Keystone Kommunion

For some, the sacrament of Holy Communion, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist -whatever you call it – is a solemn and holy occasion. It is replete with mystery, with grace, with all that church should be. Delicious, inclusive, meditative, intimate, theological.

And it is all of those things, except when it’s not, which is just about every month for me.

Everybody does communion a little bit differently. In our congregation, and I would guess in the majority of Presbyterian congregations, we celebrate communion once a month, on the first Sunday. Usually, but not always, we “do” communion by intinction, which means that the people come forward and take a little pre-cubed bite of bread and dip it into the chalice of grape juice. We say “the body of Christ” or “the bread of life” or “the bread of Heaven” and “the blood of Christ” or “the cup of salvation” or “the cup of forgiveness.” And the people partake, and then return to their seats as guided by one of the deacon ushers with all efficiency of a flight attendant giving safety instructions. We also sometimes pass plates of bread and trays of little cups of juice out into the congregation, but that does not make for very many good stories.

So here are three common communion mishaps that make it not a solemn and holy occasion but a joyful, mirthful feast.

1. Floaters

It always happens, and usually at the beginning. Someone very understandably drops their tiny piece of pre-cubed bread into the chalice. We always tell them to take another piece, that it happens all the time, but the partaker usually feels deep mortification, which I think is a spiritual discipline among the Opus Dei folks that involves flaying oneself with a studded whip. But I could be wrong. But maybe dropping the Bread of Heaven into the Cup of Salvation is the emotional or spiritual equivalent of flaying oneself. I actually wouldn’t know, as I always go last when there are plenty of floaters in the cup and it’s no big deal if my bread goes skinny dipping with the other pieces.

2. Drink Ye, All of It

Occasionally we have people who are from a different tradition within Christianity who are used to coming forward and actually drinking the cup. They’re usually from a tradition in which only men in white regalia will serve them, and in which they stick out their tongues and someone puts a communion “wafer” (read: piece of cardboard treated to look edible) on their tongue so they don’t have to touch anything. These people get confused by us Presbyterians. First of all, there might be women up front, and people who aren’t clergy. But our guests are game and hungry and faithful, so they help themselves to our nice yeasty bread cubes. Then they want the cup. Sometimes they get. Sometimes there’s a wrestling match. Sometimes they drink the floaters. Then we all pretend we’re not throwing up just the tiniest bit in our mouths, and we move on.

3. “But all I wanted was a little blessing…”

We have guests with us who want to be a part of the party but they’re really not sure about the whole body/blood thing. That or they’re scared of the floaters, or the person in front of them just drank the cup. Anyway, all they want is a blessing, but sometimes they’re not sure how to get that. I once attended a Catholic wedding, and one of the bridesmaids was Jewish. She had been instructed, when the wedding party was served communion, just to cross her arms over her chest to indicate she would not be partaking. In the heat of the moment, she forgot the choreography and instead clamped both hands over her mouth as though coming into any contact with the Body of Christ would magically indoctrinate her into the Christian Club, or would so offend the priest that he wouldn’t finish the wedding ceremony. (The couple is no longer married, but the bridesmaid is still a faithful Jew, so there you are.) Sometimes our people who just want a blessing do that too, put their hands over their mouths or cross their arms over their chests and that would all be fine. Unless the pastor and her serving partner misread the cue, and we end up trying to force-feed them the dang bread and cup, already! Yes, that happens. To me. More than once.

My husband is best on his feet at the spur of the moment and I love it when he offers the invitation to the table, because he manages to weave in the theme of the sermon or the image from scripture or some phrase from a hymn along with the graciousness to be someone who creates a floater or otherwise does thing not so decently or in order. And I love that, because really it is all about grace, about being invited to a table regardless of whether we’re hungry or sated, perfect or really screwed up, faithful or doubt-full, good/bad, wise/foolish, ballerina or bumpkin or clown.

clown communion

When I did a google image search on “clown communion” none of the clergy were the clowns. Pity. I think that’s more accurate!

So now, would you be gracious enough to share your Mirthful Feast stories?

