Thursday, February 2, 2012

I am the bread, letter six, hilary to preston

On Thursdays Preston and I write letters to each other, to share the wonder of talking theology and grace and mystery together, across the blogs and emails and tweets. I hope you visit his space for At the Lord's Table: A Blog Conversation, and that you find the words there refreshing. I'm learning so much from spending time reading those incredible writers. Today I'm responding to Preston's letter from Tuesday.

Dear Preston, 

Your letter rang out like a gong on Tuesday night, when I finally exhaled long enough to read it carefully. I heard in it the same self-knowing that I feel sometimes blessed and sometimes cursed with; when at the end of a day you can see how you walked through it covered in the dust of fallenness. How you didn't speak the words of love, but instead spoke the quick ones of anger. How you let resentment build up, and trust falter. And your word for the year - trust - seems to be difficult in these times. 

But I am learning it in a strange and graceful way through thinking about the Eucharist. I know we've talked before about what Eucharist is, and you said in your letter you hoped we'd get there - and my way might be a roundabout one, but maybe it's a beginning. 

I feel like a fool when I say that I believe something deep is happening when the priest prays over the bread. I feel presumptuous, and nervous, and unsure. I don't know what's going on. I don't know if it's acceptable to believe that He is Present there in a new way after we've prayed for it. 

But when He said I am the bread of life, unless you eat of Me and drink of Me you cannot have life in you? I believe Him. 

And every week I go to the altar and I meet Christ there. I kneel, knees knocking together on the soft red velvet, hands cupped up, empty. And He fills me. I don't know if I've told you this, but I fast before Eucharist on Sundays. I don't eat anything, and by the time I walk towards the altar rail I feel hunger clawing my insides. But I take this thin wafer, and I hear the priest tell me, "The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in your heart with thanksgiving." And then the cup comes, and I hear, "The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation." And I take both. And He fills me. I walk back to my seat with something else in my heart besides my troubles and anxieties and small sorrows. I walk back with Him inside me. 

I don't really think I believe in Thomas' transubstantiation explanation. It seems too neat, too crisp, for the mystery that I encounter. I would much rather the mystery of the Orthodox way: we do not understand how, but we trust. And Alexander Schmemann says it best: "The purpose of the Eucharist lies not in the change of the bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as the Body of Christ." 

So perhaps there isn't the kind of certainty that I imagined I could have, about whether it is Real Presence or memorial, whether as the Anglicans say, it is consubstantiation or Thomas is right after all. But He is our life, our bread. When we try to feed and nourish ourselves with anything else, we stumble. 

And He said: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." (John 6.51)

Maybe it is more about trust than I thought. Trust that this is the bread of life. Trust that He fills my hunger. Trust that even in the difficult teaching, He comes to dwell in us. 

Grace and peace to you. 


1 comment:

  1. "When we try to feed and nourish ourselves with anything else, we stumble." How true this is. Yet something I so easily forget. I suppose this is why God gave me the word sufficient for this year. Thank you for sharing these beautiful thoughts.


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