Tag Archives: bread

“Gifting”, power and the celebration of privilege

I have already written enough about creeds for the time being (and will probably return to this topic), and so I skipped ahead to intercessions. So now I turn to the Preparation of the Gifts -partly to open up the privileged-centre of this liturgical moment to a multiplicity of possible symbols that can authentically be “bread of life” and “spiritual drink”. The particularity we are told we are not allowed to move away from (bread and wine, and then even particular set-apart versions of “bread” and “wine” that are divorced from the every-day materialities they symbolise are Eurocentric as well as having become “owned” and controlled by the male-stream clergy.

There is firstly the “material” reality of “gifts” the bread and wine and the ecological significance of “earth” being named as a donor of those gifts but voiceless earth’s generosity is presumed upon as we often violently wrest wheat and grapes from inappropriate or at least over-farmed soil. Eating of course is not likely to be something we can ever evolve beyond- but our habits of demanding specific foods at will without dialogue with the environment are problematic toward with our (first world) excesses. We are a people who eat too much, drink too much and even when we try to curb our over-consumption we tend to starve ourselves in ways that harm our bodies and fragile psyches without material benefit to the planet.

Then of course there is the invisible labour that goes into producing the real, material food that in an overly religious interpretation of Eucharist becomes mere “symbol” or a privleged “spiritual reality” while the “gifts” of the workers underpaid time, the sometimes starving third-world producers that are behind so much of our consumption do not figure in our celebration of “gifted” blessedness that we thank God for.

If God specifically guided this slice of bread (or bowl of rice or quinoa) into my hand and into my open mouth, then that same God must have consigned the underpaid laborers behind my bowl of food to starve and watch their own children fail to thrive. Thus we construct God as white and relatively wealthy and actually sort of middle-class. We can “choose” ethical things and make our peace with our consciences, but the fact is we don’t really think about the global implications of out gluttony when we say that through “God’s goodness” we have this bread to offer.

To offer?

We offer it as a symbol and then we take it back again and distribute it to people who look and sound like us and make us feel comfortable. Which is a good in some sense of course but what if we were to really offer the bread of our lives to deeper love of the voiceless earth and the invisible human struggling labourer and her family?

“Which earth has given and human hands have made.” What do we then give to the earth and place into the emptied human hands as a true “offering” to a God we say is love.

Even in less extreme ways, I have a feeling there is a classism within most versions of formalised spirituality. We tend to invite into our midst only those who are beautiful in performative middle-class ways, who have as little first-hand experience as possible of being “othered”, even in feminist circles we make light of the difficulties others experience because we blithely trust that the “system” does what it says it does and distributes basics like food, medicine, health-care, counselling, education, etc to anyone who needs it. It is not a perfect system but it is reasonably functional. That idea circulates even in groups that are dedicated to social justice. Real poverty, real suffering happens “over there, far away” and we live in a largely enlightened society. If someone who has less comes to our church then this is an isolated case and we can help them, without opening our eyes to the need in our own society.

Privilege is ignorance of course, always, always ignorance and when we dismiss the claims of people who have been wronged by the system without having time to waste on getting into the whole story that is perfectly understandable.

But like the earth that “gives” and the “human hands” unconnected to voices or faces (or gender for that matter) what is invisible to us seeps into the bread of our lives and the oppressions we casually consent to by our inability or refusal to see and hear them seep into our spiritual drink. After all the “body of Christ” is a crucified, bleeding, beaten body and the “blood of Christ” is flogged out of him in violence and with mockery. Easy to think that he suffered and died “for us” like the endlessly “giving” earth, because our good and ease is more important than any other concern.

When the priest washes “his” hands, this is symbolic of washing away sin. The idea of washing used to seem to me to be a liberating idea. We travel through life, we get soiled, it is all washed away through sacraments of one sort or another and we continue. If “Sin” is a personal failing and a slight hiccough in our generally well-meaning and caring movement through life then this still makes sense.