The Dinner Party

photo (1)We’re having six lovely people over for dinner tonight, which means that I have been frantic for about three weeks.  This is nothing new.  How do I clean the house, cook the food, look presentable; dust the floorboards, wash the front exterior windows, really clean the hardwood floors in the dining room, find a menu that is tasty and delicious and doable, with the right blend of flavors, textures, and colors, find the time to shower and do something with my mop of hair and remember to put on lipstick; vacuum thecobwebslivingontheceilingswipethehandprintsoffthedoorjambscleanthestainlesssteelappliances makesure iknowifanyguestsareglutenfreeorallergicorhaveastrongpreferenceagainst porkormushrooms orasparagusormakesurethedogstays outofthehouseandshouldiwear askirtorculottesoradressorpants andwhatearringsdoiwearand willanyonenoticei fimwearingmy tennishoes?

Frantic.  Yes.

I do love to have people over for dinner but we haven’t done that much lately.  Or house is smaller than our last one and it gets rather cozy when more than four show up.  Our seven year old tolerates a bunch of grown ups.  And then there’s the puppy, who simply has not understood this week why I do not allow what’s left of Giraffe’s innards to remain in bunches strewn through the house.

I love having people over and I love the fuss.  Because our guests tonight are slightly older than my husband and I, I’m using the good stuff, and it’s a thank-you dinner, so I’m using the good stuff.  I love using the good stuff, because the communion of saints is with me.  Whitney and John gave my the linen tablecloth as a wedding present.  My in-laws gave us their cut glass water glasses.  My parents downsized and gave me back the Waterford votives we gave them for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I’m using our wedding china and crystal for dinner, and my father-in-law’s mother’s china for dessert.

I love having people and I love the fuss – up to a point.  I find myself teetering on the edge of Crazy, and I don’t want to fall off that particular cliff because deep down I know this really is all about hospitality.  Our guest won’t care one whit if there’s a cobweb in the corner, or if one of the puppy’s chew toys is left in the bathroom.  They won’t care if the wine is so-so and food lukewarm. What they will remember is if they felt welcomed, and if there was good conversation, and if we were enjoying ourselves as well.

So during this day of cleaning and chopping and prepping, I’ve been thinking about communion this Sunday.  I think about the women who are so great about making sure the communion cloth is centered, if there is the right number of plates and chalices.  I think about them crowding into our little sacristy, laying out bread pieces and sharing their relief that it’s intinction this month and they don’t have to fill all the little juice glasses. I think about communion as hospitality, knowing that those who come for this particular holy meal probably wouldn’t notice if the tablecloth were off-center or a little stained.  They wouldn’t care if they had to wait a moment while the bread plate was replenished.  What they might remember was that a pastor called them by name, and offered them the bread of life and cup of blessing, and with two small tastes something inside them was sated.

Of course, bread and juice is a lot simpler than pork tenderloin, wild mushroom bread pudding, roasted asparagus, and panna cotta.

Word Nerd at the Doctor’s Office

So I went to see my doctor (actually my nurse practitioner) yesterday because I’ve been having some stuff that might feel like arthritis and I’ve had a really, really, really sore throat.

I don’t wait long, the nurse calls me in, first stop the scale – yay! 40 pounds by their measure!

Onto the exam room. The nurse verifies my name and birthdate, and why I’m there. She asks me about my pain – where does it hurt? Well, I think to myself, it doesn’t really hurt. “Hurt” is not the right word to describe what I feel. “Ache” is a better word. My ankle and my knee and my hip ache. But she doesn’t ask how much it aches, she asks how much it hurts.

And then, because I’ve been having this internal conversation and have evidently been a little slow on the uptake, she shows me this handy “pain level” chart with smiley faces on it. Now I know they have to do this. I once served as a lay person on an Institutional Review Board, a group of medical and non-medical folks who review the protocols and consent forms for new drugs and devices and procedures. So I know that those things have to be written so that a person with an eighth-grade level education can understand it.

But smiley faces? Really?

I point to the smiley faces that is more of a wavy line that a curve and describe my pain as a 7.5.20130419-151237.jpg

But then I go inside my head again. My pain doesn’t look like a circle with two dots for eyes and a wavy line for a grimacing mouth. Then again, my pain does not look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Nor does my pain feel like what St. Teresa20130419-151304.jpg felt as the cherubim stabbed her into ecstasy in Bernini’s sculpture at the lovely little Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Put that on your chart.

