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You are exactly what God had in mind

New year. New me! I think, striding up to the mirror, hopefully and perhaps a bit forgetfully. What looks back at me is as yesterday: puckered, lined, wrinkled and folded. Never mind the dark spots and crusty places, nor the gray, the soft, or the sagging. Ugh…. Ugly! I can’t help but think.

And yet, what I see is, as Father Boyle has so beautifully written, “exactly what God had in mind when God made me.”*

Do I believe this? can I believe this? That the Creator’s unique word spoken into me when I was laid so gently into the world years ago has aged according to plan, grown according to design, responded exactly on cue. Can I believe I have become just what God hoped?

Because, if I do, then I am not disgusted, not even disappointed in the me I see. I don’t cringe or turn away from what seems so unsightly. It’s not unsightly to God. God has seen it all along. In fact, God saw it coming. My imperfections are part and parcel of me: the me God is glad to see.

Do I believe this? can I believe this? That this broken down me, God is glad to see?

***

I take this with me to communion Sunday where the New Year’s Day pastor has particular difficulty breaking the loaf of Communion bread. I know they pre-pare it. There’s a finger-hold and the start of a separation to make it easier for the pastor to pull apart. Still, she tugs and pulls and works at it until the two portions are fully separated. Finally, she holds them up and announces, “His Body, broken for you.”

Broken, I think, not sliced.

Sliced bread is clean cut. A carving performed swiftly, sharply, evenly. No, this bread, this broken bread has seen warfare. It has battled and been torn in two and it shows. The two halves, their exposed surfaces mounded and shredded. The edges ragged, uneven, hanging; the terrain an unwelcome landscape navigable only by all-terrain vehicle. But I’m not navigating, I’m looking. Looking at the lusciousness that invites me to partake of mouth watering goodness.

So different from the polite bite I would have taken from the perfectly even slice neatly delivered to the toaster to be browned on both sides.

No, bread that’s broken is way more enticing. It says come, take, eat, by the handful, pinch-full or mouthful. To each according to their hunger. Beautiful. Not the least bit ugly. Exactly what God had in mind.

Can I believe this?

  • ~ Gregory Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, The Whole Language, the Power of Extravagant Tenderness, Avid Reader Press, NY, NY, 2021, pp. 6.
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One Bread, One Body

One bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord.

How many times have I sung these words while taking communion and while others communed at our common table? Bread broken. Poured out wine. Each of us humbled before the elements of the One Lord.

Gentile or Jew
Servant or free
Woman or man
No more

A cup of blessing offered openly, freely, with each one individually. No distinction. No head table. No second rows. No provisional status. No, come back after you have made some changes. All welcomed at the table of grace.

One bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord.

Yet, look at us there. Each so different. All sizes and shapes, colors and hues, ages and stages. What a variety we are, just to look at us. But what an even more glorious distribution we are on the inside. A side we can’t see but our Lord does. A place we don’t know but our God does.

Many the gifts, many the works
One in the Lord of all.

One bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord.

What a beautiful day is coming when each one kneels, bearing soul, offering self, telling the truth of their life to the One who alone can read it in full.

And together… We are one body in this one Lord.

Blest be the Tie that Binds

Yes, blest. That’s the way they spelt it in the hymnal I had extracted from its place in the next-to-last pew, at the Church of the Palms, Presbyterian. I am hidden in the back, scrunched behind a pillar in a nearly empty pew the older folks have difficulty accessing. There are a lot of older folks here in Sarasota, Florida, where I am a “winter resident,” and many of them come to this service: 11:00, Sunday, Traditional. They have several services, both contemporary and traditional, and offer worship both livestream and in person.

Yes, I tried out several Methodist churches here, too, plus churches of several other denominations. I didn’t realize how important it would be for me to find a church home here, and I didn’t think I was that picky. I just figured God would find me most anywhere I went, so what did it matter?