But what if with the traces of sin, our awareness that something has been soiled, we are washing away only the evidence, and not the fact. Just as overly harsh soaps and chemicals can wash away “good bacteria”, “necessary oils” our own skin along with the dirt we are trying to escape, so our spiritual “washing” needs not to be a brainwashing into an ecstatic “new reality” where whatever we did yesterday or five minutes ago no longer happens.

I want to find something positive in all this, so I will return to the idea that gifting goes with feeding and allow us  a measure of “becoming-ness” like the babies whose meal-times I also help to preside over. The babies begin in the simplest way, by crying when they are hungry or wish to be held, within a few months they are sitting up and looking at each other’s faces at the table, they are tapping their spoons together and giggling and generally reacting to the “humanness” of each other, then they begin to invite teachers to sit and eat with them and gradually they learn that there exists a kitchen from which the food comes and to say “thank you” to the kitchen staff and teachers who make it possible. Over the next few childcare years they learn to participate in cooking, cleaning and even in the kitchen garden, their sphere if understanding slowly widens from just demanding the gifts of the meal to learning how to participate- to receive with gratefulness and to give to each other and to the adults.

In the same way, our smug words of feeling “blessed” and “gifted” as the haves of the planet, do need transformation, however there is the beginning of understanding in the fact that the earth and humans are at least mentioned as part of how “God” gives to us. We cannot be more than we are and we must love ourselves and each other as we develop more aware ways of taking what we need and truly “offering” to others (all others) in a more meaningful way.

I return then to an old favourite Proverbs 9:1-6 

Blessed are you Wisdom, caller to the table of all creation. Through your goodness we will learn to build your house and set your table with you. We will leave our toxic ways of being behind along with our ignorance. We will eat your bread (rice) and wine (soup) and we will learn to walk softly upon the giving earth and touch with love and abundance every human hand. Your bread and word are our life.

May God accept our desire to share in the abundance of creation, in ever widening circles of welcoming and gratefulness, may we seek our good entwined with the good of our neighbour.

Preparing for mass

 

So I found my battered old missal and I hope I will find some surprisingly good and lifegiving things in there. The bent spine and falling off cover are the evidence of how far this book has travelled with me, since I celebrated my much anticipated “first holy communion” when I was seven, nearly eight.I will be critical of the old words and the old format, because I have a lot of baggage with the church and the patriarchal and kyriearchal words and my own exclusion from ministry against I am certain, God’s will and for no good reason.

Things might get a little bit catholic and weird as I move between my early memories of “church” the words of the liturgy as I was taught them and my current understanding/s of theology. If anyone is reading from a different tradition I guess you can have a sort of ethnographer’s view (or skip bits). I know there have been some minor changes to wording since I was a regular at mass. I don;t know them in details but as far as I know the few inclusive changes our progressive bishop brought in, in the 80s or 90s were removed and the changes that were made in no way made the mass less exclusive, or remediated the problems I had growing up…so I will speak of the old words and if I am wrong on some of the details someone can tell me if they really want to but it won’t make much difference I am sure.

I was going to start at the very beginning, with the greeting but when I opened the missal the first thing I saw was the “preparation for mass” prayers and I remembered that we got to church about half an hour or more early because my brothers were altar servers and this was really important (after spending all saturday following them to their sport and being on the sidelines there, I got to come to church and sit on the sidelines). But this was meant to be a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in contemplative prayer (at the age of about 7 or so) and I was encouraged to read over the readings of the mass that was coming- I never got out of this habit actually as this blog attests) and think about what they mean, and what they mean for ME and also read over the 3 pages (4 if you count the illustration that was also dense with words) of my missal that were prayers for preparing for mass. There were bible verses (John 6:51; 1 Cor 11:23-26,28; 1 Cor 10:1; Rom 12:1) and there were prayers by some of the “church Fathers”- St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose, and The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century.

It was heavy and hard going for a little girl but I struggled on because it seemed the right thing to do and I really did think I “loved God” and I was terrified I would have to be a martyr when I grew up like all the ones in the stories so I was willing to just read heavy stuff instead of that!

