Tag Archives: sacrament

Do this in memory of me

Recently I saw a sticker on the car. It was a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating the “Jesus fish” and it was supposed to be satirically atheist- sort of a triumph of a natural history view of the world (evolution) over faith (and creation). Seeing it I said “Do this in memory of me” and my son (14) laughed and immediately understood what I was seeing in it (which made me think perhaps I am not deluded).

I am seeing a powerful statement of the timelessness of Christ (Wisdom if you like) the idea that before human even existed there was a sacramental relationship between God and creation and also an eco-theological assertion about the place of ALL creation (not just humans) within a sacramental reality. In this symbol, Christ the fish (embodied in nature) gives Godself as food for the dinosaur. Food seems to be a universal need for all of life and for humans has become powerfully symbolic of well-being, nurture and connection. In the Eucharist we remember a meal Jesus shared and take into our bodies the actual, material reality of food- Jesus’ body.

The dinosaur in this picture asserts that evolution happened and is supposed to violently eat up our ability to have faith but the “Jesus fish” as a symbol that can function recognisably as food (think of all the feeding stories in the new testament that contain fish as part of the meal) can become a reinforcement of the stubborn tenacity of faith and the all-pervading grace and love of God. If we see “fishing” as a symbol of apostleship (see eg. Matt 4:19) then the symbol also has a dark side, this is also a text of terror about church leaders who consume the lives and wills of people. But I am seeing Jesus, the bread of life.

The Eucharistic prayer functions in the mass as a way of focusing us on Jesus as someone who enters our community as food- and on all the emotional and material things that food provides for us in our lives. I have found it to be boring and empty when I am too far from the altar, when there is too much pomp with the kneeling on sore knees while people swing incense and ring bells and use  pages and pages and pages of words in a monotone but I have also found it real whenever I have had the privilege of setting the table, helping with the liturgy or at least standing around the altar like a family called to a meal.

The many prayers then is a remembering of the people present in a bodily sense, or present through the union of similar rememberings or absent to us except in love. The Jesus story becomes our story when we remember it, Jesus took the bread broke and shared it and told us to do the same. We become bread for the world by remembering the story as set down in the bible and in liturgy. “The people” traditionally get to join in with three lines only (the memorial acclamation) and an “Amen” at the end but I think this is wrong. Ideally we would share stories in many directions not just from the voice of authority- we would co-construct our tradition making links between the Jesus story and my story and the work of feeding.

Some contemporary liturgies do this by having various sections read by different people or groups which I think is a step in the right direction and possibly more manageable than the ideal I envision where we actually make meaning together by saying what we remember and how Eucharist has touched us this week. I find it a little bit over-the-top in traditional liturgies where the movement of the prayers goes from praying to various others into a “For ourselves too, we ask some share in the fellowship…” section. Jesus never said “Come to my table begging for inclusion and grovelling for crumbs” he said “I am the bread of life”. Jesus came to wash our feet and feed us – our role was simply to accept this and then pass the action on to the world. NOONE EVER has to grovel and try to adjust their worthiness to receive sacrament. I wish I had known this as a teenager when I was raped and excommunicated myself because I felt unworthy of Eucharist.

Good sheep may follow the good shepherd, but we at times bring our Tyrannosaurus rex selves stomping up to the table of grace. The Jesus fish says “take and eat”. Creation is invited forever into sacrament, into life. God looks at all that she has made and it is inherently good (Genesis 1:31)

Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.

Whose body? Whose blood? Whose feet? Whose meal?

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday is the feast day when we celebrate Jesus doing women’s work. Most celebrations of this within the Roman Catholic tradition leave out women or relegate them to bit-parts. The feeling of injury and offence I feel at this goes deep, however this is only a tip of the true iceberg. Symbolic “sacrament” can all too easily go hand in hand with deep failure to nurture the world. Jesus asked us to enact and embody sacrament not to empty it out into words and wafers with which to keep out the world. See also my last year’s post

I am going camping this weekend, so I will keep this short. But thinking about our church’s celebration of the Last Supper, or the First Eucharist or however we wish to label it I need to think about the idea of God’s table of grace.

