There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. ~ M. F. K. Fisher
I was sitting in church in Waco on a recent Sunday with my step-mother, Charlene. It was the 10th anniversary of the pastor’s tenure at the church and I couldn’t resist making the trip back to be there for it. The pastor, Dorisanne Cooper, is a huge part of the reason I was able to stay when I showed up at church after so many years. I wanted to be there to celebrate with her and to see so many friends.
The first Sunday of each month is communion time both at Lake Shore and my current church, Royal Lane. Communion is usually done by intinction – the practice of dipping the bread into the cup and is generally near the end of the service. The members of the congregation who want to take part merge, row by row, into the center aisle to move forward to receive the sacrament, then return to their seats along the outer aisles of their side of the sanctuary. Since my step-mother and I usually sit together about three rows from the front when I visit, we’re among the first in line and the first to return to our seats.
I hadn’t been feeling well and was a little afraid of making the drive that morning. True to form, I was sick within thirty minutes of leaving home. Thankfully, the nausea subsided as I arrived in Waco and I knew then I’d make it through the day and be able to enjoy my visit. I’m not sure what I thought I would do if I hadn’t felt better by the time I arrived, but it was important to be there.
As usual, I enjoyed the service. I will always have a special place in my heart for Lake Shore because it’s where I learned I could be comfortable again in a worship setting. It’s where I learned just how important a worship setting is in my life, though it had not been a part of my life for a long time. It’s there I found a place in me that felt like home for the first time in many, many years. It’s the place where my mother had come to town to go with me to “my” church – something I’m sure she was afraid was never going to happen and something I had been absolutely certain would never happen. It had been in that place I began to understand there were men I could trust and that, in fact, there had been all along. This was the place that held so many positives for me it only took walking through the doors of the building to find a little peace. Here was the place where only three years earlier I’d used communion as my escape hatch in order to flee the building on that first Sunday.
Charlene and I moved slowly into the aisle that morning to take our places in the flow of souls inching toward the front. Ours was a short walk forward to take part in a ritual I feel certain means something a little different to each of the participants even while there for some of the same things. Back to our seats, settling in, I looked up to see the others as they moved reverently past.
That’s when it happened. Although I saw each of the people as individuals as they passed, it occurred to me that this was now a part of my family. I thought to myself, “I know these people.” Then, “These people know me.” That’s when I choked up a little. I’d spent most of a lifetime trying to make sure people didn’t really know me – the real me I thought I knew. But, here was a parade of people I’ve tried increasingly to allow to know me. I’m still not very good at it, but I realize now it’s a process. I realize now, also, it’s imperative that I get to know me before I can share me with anyone else very successfully. Maya Angelou said, “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.” Admittedly, I’m no longer a young cynic, but I know I was the one for many years who had gone from knowing nothing – or at least attempting to know nothing – to believing nothing. I had a doctor once say to me during an exam, “You are such a cynic!” I didn’t know what she meant. I think I do now. I wanted everything proven to me first before I was willing to take anything at all on faith. “Why don’t we try eliminating this from your routine,” she’d say. I, of course, wasn’t sure her suggestion would help anything – before ever attempting her suggestion. I didn’t want to make the effort if there wasn’t proof in place first to show me any action would have the desired results.
Here, walking very slowly past me, was the proof I suppose I’d required. Here were people who’d seen a little white-haired dude show up in church and merely accepted his presence among them. They had not required any proof up front. They had not asked for credentials before welcoming me. They required nothing before beginning to welcome me. It was I who couldn’t immediately accept the welcome. I had come to expect the inevitability of the ulterior motive because that was the truth I’d accepted as a part of my world for a long time. There seemed to be no such motive here and I found that hard to believe. Some days, I admit, I still do.
Today, I realize I don’t necessarily have to believe something before it can have a positive effect on me. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to believe that someone else believes – at least as a beginning. If I’m willing to accept the possibility of a premise before I can believe it for myself, I give myself the time to do my own investigation. I give myself the time to sit with a concept instead of rejecting it out of hand. This is new for me. I’ve gone from the possibility that I might be a beloved of God to knowing I am a beloved of God. The difference is in understanding I am beloved despite myself, not through anything I do on my part. That distinction is paramount and changed my world. In fact, it changes my world every day I’m willing to remember it.
So, there I sat, watching as part of my new world walked slowly past. I’d finally understood these people couldn’t do the growing up for me. What they could do, however, was exactly what they did. They allowed me the time to see myself through their eyes (standing in for God, I think) as I struggled to believe for myself. That’s a pretty fair definition of a saint, if you ask me.
As Dorothy Gale said in the Wizard of Oz, “It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…” The music swells, it’s time for the first big musical number. I seem to mention the Wizard of Oz a lot, don’t I? By the time I first saw the movie, I had already begun to withdraw into a world where some of the frightening things could be controlled if I could simply find the right wizard. I could relate to so many of the characters at one time or another – the cowardly lion, in particular. Those ruby slippers sure would have come in handy many times throughout my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any ruby slippers and I misinterpreted the scene where the wizard explains that we already have what we need within us. I took it to mean I had to do it all on my own.
I understand now that faith and the chance at a new life isn’t a place you can get to by a boat or a train. But it’s really not far, far way, either – though it may seem that way at times. Instead, it’s right where you are. For me, it required that I finally recognize the man hiding just behind the curtain. It required that I realize I was the one pulling all the levers, making all the sounds of thunder in my life. It was I who was ignoring the sounds of calm that existed around me. I was just going to have to open my hands in order to receive the grace that had always been there for the receiving. That’s not always an easy thing to do when you’ve spent a lifetime clutching desperately to the things you think will protect you.
My little parade of amazing grace was made up of people who, if I paid attention, were there to show me I could let go of the reins of my life. They were there to show me I didn’t have to control every aspect of my life in order for it to be a good life. I could rest a little as I worked on doing the things I need to do and recognize the things that aren’t up to me. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17:28] Playing God all those years simply left me as the star of my own very poorly written melodrama.
Communion is defined as “the act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings.” Here were people with whom I have shared. Many of them are more educated than I, many have more than I, some less. In the end, none of that matters. In the end, we all come together for a common reason. In the end, I’ve become a member of a larger family once again.
In the end, I can say, “I know these people.” This is my family and they are my little parade of amazing grace. And when you find it, there really is no place like home.