My pain is not absent as it would be in a lovely Fragonard painting; there is no peace in my body that mimics a classic Dutch landscape.20130419-151331.jpg

If the nurse had asked, “Which painting in the great repertoire of Western art most evokes the ache you feel in your ankle, knee, and hip?” I would have been happy to ponder that and answer. “Why, thank you, Nurse Shelly. My ache is best represented by Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1669. He’s not wincing, but there are shadows around the eyes and a set-ness to the mouth that evoke some ongoing pain and sleep-interrupted nights.” And then Nurse Shelly and I might get into a conversation about the evolving nature of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. But we don’t. She notes in my chart that I pointed to the wavy-line mouth smiley face, then tells me the nurse practitioner will be right in.rembrandt self 1669

My only consolation in all of this is that my nurse practioner asked if the symptoms in my leg started at the same time as my sore throat because the two might be related, except she didn’t say “at the same time.” She used the word “concurrently.” I was so happy, and answered her right away, because my little brain did not need to imagine synonyms or paintings that would better describe it all.

Of course, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me….

ps: If you are my mother reading this, it’s probably just a virus and nothing serious, so please don’t worry

How Much Va Va in the Voom?

hubba-bubbaThere’s this saying among people losing weight:  “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.”  I would like to go on record as stating that I do not believe this is true.

Pringles taste awfully good.  So does chocolate, in any form, but especially melted.  So does a good pizza, or hamburger, or frites when they are very salty and greasy and crisp.  You can add your list of things that taste better than being thin feels.

But truth be told, I’m not really sure what being thin feels like, although I do know what it feels like to lose weight and have people tell you that you look great and then gain weight and have people say nothing.  That feels good and bad, but not as good as  m&m’s.  It’s been a LONG time since I could be called “thin” in any way.  But I have lost a lot of weight in my life time, and I have gained all of it back again.  I’m in a losing phase right now, and I must admit that I feel better.  Exercise is easier.  My back and hips don’t hurt as much.  I have better energy and stamina.  But I crave, crave, crave salty crunchy things.

It’s a mental game, this losing weight thing, so I set bench marks:  10% of my weight lost.  15% of my weight lost.  Down to my pre-pregnancy weight.  Down to what I weighed when I started college.  Moving my BMI from obese to overweight.  20% of my weight lost.  50 inches lost.  Pants size in the single digits.

None of that feels as good as half a bag of tortilla chips.

But it is a mental game, so I try a lot of different motivational tactics.  The ones struck-through I have disregarded.

God wants me to be a healthy temple for the Spirit.    People will respect me more if I’m not fat.

I am tired of feeling gross.   I want to be around for my daughter and possible grandchildren.

I need to set a good example for my congregation.

It will only get worse.

So this time around, the motivation is totally for myself.  I want to feel better, and I want to be healthy enough to live a good long while so I can be a great mom to my adult daughter and maybe a great grandmother to her children.  But how far do I go with this diet?  How much weight do I lose?  What’s enough?

For me, today, at age 48.5, this is enough: a BMI in the overweight category.  A size 12 pants.  A total weight loss (this time) of 67 pounds.  That’s my goal, and I’m halfway there.   That will keep enough va-va in the voom, because a few curves look good on me, and a few curves make me feel like me.

And maybe, with 67 fewer pounds on me, and a few curves to make me feel like me, the occasional serving of Pringles will be just fine.

But the chocolate croissant is another matter.choc croissant

Ciao, Superwoman

EnjoliI couldn’t tell you the exact moment or time, but at some point in my adult life I decided to quit trying to be Superwoman.  I neither brought home the bacon, nor fried it up in a pan, nor wore fabulous size six Qiana pants with four inch strappy heels while smelling great and changing a diaper.  (Thanks all the same, Enjoli.)

To be perfectly honest, it’s not like I really could have been Superwoman even if I’d wanted to.  I’m an okay cook; I have some talents but none in abundance.  I’m not athletically inclined, although with a good band or d.j., I can dance for hours (and I don’t care what I look like.)  I don’t mind hard work but I don’t thrive on it either.  I’m smart enough, maybe smarter than the average person, but I’m no genius.  I suppose I lack ambition, or else realized that it was like Tom Cruise in Top Gun: my ambition was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.

The real turning point was when I stopped caring about whether or not I impressed people.  Oh, there is a freedom to that – not trying to impress someone else, not seeking another’s approval, not really giving in to other people’s opinions.  Sure, part of that turning point is a pretty natural part of maturing and moving into, ahem, middle age.  But it’s theological, too.

I don’t so much preach what I think the congregation needs to hear as I do preach what I need to hear.  I preach a fair bit on God’s love and the goodness of creation, including the creation of humanity.  I also preach about God’s good intention for us.  And about God’s unconditional love.  While I never say it as eloquently, I completely agree with something Richard Rohr wrote:  “God does not love us because we are good.  God loves us because God is good.”

