“Christian hope begins where every other hope stands stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.” Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable
A few months ago I began hosting weekly “Eucharistic contemplation” hours at my house. It initially began as an excuse to invite friends over to participate in two symbols/rituals that are really important to me, and through which I make sense of my life – silence and Eucharist – and to cultivate some spiritual community in a home that can otherwise get a bit lonely. Over the past couple of months it’s become an anchoring point in my week and a brilliant means of connecting with others in my community who are also, for whatever reason, drawn to these mysteries. Every week it’s a profound joy to set the Table, stoke the wood fire stove in the living room and lay out candles, icons, and burning myrrh or palo santo wood in preparation for everyone to arrive. We’ll read a section of the Bible from the lectionary or a salient excerpt from a saint (the likes of Berrigan, St. Teresa, Merton) and sit in silence for 30 minutes of centering prayer and meditation, then close out the gathering with a poem or Taize tune. It’s a simple, stripped-down gathering that continues to be a well of refreshment and grounding.
As we’ve been gathering, and as I’ve continued my monthly EcoFaith meeting at my church, the question that continues to linger in my mind in our meditation and all our conversations around sacrament, ecotheology, justice, and discipleship is, “what does it mean to live Eucharistically in this moment?” Given the circumstances, socially, ecologically, personally, whatever, what is the Eucharist inviting us into in this moment, right now?
Whatever else it is, I understand this symbol to mean that Christ is unrelenting in his solidarity with the pain of Creation, and that he embraces our (and all the earth’s) collective groan for healing all the way to death and back. And as we make that reciprocal embrace of Christ’s suffering in ingesting the Elements, we conscript ourselves into the same to-the-death solidarity, and retell the story of redemption in our bodies. We eat and drink God’s given-ness, and in turn give ourselves back; in mystery, we participate in the very life of Christ by pouring ourselves out for the world.
Of course this sounds nice, but the question that won’t leave my mind concerns what we do with this story, practically, in this historic moment. Certainly I don’t need to ramble off statistics here about how terrible things look for the climate or belabor the prospects of continual war, political balkanization, and extractive economic practices. We are by no means in a crisis of access to this critical information. Instead, we find ourselves continually confronted with the choice (as my mentor Ched Myers puts it brilliantly in his book Who Will Roll Away the Stone, Orbis 1994) of discipleship or denial, given that all of this is happening. Will we continue to warm our hands with Peter in the courtyard at the imperial fires of privilege and first world comfort and entitlement, or will we run, finally, to the cries of the scourged One inside?
The earth and its inhabitants continue to groan under the heavy foot of human violence and domination. The invitation I see in the Eucharist is to imbibe and emobody the counter-narrative of shalom/reconciliation and claim our bodies and lives as this-much of the world, this (personally speaking, of course) 5”11 150 lbs of humus already in alignment with the reign of God. This much made new and participating in the making-new of all things. We are invited to not only believe in the resurrection, but to risk it, and this affirmative choice empowers us to put our lives in the way of the death-dealing forces of the world (read: the System) without fear of being overcome. Christ has conquered death by death, and whether we live or die, we exist in his Life, liberated from the tyranny of death’s intimidation. The Eucharist stands in history as an interrogation of both the politics of domination and the self-congratulating spirituality (Christian, post-Christian, new age, “non-religious,” whatever) of cheap grace. Indeed, Father Berrigan said a person should first consider “what they look like on wood” before they get serious about following Christ. Each generation, and each would-be disciple, must make the connections between this commitment and their lived experiences, personally, socially, and historically. It is always as particular and specific as this moment.
We are the representatives of and, in mystery, the very living presence of Christ in the world. To live eucharistically is to participate experientially in both the enormous love and grief of Christ, and reciprocally, to receive his word of solidarity with and love and grief of Creation. Prayer (mental prayer or just listening in silence) is the process of widening the aperture of our spirits to a more expansive experience of both the profound compassion and the pain of God. It is a deepening of the human spirit, and a coming home to the truth of our very being, which is hidden in the presence of God — whose heart has been called “the open wound of Love.” In the Eucharist and in prayer, we come home to wholeness. We re-member what has been disjointed, cut off, exiled, and forgotten. In silence, we model Mary in consenting to the active word of God already at work in us, and we surrender to the mystery and beauty embodied in the Elements.
This things are too precious to be left in the hands of those who would relegate their significance exclusively to detached, otherworldly concerns. The kingdom of God is among us now, here, and is beckoning us to join the work of reconciliation, to risk resurrection and meet Christ along the way. In every situation, “though the earth gives way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46) may we have the vision and the courage to live these questions with integrity, curiosity, and the very given-ness of our God. Maranatha!
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