combined in the big, yellow mixing bowl: flour and shortening, sugar, salt and an egg – and yeast: turned frothy in the measuring cup of hot water. Separate and distinct when lined up on the counter, each of these items would serve a different but essential function when kneaded together into the dough that would become our bread.

The large pile of flower and the tiny packet of yeast were equal in importance: without either of them the final creation would be less than it was meant to be. Mixed together, kneaded and left to rise on the window sill in the afternoon sun and then baked in the heat of the over they would transformed into a new thing – brown and fragrant, crusty and warm – ready to be the food offered to feed both body and soul in a very hungry world.

The volume of the flour many times outweighed the other ingredients – but bread would not have happened if the flour had used its majority status to argue for the exclusion from the mixing bowl of the insistent salt or the disruptive yeast. Each had to play its own role in the process of becoming bread: to be wrenched from its own bag or box or packet or where it was comfortable with its own kind and combined with things which were “other.” And the bread which emerged from the oven resulted from the interaction of those ingredients as much as it did from the kneading and shaping of the baker or the heat of the oven.

As the church we are called to be the Body of Christ to the world – a body symbolized for us by the bread we break each time we gather. Yet how often we settle for my childhood relationship with the bread that God has given us. I know there are times when I am still that little girl who wants her bread the way she wants it: safe and familiar and prepared for me by someone else – sweet and with the crusts cut off! I don’t want to participate in the process: I just want to be fed by what I expect. Sure the ducks can have the leftovers – as love as I get mine first.

The radical transformation that takes place between the time the ingredients are lined up on the counter and the fragrant loaf emerges from the oven will never happen if I cling to that understanding of this bread God has given us to eat – of this body God has called us to be. It will never happen if we stay safe in our containers – wrapping creeds and formulas and ritual around us like the bad around the flour, protecting itself from the influence of the frothy yeast or the pungent salt – isolating ourselves from the very things that are essential to becoming the bread – the community -- God would have us be.

There’s a hungry world out there waiting to be fed and we’re the ones who have been called to feed it: both to offer and to be the bread of life. For God has called us to be a new thing – and to get there, we must first be mixed up, kneaded and punched, left to rise and then subjected to the heat of the oven. This is not exactly what I had in mind for my life, I can tell you – but yet I’ve always kind of had a “thing” about bread.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bloggus Interruptus

With apologies -- we've been shifting files from laptops to desktops to network drives and in the shuffle I lost what I'd written for this week ... and have not had time in the press-toward-Palm Sunday to recreate it. But stay tuned ... and if you've got any thoughts you'd like to share email 'em on over ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Body & Blood; Magic & Thanksgiving

Chapters 6 & 7 are the subject for our reflection this week ... "Eating the Body and Blood" and "Magic and Thanksgiving."

In Chapter 6, Nora gives us some wonderful narrative glimpses into her personal encounters with the act of receiving communion -- of "eating the body and blood" -- beginning with her first experience of being left behind in the pew in a Roman Catholic Church:
I wanted to be with them rather than alone and obvious in the pew, but I really didn't want to eat Christ. If this was Communion, it was not for me
She ends the chapter with this invitation:
You may have some of the same issues with Communion that I had earlier in my life. Depending on how you grew up, you may have memories of Communion you did not like, or you may not know anything about it and therefore feel, as I did when I was eight, completely mystified and more than a little turned off. I would urge you to imagine a new story regarding Communion, rather than the one you may have experienced or heard about.
And concludes:

The more I show up at Communion, the more I see that there is not one Communion; there are many Communions.
So my first question this week is: Have you "imagined a new story" about Communion over time or does what you were taught as a kid still "stick" for you?


In Chapter 7, I loved the part about the "two worlds:"

"I want to place two worlds in front of you today: one is the world of propriety, rules and regulations, what is done and what is not done, lines that are drawn to keep people out ..." and the other is a world where we are "given the grace to leave behind our small lives, our drawn lines, our starvation diets, our immaturity, to feast at that heavenly banquet prepared for us at the foundations of the world."