And really, if they want boys to grow up wanting to be priests, they should let the girls go out the back and miss half the mass “serving” and having a great time with their mates like my brothers did and make the boys read the heavy stuff and sit there with nothing to do but think about it. It’s all written by important leader types who think they are the last word in priesthood (that is how the prayers come across) so I was being encouraged to pray in a way as if I was actually making the whole mass happen by invoking the Holy Spirit to come in and “declare this bread that we shall eat to be the body of Christ”.

There was also a lot of very unhealthy bragging about how unworthy “I” was and unclean and fully dependant on God to make “me” worthy and clean. Rereading it in middle-age I still struggle with the heaviness of the language and ideas. I feel burdened again by the self-hate I felt as  child. And yet then there is a lovely black and white print of some wheat growing and some vines and sun and birds and the words on the print are “The love of Christ has drawn us here together” and goes on to ask that we “exult” and find “joy” and gather ourselves together and become one from all the corners of the earth.

I may have changed what I (with my post-structuralist little mind and liking of diversity) mean as “one”; but then I can return at the beginning of “mass” “church” “eucharist” “the service” “prayers” to refocus myself on the joy and relief that I had finished the long and patriarchal prayers and had reached the wheat, vines, sun and birds. Nature. Food. Life. Joy and exultation. Difference and coming together.

I want to do some more serious and careful prayer writing or liturgy writing this year. Maybe I can start there. Maybe back to where the reflection started with John’s Jesus proudly proclaiming that he has come to be “bread” for “life”., through all the unworthiness into the fresh air and the fields where we grow bread and share it with wildlife.

Today I shared felafel with some excellent friends who support me when I am hurting and poor and who today needed a felafel and someone to laugh with. I shared a dance in front of an audience with a group of people I had felt estranged from. I walked down a crowded street where African people generously shared their culture with us. I made plans for the birthday of one son and an outing for another son. I also washed dishes, emptied kitty litter, hung out clothes. Joy was everywhere. Bread/felafel was broken. It was a day of life for my blessedly work-tired body at the end of the week.

Your kindom come.

Ways of (not)Knowing

Is it good to bite into

the crusty, doughy wheatiness

of Word made Flesh made Bread;

to drink the cup- the complex bouquet

of birth and stars and long roads,

friends, stories, long roads,

betrayal, suffering, short road to death

but also hearth-fires and washed feet?

 

Is it good to remember

that love had courage

to speak out, stand tall,

stand with, be told;

learn and grow;

to hold firm and die?

Dare we shed a tear?

 

Is it “him” and is it even me?

Where is the place on earth

where love bakes, breaks bread

and wine is shared;

where suffering is acknowledged?

What does it mean

to have “life”?

Word and bread and that thing that starts with “l”

So I visited my great aunt this week, and she is missing the mass. At times I can bring her some communion, but because it is a 45 minute drive to her and I work during the week this is not always easy to organise. She has a little Latvian prayer book and prays a prayer that is called “spiritual communion”. She showed it to me “God understands” she kept saying anxiously. “It’s in the tradition because this happens to people” I said to her (along with trying to plan how I could get her to mass which is tough because the church I go to isn’t “mass” as such.

I thought then of my last two weeks missing church (mainly out of tiredness and discouragement). I thought how I had the “What’s the point anyway?” feeling as I forced myself to go this morning. I wondered if my lack of enthusiasm for church and prayer is because I am not in severe hardship anymore, just the ordinary greyness of dissatisfying life? Or maybe because I don’t have time for my blog, maybe my blog was providing the motivation to connect?

But I decided to tell myself I needed the expensive spice mixes that are sold to raise money for refugees to have a stockpile of “presents” now that several birthdays in my circles of friends are coming up. I decided I “owed” it to the community who kept me emotionally alive in my four hideous months. I had a text from a friend. Family after all are not the people you just see when you are in the mood, they are the people you check in on in case they needed you to. God in that sense is family.

