I grew up in a faith-filled home, but our particular brand of Christianity did not practice baptism in the traditional, splishy-splashy sense of the word or eucharist in the sense of actual bread and wine. I was raised with a great deal of love, reverence for the Word, joy in song, and lots and lots of prayer, but minimal ceremony. Water, bread and wine were present metaphorically. There were absolutely no snacks in church. Or even in the portico after church. Of course, all the efforts to be free from ritual – or above it – yield peculiar rituals in and of themselves, which has provided hours of entertainment and a virtual annuity for my therapist. At this point in my spiritual journey, however, I find comfort and meaning in the ritual. And the snacks.
If you know me at all, you know I am passionate about my snacks. And my Tim.
When Tim and I first started dating, I was not on speaking terms with God. I was firmly in the God-can-take-His-own-flying-leap stage of my faith formation. I had done all the things I thought a good little Christian girl was supposed to do. I read the Bible. I prayed a lot. I went to church fairly consistently, even volunteered as a Sunday School teacher, Executive Board member and substitute pianist. But my husband got sick and died anyway. Some say suicide is a choice, not an illness, but I don’t see it that way. For the first time in my life, instead of turning to God, I turned on Him. I refused to darken Her door. I called Him a lot of names, and let’s just say that “Jesus” wasn’t one of them. I knew that a lot of people were praying for me, and the best I could do was let them.
Meanwhile, I met this wonderful, heartbroken man who held onto his faith. He, too, had done all the “right” things, and his wife still got cancer and died. Somehow he was comfortable with the fact that the Good News is not that good things happen to good people and that bad people get what they deserve, although there are days when I think this would be very good news, indeed. Tim’s confidence seemed to balance a deeper understanding with a comfort in sacrament. His faith seemed broad enough to include the sloppy, struggling traveler, to embrace the unknown, and a willingness to insult God. I liked his perspective and his combination of reverence and irreverence. Plus, he was really good-looking. Regrettably, he was also Catholic.
I started attending a local protestant church, which I loved for a lot of reasons (the music!) but mostly because the pastor was so honest about his own bruised heart. I felt welcomed, I knew many of the hymns and the “debts/debtors” version of the Lord’s Prayer, but when the pastor called the congregation to participate in the eucharist, he invited “those who have been baptized.” I hadn’t been. At first it didn’t bother me. After all, I had grown up without snacks in church, and I didn’t really see that a little bread and grape juice would transform me into a better human being. Gradually, however, week after week, when the others were coming to the table and I was still sitting in the pew, I started to feel left out. I wanted to be part of the community invited to Christ’s supper. I wanted the snacks.
I met the pastor of the church for coffee, and told him my life’s story, or at least the part where I used to have faith and then all this bad shit happened, and it didn’t seem right that the children should suffer so much. I hated that part. I also explained that I’d grown up in this faithful, educated, loving family that went to Sunday brunch after church, whose spiritual sustenance was beautiful, intellectual and metaphorical. I wanted to eat from the Lord’s table, but as I hadn’t been baptized, I wasn’t allowed, and I didn’t want to break the rules. I cried. He reached for my hand, and said “Let’s take care of this now.” For a minute I thought he was going to dump a cup of water over my head. Instead, he took his other hand, lightly tapped my wrist, and said, “Okay, that’s done. Join us for the Lord’s supper. If and when you decide to become baptized, that’s great. But for now, please, come to the table.”
He might have broken a few rules with that maneuver. But then again, Jesus broke a rule or two himself. I found I liked participating in Christ’s family dinner. I began to love Jesus in a way I never had before.
I also fell in love with Tim.
We started going to church together and dragging the boys with us, sometimes to the protestant service, sometimes to the catholic mass. Our Sunday standard became, “You have to come to the table, and we don’t care which table it is.” There were a couple days when, between the two of us and four competing athletic/academic schedules, we attended 7:30am mass, 9:30 church, 11:00 church and 5:30pm mass in order to get each of the four boys to the table. Truth be told, I enjoyed both services, the protestant pastor is a gifted speaker and educator, but I didn’t feel quite as comfortable with the liturgy of the catholic mass, in part because – once again – I was excluded from the snacks.
Tim fell in love with me. We found joy in each other and support in our shared faith. We met with a priest to talk about how to blend our families. The priest patted my hand and said, “Tim’s a good Catholic. There’s a two-year class. You’ll like it.” End of discussion. Not even a hint of rule-breaking. I married Tim, but I did not sign up for the class.
We continued attending a multitude of services together. The fact of the matter is that nothing brings me more peace and more strength than worshipping side by side with the love of my life. I need this foundation because we have four sons, and three of them are currently teenagers. This fact alone frequently brings me to tears, to my knees in prayer, and to the fridge. I depend on the community of the heartbroken, the struggling, the unruly and the joyful. I may not have converted for the most noble or theologically sound reasons, but eventually, I decided take the class, to be baptized, the whole soggy mess. On Easter Vigil a few years ago, I was baptized, confirmed and took (my not exactly first) communion.
Conversion is much more a lifelong process than it is a once in a lifetime event. Conversion is a daily choice. The Word and words, prayer, song and Psalms, combined with a love of silence, stillness, ritual, liturgy and my stash of dark chocolate – these comprise my daily sustenance.
I have learned, from participating in communion, that you do not have to be perfect to come to the table, you just have to be hungry. Jesus wants to feed us in both the symbolic and physical senses. Christ’s people are just as wacky as my own extended, beautiful, flawed, and consecrated family, and we will happily make room for one more at supper.
The recovering attorney in me feels compelled to make this disclaimer: This is not to say that I am in agreement with all of the practices and doctrines of the church. Certain aspects of catholicism desperately need an overhaul – its exclusivity and cliquishness, for starters. All I can say in my defense is that some changes come from without and some from within. If the body of the church is anything like my own interior world, the most profound, authentic and permanent changes cannot be impressed from the outside, but emanate from within. When the church includes and elevates all of God’s people – which is to say, all of everybody – then it will be catholic in the best possible way. When the essence of the eucharistic meal is our Mother-God drawing Her children from beyond boundaries and barriers and gently, joyfully feeding each one, we will experience each other as one family. In the meantime, we stumble along, breaking bread together, and pulling chairs up to the table.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And snacks for the journey.