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What has this to do with the body of Christ? What has this to do with me?

This was a reflection that I was privileged to be asked to give at my church. I will be doing that tomorrow (ie Sunday). The relevant readings are here.

 

Have you ever dumpster dived? I am not referring to finding some discarded and vintage bits and pieces to trendily upcyle. I mean for food.

You probably all know that Centrelink has not been increased in real terms since 1996, that’s more than two decades. Think of all the changes in those two decades. I didn’t have a mobile phone, or even want one in 1996, these days it is mandatory to have one in terms of staying in touch with Centrelink so they don’t cut you off. Many other expectations and needs have also changed. As a result of all this low income earners and welfare recipients in 2019 are a lot poorer than they were in the late 90s, when I struggled to look after my babies on welfare payments.

So dumpster diving these days is quote common, getting in amongst the rotting fruit, veg and dairy products and finding unopened packets that are barely past their useby date, bakery items that are a bit stale or broken and all the rest of it. Supermarkets throw out so much! I was shocked to be told that sometimes you can find a whole pallet of bottled water. Why does water need a use-by date?

Supermarkets often respond to dumpster divers by increasing security, padlocking dumpsters, watering the bread, slicing open packaging and at times pouring toxic chemicals or even human waste in to make the food not reclaimable. Even though this is food they can’t sell  or use in any way, they stop people from reclaiming it if they can. Thankfully this is not something that happens across the board, and dumpster divers reclaim what they can, combine it with food they grow (if they are able) and then the interesting thing is how freely they share it. In my experience people who find a lot of food, or something particularly good, or something they can cook up will immediately look for opportunities to feed each other. The contrast between those who can afford to share but do not, and those who are suffering themselves but want to share what they have always staggers me.

Eucharist reminds me that the bread of life is necessarily the bread that is shared, before God there are not those who deserve it more or less, but each of us comes to be fed and then to participate in the work of feeding.

Sharing.

This is the body of Christ.

It was refugee week this week, and many people participated in the refugee ration challenge. I’ve been marking which makes me want to eat all the time so I did not, I merely donated some money. I saw the rations that people were given- here there is no generosity or abundance- only the basics. People were given what was barely adequate and would not be very interesting over time. Keeping the body functioning is one thing, but God’s abundance is more than rations, more than the efficient fostering of physical life. Think what a meal can mean- it is not just nutrition, it is a time to stop and share and care for ourselves. Think of the house being filled with the scent of spices and good things warming. Think of bread rising. Think of the freedom to step away from work and to come together in each other’s beautiful homes and in our lovely church. Meals are not just rations, they are humanising celebrations of life.

We need to do better for the refugees, many of whom have an ethic of sharing, this is part of the Christian heritage but also a Muslim value. Sharing, giving, abundance, equality. Nourishment for the soul and for the human family rather than merely the stomach of the individual.

The body of Christ.

It’s significant to me that we add wine. There was a time in my childhood, where wine was almost never used at mass because we were told bread could symbolise both the body AND the blood. In terms of anatomy this is quite sensible and logical, no living flesh body ever existed that wasn’t also composed of blood. But there is a symbolic richness to wine that adds something to bread, that gives us a fuller more whole picture of what it is that Jesus has given to us.

Wine, especially in is a luxury not a staple as is bread. We are so surrounded by luxuries that we easily lose sight of this fact, but wine is not just stuffing something hurriedly in our mouth so we don’t collapse (not that I am advocating for bread to be so reduced). Bread can be part of charity, we might give crumbs to the less fortunate from a safe distance, we might speak of “human rights” and sustain them in life. Bread can be reduced to rations, it shouldn’t be but it can be.

Wine is only for friends. We do not give wine to people we look down on. We do not give wine grudgingly, if we give it at all then we share it with joy. One of the ways I realised when some of my university teachers had transitioned to be colleagues and comrades and (I am honoured to say this) FRIENDS is when we began to share wine together. Wine symbolises the part of meals which is not merely necessary- the joy and companionship. We bring out our best wine for our most honoured guests, we give wine as a gift to people we appreciate and admire.

The blood of Christ, cup not just of compassion but solidarity.

Significantly, when swamped by the demands of hungry crowds (5000 clamouring) Jesus did not let his apostles off the hook. He didn’t put the responsibility for self-care back on each individual.

It’s significant how we read this miracle, what we see here will affect how we live. If we think that Jesus (being god) produced magical, miraculous bread from the sky and gave it out to everyone, then we might be tempted to think that it is God and only God who can solve all our problems. Perhaps then we will think that all we need to do is pray for climate change to be solved, for the refugees to be set free, for governments to become more responsive and compassionate. But where do I draw the line? Should I even try to do the morally right thing, or do I wait for God to change me? Should I go to work or should I just pray? These extremes are silly of course, but it’s very easy to believe that if I personally am a reasonably good and kind person, the world’s problems are not my problem. I can give toxic politics, growing inequity and the climate crisis all to God and keep planning a wonderful holiday for my own family.

In this way of thinking, the bread of heaven never grew in the earth, the wine we share was never worked by human hands. But…think of the liturgy (work of the people) that we all grew up with. We assert that the bread and wine which are transformed into Christ’s real and living presence are exactly that- earth and human work. There is no getting away from this. Jesus’ insistence that all were responsible of all might have called out of people whatever they had brought for themselves alone. Those with a surplus shared with those who had nothing without getting to judge them for being “lazy” or “less organised”. There is a redistributive power to Eucharist, this is not co-incidental it is at the heart of it. It comes from a God who became embodied and entangled in humanity. It comes from a Christ who says “I want everyone to be fed, I want all at the table” not with threats or rules or overpowering us but with a deep enough commitment to become bread for us.

The generosity of Christ is here. Eat. Drink. Be the sacrament.

So let us reflect on the table we are coming to. Let us reflect that around the table we are a circle, all equal, all welcomed. Let us take the sacrament when Christ offers it, let us treasure it, hold it within ourselves, and let us open our hands to give out the things we are called to bring to the world.

Bread to feed and strengthen life and community.

Wine for joy, affirmation and solidarity

The body, the life-blood of our own dear, Wise Christ.

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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.

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.