The service was melancholy because there had been a couple of deaths that touched members of the community (and therefore all of us) but it was also facing out into a beautiful sun-filled garden complete with trees in blossom and many fluttery white blossoms that turned out to be butterflies that danced out their morning’s “worship” to remind us that sometimes the short, fleeting moments in life (like a butterflies whole lifespan..though I would be more accurate if I used a Latvian word here) have meaning and beauty.

And we had lillies and candles and a very warm atmosphere of love. So that I began to reflect on what it was that I had missed for two weeks (feeling a dissatisfaction but not realising its source).

And the gospel was short but full of meaning. It was John 15: 12-14 About love and friendship and commitment and I thought about how my life has changed since I realised I was a lesbian (that is not the “l” word but it is another one). I thought about how I was a very repressed and standoffish person and how falling in love with a woman transformed me to be less afraid of the loves I felt for all the women in my life, from my departed mother, to my sisters and the friends who have known me longest. I have always loved and wished to be close to (and at times hated and feared of course) my sisters, those little babies I used to get told off for cuddling and carrying too much until they grew old enough not to appreciate or even allow it. And how I feel closer to them now.

I thought of a party I went to (somewhat reluctantly) last night and how my best friend resolved a conflict by putting her arms around everyone involved in it and starting to sing “We are family, I have all my sisters with me” which she then paused and demanded I and my sister join. And I would have needed to be drunk to cope with that before I knew I was gay. But on this occasion I remembered the warmth of everyones arms and the terrible singing and it mixed with a somewhat sweeter and quieter church:

“All around us we have known you/ all creation lives to hold you”. Held by my friends, holding my friends. Holding little two-year olds over the week and “These are holy hands” that have changed nappies and needed to be washed and rewashed before they could cut the fruit which in the toddler room is an important ritual that you have to do just right and involve each child in! Which I thought (as communion approached) is the bread of my life, within the mundane the love-things that feed my soul.

And my friendships have got warmer, my ability to deal with casual and affectionate touches without jumping into the air and becoming awkward. I speak with close friends sometimes about feelings, we have started being honest about the “l” word, because what we feel for all our friends is “love”. Why is it hard to say that? And we are honest too about our vulnerabilities, anxieties, passions and we accept more and mock less. Love is in the words like “love” like “thank you” like “I missed you” and in the withholding of words like “that’s stupid”, the words of judgement and censure.

And word/words are central too in the toddler room when we support each other’s work by saying to the children “listen to her words” and we encourage the children instead of tantruming to “use their words”. And we try to lay the foundations for a two way listening and trust relationship based on clear and respectful words. Words are the building blocks of meaning, culture, literacy and therefore thought and meaning (I am reading Bourdieu too who sees words and ways of using them as “capital” and am dabbling with discourse analysis where words are what make up reality, so many things exist BECAUSE we have found words to actualise them.

And I miss the time I used to have for words that were authentically mine, I have so much I want to write and think and read and know. And my email from an editor told me my words were not yet strong enough to leave home, but with major work they may be soon. There were a lot of positive words among the criticism after all like “We do hope…” and “Thank you” and “look forward”, “interesting”, “nicely-written” and “enjoyed”. I need to hold that intention with the “not particularly strong” and “issues” and “inconsistent” and all the hundreds of other painful words.

So my words today have been meandering and self-indulgent but as the service moved from the liturgy of the word to the Eucharist (the bread) all of the mundane and meaningful moments of life were encompassed. the movement was always into love as we honoured the moments of each others lives and brought in the spectres of the people in our hearts by alluding to them in various ways.

Then I had some moments on my own in the afternoon to put together words and bread for the week/s ahead. And to be grateful for the (yeah I’ll say it) LOVE in my life.