And finally, this:

Jesus bets everything on this world. He sets it above principalities and powers. Above custom, practice, taboo and theory. Above canons, above the opinions of your neighbors. It is the place where mercy is infinite, where all that we need is given to us and even what we have rejected is returned to us. It is the kingdom of the living bread.
Another way to describe those two worlds can be found in the words of the former Bishop of Arizona, Robert Shahan, who famously said, "Faith is what you're willing to die for. Dogma is what you're willing to kill for."

And so my second question becomes: What do we have to give up -- not just for Lent but for good -- in order to live in that "second world" of grace, mercy, compassion and justice?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Chapter 5

The very first thing I highlighted in Chapter 5 was the very first thing in Chapter 5 ... the quote from Anne Lamott:
I do not at understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
Here at All Saints we often refer to the bread and wine made holy as "strength for the journey" ... and for me that's all about the not leaving us where it found us part. The "save us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only and not for renewal" part. The empowering us to go out into the world to make a difference part.

But let's be honest -- there are times in all our lives ... Sundays in all our journeys ... when we show up, do everything "right" and "nothing happens." Who hasn't shown up for church, sung the hymns, listened to the sermon, prayed the prayers, trooped up to the communion rail and back again on a kind of automatic pilot?

That's why I love that Nora frames this whole book around the sacred meal as "practice" not "perfection" -- and issues what she names as "a small warning:"
When you have an experience of the infinite during a practice, you can spend a lot of time wanting to return to that great feeling of oneness and end up in what migh be called spiritual addiction.
It's the same impulse that inspired Peter to want to build a booth up there on the mountain after the Transfiguration. And I don't think Jesus has any more patience with that impulse in us now than he did with it in Peter then.

Before I went to seminary, I did what was called a "Ministry Study Year" at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Simi Valley ---- where Barbara Mudge+ was the vicar.

Barbara gave the same dismissal from each and every Eucharist:
The holiest moment is now. Fed by word and sacrament, go out to be the church in the world.
That was nearly 20 years ago now, and it remains for me the key summation of the "afterward" part of the Eucharistic process.

It remains for me the touchstone of the point of why we do all that we do.

And it reminds me how easy it is for we humans to turn absolutely ANYTHING into a "golden calf" -- that even the bread and wine made holy intended to give us strength for the journey of justice, love and compassion -- can become a roadblock in that journey when it becomes an end in itself. And as liturgical people, I wonder sometimes if Episcopalians aren't particularly susceptible to focusing so much on the "perfection" of the liturgy itself that we forget it is not an end in itself but a means to that grace Anne Lamott tells us will meet us where we are and not leave us where it finds us.

Food for thought for this fourth week in Lent!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Chapter 4

From the previous chapter:
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus describes two worlds: the one in which he is living and the one that might be.
As I re-read Chapter 4 on "Receiving" it struck me that when Nora writes about how difficult it is for so many to allow themselves to "receive" it is a manifestation of that challenge to live both in the world that "is" (that tells us we have to earn acceptance, approval, love, etc.) AND the world that "might be" (God's abundant love made available to absolutely everybody.)

And isn't that the source of some of the most challenging theological disconnects of our day? The challenge from those who hold onto clear dogmas and right doctrines as litmus tests for who is or is not welcome at the table ... in the pulpit ... to the banquet ... to those who proclaim a more expansive, more inclusive understanding of God's love, welcome, community and kingdom.
By making our greatest and most important goal the one of productivity, we miss out on the ways God's gifts of grace come to us by doing nothing.
We forget -- as my friend Joanna used to remind us during CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) -- that we're human beings ... not human doings. And sometimes the most profoundly human thing we can "do" is just to "be."
It is hard sometimes to believe that God loves us just for who we are -- not for what we "do."
I loved Kay's story about coming to the communion rail for the first time. Since she is a dear friend of mine, I've heard her tell this story many times. And so when I read Nora's words, I hear them in Kay's voice:
"It was at that point that I realized I would have to open my hands. When the moment came, I came as close as I ever have to hearing the voice of God. I heard and almost audible, Come on girlfriend. Open your hands.'"
How good are you at "receiving?" What -- if anything -- might you be called to let go of in order to open your hands to receive all that God would give you?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Chapter 3

So let's start this week with a disclaimer: I've never been a fan of waiting. For anything. And so because God has such a well-developed sense of humor, I've ended up working in the church. Go figure.