God loves me regardless of whether I am Superwoman or not.  In fact, if I’m trying to be Superwoman and I’m really not, I’m pretty sure that means I’m not living into my full humanity, that I’m not living into the unique, flawed, and splendid person God created me to be.

Writing that and reading it on the screen just now – “if I’m trying to be Superwoman and I’m really not, I’m pretty sure that means I’m not living into my full humanity” –  I’m good.  But the world sends other messages.  The world says, “Yes, you couldn’t get those size six Qiana pants over your knees, and they are out of fashion.  Your college GPA was just a few points too low to quality for xyz.  You took time off from your career to stay home with your new baby – that was a great choice but you’ve been out of circulation too long.  We need a little more sweetness and light, a little less truth and wit.”  You know – you’ve heard the world say it to you, too, whether you’re Superwoman or Clark Kent or Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

There are true wunderkind out there – people for whom talent and genius and personality of the highest order come naturally, and they’re  living their amazing lives with grace and ease.  And there are wunderkind out there who crack under the pressure; I’ve known some of them and they are not happy people, and they care too much about what they look like when they’re dancing.

In the end, I’d rather be happy and mediocre than wildly successful and constantly stressed out and miserable to be with.  (I do have gorgeous moments of being mediocre AND stressed out and miserable to be with.  Oh well.)  My trying to be Superwoman left no space for imperfection or messiness or people who were imperfect or messy or loveable.

So today I claim that I am free – free to set off the smoke alarm whenever I try to broil something; free to forget the words to the Lord’s Prayer when I’m leading in worship; free to send an angry, not-very-pastoral email to a teacher that I regretted sending as soon as I hit ‘send’; free to do things that disappoint God and disappoint me.  I am free to fail, and free to get up and try again.  And that is super.

wonder woman

100 Pillows and a Prius

The clown car is an object I often use as a metaphor.  A few months ago, my child had a horrific cold.  She blew her nose and blew her nose and blew her nose.  Empty boxes lay strewn about the house, victims of stealth sinusitis.  I said to my husband, “It’s like the clown car of mucus in there – how can so much snot lie beneath such a little face?”

Last Sunday, our choir processed up to the chancel during the opening hymn, as is their habit.  They kept coming and coming – basses, tenors, altos, mezzos, sopranos.  It’s very odd to hear a snippet of a part as each one would walk by – the bass line here, the descant there.  Our choir director brought up the rear, and as she passed, I commented, “It’s like the clown car of singers.”

But the last clown car really is much more like a clown car.  Some folks at church volunteer at a local warming center/shelter for families.  The shelter was in need of pillows, and this couple made dozens of calls to hotels and motels to see if they had any to donate.  No, no, no, no, no, till finally yes.  Someone – I think it was a Hampton Inn (to give credit where credit is due) – said they had pillows for the taking.  The couple drove their Prius over to get them. Indeed, the pillows were theirs for the taking – all one hundred of them.

I love the image.  I love the image of this generous, kind couple shoving pillows into their Prius.  I imagined pillows everywhere, sticking out of windows,  under the spare tire, tied to the top.  In reality, the couple made more than one trip to get all the pillows, but you get the idea.

As I think about it, maybe the clown car is not a bad metaphor for abundance.  After all, walking around with a theology or philosophy of abundance is a bit comical, if not ridiculous.  Just yesterday I had a coffee with a friend, and was reminded of things I really want to get done that aren’t done, and I heard my little inner Critic saying, “There’s not enough time.  There’s not enough money.  There’ s not enough sumatriptan for the headache all of this is bringing on.”  Believing we live in an abundant world is a choice.  Choosing to see clown cars everywhere is a choice.  A ridiculous choice at that, but a choice nonetheless.

But I’m trying.  It’s sort of like this blog’s title: Hold fast to what is good, because you never know what’s going to hit the fan.  I strain my eyes to see every bit of hope and beauty and goodness and abundance in the world, because every single day there is some crap coming our way that wants to prove all the good stuff is a lie.  But I don’t choose to fall for that.  I think abundance is the norm, and supply-and-demand is the lie.

And I’ve run out of time at this point.  I’m having lunch with my daughter today, to experience the abundant noise and hilarity of first graders in the school cafeteria.  And look – there’s another clown car – all of them wanting to sit next to me!  Tag, you’re it.  I guess I’m the clown car today.  I’ll hold fast to that.