 

“You give them something to eat” – Priesthood that makes a difference

This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ (corpus Christi). Traditionally this has been a time to talk about Eucharist and priesthood. I had almost finished writing this blog when I was fortunate to experience the ministry of a community of women theologians who also shared food that each had prepared. My head and heart are too full of good things to rewrite the blog but I feel there is something relevant to ideas of body, blood, sacrament in what happened today. Nevertheless for want of more time I will stick with what I wrote earlier in the week…

The readings were:

Genesis 14:18-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11b-17

 

I was always taught that the most special thing you could ever do was to be a “priest”. This was a somewhat unfair thing to teach to a girl. I grew up wanting to be the one who broke and shared the life-giving bread and spoke the word of hope. I felt depressed, even suicidal about not being the one who could do these things. This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, and with all the things I have been told about real human bodies and blood as opposed to the supposedly better risen body and blood of Christ, things that sometimes contradict each other I feel like there is a maze that I have to carefully find my way through, avoiding turns into despair or superstition.

The first reading and psalm draw to our attention ancient patriarchal traditions of priesthood. Liturgy here is something Melchizedek performs for his patron (in the sense of paying him a tithe) Abram. The psalm reinforces this as a continuous tradition. So far all that is there are all the old feelings of exclusion, the idea that all of this would mean something if I was a man and could become a priest. As a mere woman in the aisles however I get a little bit sick of being expected to look up to and praise male figures and male symbolic actions for no very good reason, just because I am told to. There is no mention anywhere in these readings of any sort of meaning or even trickle-down effect to women. It all begs the question why would you bother even being there, let alone supporting it with your labour, approval and money (as women do).

The second reading then places this ancient tradition of priesthood in a context of Jesus’ last supper action as retold by Paul. We are told, as we are constantly that this is the tradition, that Jesus took the bread and cup and broke them and….hang on a second! Here Jesus is quoted as saying “Do this in memory of me!” He’s not saying “Watch a guy in a dress who thinks he is special doing it” he is saying “Do it”. No wonder that little girl that I was, was not content to sit and watch the action week after week after week, year in and year out. So there is some sort of call to priesthood here. Not a call to have priests but a call to be priests. Returning to the first reading and psalm but as a middle-aged woman who has been denied ordination I still am thinking “nope I don’t get it”. Something in the tradition is not gelling for me.

Onward to the gospel!

The gospel is one of feeding the crowds. The Twelve propose a system of individual responsibility where each person needs to go and sort out their own meal. Reading in a neoliberal time I cheer to see Jesus rejecting this approach. No, says Jesus. Our way is not to send people away. Or way is welcoming and feeding. In the face of overwhelming need we take what we can and distribute it. In the face of the “bottom line” and the “Real world” we refer the problem to God but then we take in our physical hands, the small amount that we have and we distribute it.

After five weeks unemployed and income-less I believe in miracles. Most of the miracles I have seen in that time have walked around on two legs. Most of them are people who are faced with too much to do and think and too little to distribute. Some of those miracles are my own capacity to do with less and to survive.

The lectionary puts this feeding of the five thousand as a Eucharistic act. It is a sacrament when we take the meagre supplies we can scratch together and confront the endlessness of need in the world with it. In another place Jesus points out that noone lives on bread alone…on the other hand we access the Word of God by refusing conventional wisdoms of turning people away and breaking our privilege and plenty down into crumbs that go further and do more good. When I see the miraculous feeding, and society building engaged in by Jesus, then I see a model of priesthood that is quite different to the ritualistic and patriarchal priesthood. Priesthood as nurture, priesthood as service. Priesthood as selfless giving for the sake of a better world. Priesthood of mothers and nurses, teachers and food growers, counsellors and artists and fire fighters and anyone who follows a vocation to serve others. Priesthood of doctors that refuse to be silenced as they speak the indignant Word of God concerning Manus Island. Priesthood of feminist theologians who support each other and gently heal themselves and then come back to tend the ungrateful church with their underappreciated gifts.

I used to think of women in the church as staying within an abusive relationship (which would be sinful) but I have come back to the church thinking it may be possible to be less co-dependent. It may be possible to see myself as limited by my status within the church, but I am called not to be “with” or “in” church but to be church. And then the limits I experience are part of myself, just as my body is limited in flexibility, energy and capability. This is not to take on the church’s abuse as somehow my fault, but to render irrelevant what the voice of men’s power says in attempting to boom through the church that is really my church. Some bodies live well with depression or asthma or diabetes or even cancer.

