Sunday, February 27, 2011

Food and Other Sacraments

Two more essays on communion are featured for this week’s discussion of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God over at The High Calling. I should mention that our discussion has been led each week by Laura Boggess, one of the content editors at The High Calling and who blogs over at The Wellspring.

These two essays – by Hannah Faith Notess, managing editor of Seattle Pacific University’s Response Magazine, and Andre Dubus, one of America’s best short story writers until his death in 1999 – both originate in illness or disability. Notess’ brother had celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and Dubus suffered for years with infirmities resulting from being hit by a car when he was trying to help a stranded motorist. In both cases, communion is what it is – a remembrance of Christ, as he commanded – and a kind of restoration of body and soul, which is implicit in what communion is all about.

For a time, our own church offered only "regular" bread for communion, and then two kinds – regular and gluten-free. Now it’s all gluten-free, which simplifies things. The sharing together is the more important consideration, and if that means gluten-free, then that’s a good thing.

The Dubus essay, “On Charon’s Wharf,” is less directly about communion and more about the idea of sacrament. It’s a difficult essay to read, because there seems to be a profound awareness of mortality haunting it:

“As lovers we must have these sacraments, these actions which restore our focus, and therefore ourselves. For our lives are hurried and much too distracted, and one of the strangest and most dangerous of all distractions is this lethargy of self we suffer from, this part of ourselves that does not want to get out of bed and once out of bed does not want to dress and once dressed does not want to prepare breakfast and once fed does not want to work. And what does it want? Perhaps it wants nothing at all. It is a mystery, a lovely one because it is human, but it is also dangerous. Some days it does not want to love, and we yield to it, we drop into an abyss whose walls echo with strange dialogues…”

It is likely age, but lately I’ve been becoming more aware of time. I see an obituary in the newspaper, and I immediately add or subtract how many years the person was from my own age. I’ll pause and reread those for people in their late 50s or early 60s. It seems too soon. And of course what I’m doing is telling myself that it is too soon, too soon for me, because there are still things left to do. But there will always be things left to do.

I don’t know the abyss Dubus describes, but I know it exists. I can hear its echoes on the wind at times, or in the solitude of a hike in the woods.

Because I know it exists, I reach – much like Dubus – to sacraments, or things that seem like sacraments to me now but never really did before.

Familiar things, like a certain look on my wife’s face that makes me fall in love with her all over again.

New things, like the joyful laugh of my grandson.

And odd things, too, like a particular work of art seen in an unexpected way, or a glass of Norton wine from Augusta Winery in Missouri, or the blurred shape of a tree I see when I’m flying by on my bike. Or a photograph, or an old brick building from the early 20th century with ornate decorations, of which there are still an abundance in St. Louis.

I’m beginning to understand that my life is surrounded by sacraments I never noticed before.

To join the discussion and see links to other posts on the essays, please visit The High Calling.


Laura said...

This is such a beautiful reflection. Dubus's essay in particular brings out those deep feelings, doesn't it? I felt that looming presence you mention in his words also. It made me read with more care. This is the feeling I have during Communion--this awareness of how life touches death close each one of us is to it and the price that was paid so we will be freed.

How wonderful that your church does the gluten-free bread. I wonder if Hannah Notess's brother could go to your church :)?

Anonymous said...

the seeing things as sacraments now, that did not seem like them before.

i like that new seeing.