Here’s the thing about being a visitor at a church: when you don’t know what to do, it’s very uncomfortable. There’s the kneeling and standing, the sitting and rising, and the signing and passing. And … they say Holy Ghost instead of Holy Spirit and rather than forgiving trespasses, they forgive their confounded debtors. Try to vanish in the back pew when you’re blurting it out all WRONG.

Well, today is Communion Sunday, and boy have I found that are there a lot of ways to celebrate communion. Never a fan of embarrassing myself, last Sunday I asked a friendly usher about the procedure at this church. He patiently answered my many questions about Presbyterians including how they “do” communion. Apparently, they pass the trays along the pews. Good to know. Now I am ready.

So, this Sunday after listening to Pastor McConnell deliver an excellent sermon, I eagerly anticipate what comes next. He transitions to the communion liturgy, a familiar story which is told a familiar way, and the church “elders” line up to take the plates of bread cubes which they will pass along the aisles. (All the bread is gluten free. It’s not supposed to taste good y’all! It’s supposed to be good for everyone.) The cube tray finally comes to me and I select a large one 🙂 (Yep, I did). They’re all crust free, so at least I didn’t have to pick through them for that.

I take my cube and hold it, waiting for the juice tray to come my way, but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t. And I look to the couple at end of row and it hasn’t come to them either. Have they forgotten our row?! I’ll bet it happens, just like sometimes they miss with the offering plate as it gets shuffled among rows – human ushers begin human after all. But forgotten for communion?!

Now I have a problem: what do I do with the cube of bread in my hand?

img_4425You guessed it. I did slip it secretly into my palm, so no one would notice, and then considered whether I could sneak up to the altar at the conclusion of the service and find a cup to dip it in. Maybe I could even kneel at the chancel for a moment? My palm is getting a bit sweaty as I watch the elders return their trays to the altar. For a moment I hold out hope they might ask if anyone has been missed. They don’t, and then return to their seats.

Pastor McConnell continues the liturgy. After he prays, the church falls very silent. I am on the verge of tears. Oh my God, I have been forgotten! What good is bread with no juice? What is flesh without blood? What becomes of the one who is excluded, forsaken, forgotten – an outcast in the back of the church?

And then, just as I have confirmed my worst fears, Pastor McConnell says, “After supper was over, Jesus took the cup….”

Instantly, the circulation returns to my sweaty palms where I still hold that little bread cube. The elders rise again to receive new trays replete with tiny juice cups. They spread out among us to distribute the blood of Christ. Slowly, it makes its way to the back of the church, to the next-to-last-pew, to me, the visiting Methodist. Thank God, I’m not forgotten after all!

As the tray comes my way, I tuck away my cube in order to pass the tray with two hands without spilling. That elder has a firm grip, though. He’s not letting me take it; he patiently indicates one of the plastic juice-filled cups meant to be mine. Perhaps he saw my selection of the largest bread cube?

Ah, now I’m complete. Bread and wine. Cube and Cup. Body and blood. Delivered to me. Honestly, after all my mental shenanigans, it felt less like Holy Communion and more like Holy Conviction, but I completed the effort, participating in the sacrament the Presbyterian way. I’ll admit, I prefer to receive Communion with both hands out and someone else deciding my portion. We all prefer what we’re used to, but the way of the Presbyterians here in Florida may actually be a bit more in keeping with the scripture. After all, Jesus didn’t slosh his bread in his cup. He ate. And then after supper, he drank.

Funny, isn’t it, that when we let our minds run away with us and presume our own practices to be the one right way, how prone we are to miss what we’re meant to receive.

Relieved, I stood to depart the service on this Sunday and was surprised to be greeted by a couple I knew from our Sarasota neighborhood; they had been sitting at the end of my pew. They are “seasonal folk” like me. A “mixed faith” couple, like myself and my husband. They attend a Methodist church back home … like me.

Together, the three of us greeted Pastor McConnell in thanks. There we stood, Jew, Gentile, Methodist and Presbyterian, conversing about the surprising similarities that had drawn us together around One Table.

“Blessed be the tie that binds,” Pastor McConnell said.

Blest indeed.

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