And so when I am church, I am invited into the Eucharistic act of feeding the world. The people come asking for a word of hope and healing, but they also have bodies that tire and need food. It is foolish to ignore the body and to pretend we can live wholly as spirits. In the gospel everyone sits and shares and is satisfied. In the gospel everyone looks to the sustainability and picks up the crumbs.

Noone tells us what happens to the crumbs that are gathered at the end of the miraculous healing.But then again it wasn’t women who wrote these extraordinary happenings down in the first instance. Those leftover crumbs too were the body of Christ. Five thousand is just a beginning, our mission is to feed all the world.

Take, eat, this is my body

“Take my body and eat, take my blood and drink” that all seemed very confusing and creepy when I was a child, and from reading male “experts” on faith I think it can seem creepy to them as well. But perhaps there is a type of person for this is actually a very ordinary and sensible thing to do? I am referring of course to those very ordinary people known as MOTHERS.

I am not going to claim to be Christ in any sort of a grandiose way, but of course there is something of Christ in an ordinary human experience…which is the point of Jesus grounding all his teaching in ordinary things like meals and weddings and wheat and fig-trees and shepherds (which may be exotic to the 2016 Australian reader but were ordinary and common-place to the original hearer). I would argue sacrament too is ordinary. Beautiful, precious but ordinary as a kiss from your mother, as your child’s grubby hand seeking yours.

In 1996 I first experienced my body being broken to give life to another person. This “breaking” was alleviated by some very good pain-killing medicines and the experienced midwives and a reasonably comfortable and clean bed, so it was not completely like crucifixion, my suffering was limited and I was safe and tended. But for the first time in my life I realised how powerfully creative pain and suffering can be; I could understand a love that would willingly (mostly) enter into pain and suffering. I had spent months giving the nutrients of my body over to the small and so far unresponsive life inside my womb, I had vomited and fainted with the trauma of it…I realise this is an ordinary thing that every mother does. But I had literally used my body to feed another, to nurture another so that then my body could be broken radically transforming that smaller life and giving it meaning, power and independence.

A couple of years later, it all happened again and suddenly I had two children. Both children listened to me and loved me and were free to think their own thoughts and to be themselves. Not long after this I first discovered feminist theology and I was struck by the way that the patriarchal church has to take on very ordinary things like birthing, feeding, forgiving, loving and make big liturgical “events” of this; which you could argue is a beautiful celebration of women’s work except when they say that only men can preside at celebrations of baptism (better than birth), communion (better than food) and marriage (better than just sex). And many feminist have argued that the sacramental reality is already in the mundane event itself.

I thought at once then of my mother, her hands sticky with dough night after night when she gave up hours of sleep to make fresh bread. She loved us, she loved baking…it was a sacrifice of love and in the morning we broke fresh fragrant bread like the people of God do in the sacraments. Her womanly hands were good enough for this work, despite not being ordainable because she (and I) were “only women”. Sometimes I took her work for granted, took the fresh roll for my school lunch, didn’t eat it at school (most kids at times forget or refuse to eat their school lunches) and then unable to face the sadness of my mother’s face seeing that I had wasted her labour of love and fresh ingredients I threw the roll out of the train before I got home. I remember the guilt of doing that so vividly.

But is that not also the nature of sacrament? Of the death and self-giving of Jesus that at times it is rejected, wasted, or we are unable to absorb it. Sacrament is extravagant love to those who are loved, not just to those who deserve. I pondered thoughts like this as I went home and fed my baby breast-milk which for some people is an enjoyable process, but for me was painful and difficult. It became clear to me how much nonsense the church weaves around sacraments, mystifying and codifying the very stuff of life. It is like putting a handful of good fertile earth into a golden reliquary where it can no longer feed a seed.

Consider for example the nonsense of children not being allowed to receive communion until they are old enough to magically be entered into this sacrament. I accepted this no question as a child, I loved the thought of earning a privilege through growth and learning and being more than I had been before. But if we say that only those who “understand” the Eucharist ought to have it then I suspect none of us should, or very few of us. And if the oh-so-clever but celibate male fathers of the church had only asked a REAL parent about feeding children they would see how silly it is to only give nutrition for a child’s growth after the child has already been growing for a few years. Silly ideas about child development I suppose were part of the root cause.