AND ... I love how Nora invites us to consider waiting not "prelude to" but "part of" the sacramental circle that calls us to the table and sends us out into the world. It's another one of those "both/and" things -- like this quote from page 28:
The language of the altar is old, much older than us. And it's also new, being made you and and the people around you.

Another part I loved about this chapter was her admission (on page 29): "I am not a light traveler."

Ironically, I was working on this reflection on the plane yesterday -- a flight from L.A. to Chicago for the Episcopal Urban Caucus that was delayed because there was more "carry-on luggage" than there was room for.

And so as I sat in 15F watching one traveler after another trying to cram "one more thing" in the already full overhead compartments, I wondered if it wasn't kind of a metaphor for what it looks like to God as we try to in cram "one more thing" into our already full schedule, agenda, closet, suitcase, briefcase, or hard-drive.

A Lent or two ago we used the image of "UNpacking for the Lenten Journey" -- and I liked that image a lot ... although, like Nora, I fear I took the "admire rather than emulate" approach. Much easier to take on than to let go.

Other notes on Chapter 3:

I appreciated her take on (and her "taking on"!) the Sodom & Gomorrah story from Genesis -- and the way she artfully wove it together with the Gospel challenge to Empire. Another both/and moment:
Jesus' "kingdom of God" may not be a far-off heaven, but may instead be an alternative to the kingdom of Rome, an alternative to the monetary, social, moral, and legal economy of the Roman Empire and the religious authorities who collaborated with it. An alternative to waste and corruption and greed. Jesus promises us the kingdom of heaven: more compassion, more love, more justice, more courage, more surprise.
And here -- finally -- is my favorite image:
" ... the power of subversive inspiration."

Where can we, do we and might we use that power of subversive inspiration to help bring on earth that kingdom of heaven we pray for every time we gather for the Sacred Meal? And -- as Nora asks -- what did we do last week to find the kingdom of heaven in our midst ... and to help others find it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My "podium notes" from Chapters 1 & 2

We've been watching a lot of Winter Olympics at my house, so since I've been thinking in terms of "gold, silver and bronze" all week, I'll continue the theme and note the bits that rose to the "get out the yellow highlighter 'podium'" for me in the first two chapters of "The Sacred Meal:"

We mistake middle-class conventions or church rules or traditions for the secret code that unlocks the kingdom.

The stories that Jesus tells were more often than not about people who broke the religious rules, not simply for the sake of breaking them, but for something bigger, more important, more life-giving ...

Jesus himself broke the rules by healing on the Sabbath, eating with those who were unclean, and resisting the power of the Roman Empire until he got himself into real trouble. [pg. 17-18]

I was raised by rule keepers. And like lots of other things, communion had lots of rules -- most of which I didn't understand when I was little and didn't necessarily make sense when I was not so little.

Understanding Jesus as a rule breaker rather than a rule maker was the beginning of not only the story but the person of Jesus becoming not only real but relevant to me. And that didn't happen for me until I was a thirty-something altar guild member mother-of-two second soprano in the church choir. And it happened when I lucked/chanced/graced upon the book The Dream of God by Verna Dozier.

So this particular part of Nora Gallagher's narrative struck a deep chord with me -- and I loved how she connected the practice of communion to the practice of justice. I appreciated how she drew the connection between our receiving the body of Christ as individuals at the communion rail and our becoming the Body of Christ as the church God dreamed we would be. And it reminded me how grateful I am that I was challenged to challenge my earliest "rule keeping" paradigm ... even though it wasn't always easy!

So how about for you? Any gold, silver or bronze "podium moments" in these first couple of chapters?