But any mother, even a half-arsed one could tell you, you have to feed the baby.

Once I considered this,  I considered that my babies were at least as worthy of Eucharist as I was, and considered moreover that they had already received whatever physical, tangible “reality” of Eucharist there is in the wafer and wine through their umbilical cords, just as they received the nutrients and minerals they needed through it and just as they received first language and then hopefully the Word of God through their ears and through their experience. And I made it an act of faith-activism to ALWAYS breastfeed my baby during or immediately following communion so that I was self-consciously saying “the body of Christ” to the baby at this time and passing on whatever gift of grace I supposedly received from it. And this meant that I was saying that my body was a suitable conduit for God’s embodied grace and since only women (mothers) can breastfeed I was claiming something Christlike about a mother’s body. Which was a direct disagreement with the idea that only the (male) priest can represent Christ. But after all God made a world where babies are fed by breast-milk and when you look into it whatever the mother eats seems to be passed into the baby for good or ill. So if I participated in communion as a breast-feeding mother that also logically was passed to the baby. So I marked it as sacrament.

Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” and perhaps he was referring to breaking bread together and talking about the gospel events like we do each Sunday. Perhaps he was referring also to washing feet (serving) and feeding, giving our bodies for the well-being of others, radical sharing, radical giving of life, transformative relationships such as the mother-baby one (but any mentoring and gifting relationship could also mirror this sacrament). Jesus used humble, ordinary events in many societies presided over (or invisibly performed) by women to take us into the deepest realities of radical grace. Jesus did all this and then was killed for being too radical, going too far.

Jesus didn’t say “make safe, ritual versions of this with some special people who are more important than the rest of you and who can emphasise how much more important the ‘sacramental’ version is than the ordinary version”. Jesus said “do this to remember me”. We can be ordinary. We can be real. We can enter into grace and provide grace for others. In memory of Christ, for the growth of those we feed. Ordinary, women’s-work grace. Heartbreaking, body-wearing, radical gifting in love. Sacrament.

 

“Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed”

I know this is an idealised account of Solomon and we could read him in the context of his patriarchal world and the patriarchal text as a whole, but I want to consider this idealised image in and of itself. I have a romantic liking for ideals, sure I fall short of mine but I can’t help always thinking it is good to have them and when I don’t get everything I want out of life it is comforting at times to have lived by ideals- hedonism in my experience only leads to emptiness and doesn’t stave off disappointment and hardship.

So Solomon realises his privileged position, and the fact he has it by fortune, not merit (which is a lot more humble than you would expect from one of those larger than life Old Testament figures). He asks for wisdom and understanding. If only he was able to take the tiny extra step of realising that the understanding that privilege must ask for is the understanding of the “other” the ones who are not the king, not wealthy, free or male but we can insert that into the story when we remember that for us the “other” the “least of our siblings” is always Christ. So to ask for understanding from God is to seek to listen to those with less privilege than we do.

The overtone of judging and discerning in 3:9 then becomes a matter of justice and advocacy. Solomon is often presented as wise and unbiased but God in Jesus in fact never presented as unbiased. God is constantly biased toward the poor and oppressed. For us first-world, relatively comfortable people this may be a hard pill to swallow- we often try to present a “balanced” God. But to act is to be biased and God takes the part (consistently throughout many biblical texts) of the widow and orphan (and refugee).

The alternative first reading (I realise I am not using the lectionary correctly here but I don’t really care) has Wisdom inviting us to her house for a party. It’s a party with food and wine in a house with seven pillars (I guess a nice house then) but it’s a party that will change you forever. You go in to eat her food and drink her wine and you leave your old foolish ways and become irrevocably enmeshed with her (she’s upfront about that at least). It’s a pity you have to choose between these two first readings if you are running an actual church (as opposed to ranting online) because they are actually beautiful read together. Solomon has been seduced by wisdom, she invited him in and he can’t lust for anything else.

I want to be in Solomon’s shoes and as I read the readings I feel that even wanting to be there is a good thing – it’s not everything because there is still the old immaturity that must be laid aside when entering Wisdom’s house, but desire is the beginning of such an intimate and life-changing relationship.

I’ll ignore Ephesians because even though it basically says the same thing it couches it more negatively “stop drinking and having fun and instead do what is right” whereas I prefer the Old Testament version which was “come and get drunk and be seduced and you will begin to want to do what it right”. The beer o’clock Wisdom is a lot more enticing than the grumpy preacher/ schoolmaster Paul.

In the gospel, Jesus echoes Wisdom, offering himself now not only as the hostess with the mostest but as the food and drink in itself. This is more than life changing, this gives us life forever. I find it hard to know what to make of the “life forever” imagery all through John to be honest. As a child I thought there is this place called heaven where we all end up and then when I got older I thought – it’s not a physical place but our internal essence and personality is somehow preserved in relation to God and everyone. And now I just don’t know. I don’t know about “live forever” when even things that are good in this life never last forever. The weather or your mood changes, the people you love move away or get busy, you find you have to be preoccupied with new concerns. The positivity and optimism with which I begin any project, endeavour or relationship at some point begins to flag.

We eat the bread that we believe is Jesus and even if we get on some sort of a spiritual high (and in the past I have done just that) then we return to real life, to ordinary life and not only is life mundane but we are still flawed and mundane too. So is Wisdom a liar? Is it really just a one night stand? At times I have felt that as well, I have felt that this whole “faith” deal that I have been seduced into is a huge con and I have felt very angry. And when we read on about Solomon, sure he did some impressive things but he’s not perfect ever after.

But then when we get back to Wisdom she asked us to leave aside that immaturity; the need for constant reassurance and convenient on-demand grace, the expectation that God will take all the responsibility for this relationship and we don’t have to work at it at all. If I am honest I don’t always “work at it”; I used to dutifully “pray” every day, by set formulas that I was taught and that I did to prove my commitment and I used to beat myself up about how much my mind wanders during those times. What I did I did out of guilt and feelings of unworthiness, out of a commitment that was more fear than love.

Now as a border-line atheist…well not a very good one…I rarely force myself to pray. Now prayer is more something I fall into when I walk in nature, or at work when I am patting the children to sleep or late at night at my best friend’s house when my head is spinning with the wine the writer of Ephesians doesn’t think I should be drinking. And at church too when the vibe happens to be right. I fall into a prayer which may be hard to give words to- or which might just quote words of songs or bible texts, poetry or something I read. I fall into prayer that says “I am here, please help me find meaning in that” prayer that says “please let me feel that you are here”, prayer that says “I want things to be different” “I want to be different” and lately preciously “I now know you love me and I want to weep with relief at that knowledge”

And from moment to moment I have not always been able to find traces of grace in my life, I have not always felt the transformative presence of God and I will still have the grey empty days of weeping and the night terrors of God’s absence. Part of any relationship is absence, emptiness and disconnection after all (it took me a long, long time to accept that). From moment to moment I can’t and don’t believe that I have eaten something remarkable, the bread of life. But when I fall into prayer (like falling in love) then I trace the eternity within that moment not only as an ecstasy or euphoria (which marked more of my “spiritual” experiences early in life) but as a quiet acceptance of self and other and a quiet dissatisfaction with injustice that I feel was planted in me the first time I met Wisdom and now makes up most of what I acknowledge as my identity (even though I don’t always know what to do about it).

And when I look at the journey of my 3 year old self, my childhood, adolescence, turmoils of my early adulthood to middle-aged me – at the same time that the aging process begins to make ideas of “eternity” more ridiculous than ever there is some sort of faithfulness and stubbornness by the presence of God that makes me cautiously hope there is meaning somewhere in the journey. And why would an eternal God be faithful to a slow-learning and non-eternal me? So I am always up for some of Wisdom’s bread and wine and transformative possibility.