I live in a world where women prepare food and clean tables and set cloths on them and serve food and make guests welcome and clean up afterwards. Not only women of course, but still overwhelmingly the real material work of feeding, cooking, serving, welcoming and entertaining is gendered work, women’s work. I spent the day preparing eggs with patterns of grass, flowers and leaves that we boiled in onion skins at work. The two women in the kitchen were busy hand-making dumplings for lunch for 50 children but they had time to discuss my eggs with me, ensure I had everything and do the background work of boiling them too.

In the midst of all this I was transferred to the baby room to serve lunch, encourage them to eat, work out which baby was the right age for which milk and ensure everyone got what they needed. There was coaxing, there was insisting, there was modelling “look sweet potato…yum” and there was a lot of laughing and affirmation o give our babies a welcoming experience of sitting around the table together. There was also a lot of sweeping and wiping and changing of clothes and the team of adults (all women) had to support each other through doing that while also entertaining and comforting babies.

Then it was back to the “big kids” room where I was welcomed with “when are we going to have the eggs”. They had, had lunch but were already looking forward to afternoon tea as children do. We broke coloured eggs together and served them up with a plate of antipasto prepared by the kitchen women and whichever teacher gave up their break to do some slicing. Once again there was a lot of cleaning up to do, then I went back to babies and helped with more afternoon teas in there and then back to the “big kids” for late snack.

It was as if my whole day, this Maundy Thursday revolved around the preparation and cleaning up (and joyful celebration of) food for others. Coming home my son was in the midst of making his dinner. We will eat and go to “mass” the one meal that I am supposedly not worthy to prepare. How offensive then that women cannot preside at the eucharist (and how untrue that we “can’t”, I presided at many really significant Eucharists today- celebrations of the bounty of the earth, out grateful and inclusive selves coming together and feeding our bodies and minds for growth- what is that if not eucharist?) I witnessed also a baby smile in relief at the end of his childcare day and latch onto his mother’s breast as well as two tiny boys lay down together in the cushions with their bottles of milk, their heads touching companionably while a third friend came and lay his head down too though he didn’t have (or need) a bottle. My day was full of Eucharist coming out of the tireless and often trivialised work of women (though it must be admitted our children and families are grateful). How am I “not Christ enough” to break bread at church?

But then who else do we exclude? Who in our world is not fed because of my privilege? Whose feet are never washed? Whose foot-washing is not given due respect and dignity, or is taken for granted? Who labours to stock a table they may not sit down at? Who is mocked and earmarked for crucifixion? Whose body is broken and thrown to the wolves? Whose blood is spilled? Whose voice preaching unheard?

If we are really going to get serious about communion, Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, the idea that sacrament gives life then we must be transformed for radical sharing and service by it. It is not enough for a privileged man in a dress to stand in front of relatively privileged people one evening a year and them all to produce symbols of feeding and serving and including. LET’S GET REAL about sharing sacrament (bread, security, welcome, washing, love). Let’s touch and see and hear each other. Let’s break the bread of justice and fill every heart and belly with it.

And let’s not kid ourselves. The people who are feeding and wiping noses and sweeping up for the “least of these” are the ones who are following the call to “do this in memory of me.” Like Judas we say we will never betray Jesus. But we exclude him from leadership or even lock him away on Manus. We allow mining magnates to take away the earth that was growing his body to feed and nurture the world. 30 silver pieces and an insincere kiss is an every-day occurance in the neoliberal mind set.

Bread of life call us back to eat you, to become you, to love each other,

Forgive us for we are tired and liable to fall asleep

Feed us, wake us, wash us, draw us in and in and into your radical commitment

Transform the world!

Sprinkling, splashing, laughter and play

The next section in my book was “Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water” and nearly every time we skipped that and went to the Penitential rite. But I loved it on the few occasions when we had the sprinkling instead of the dreary old Penitential rite. In retrospect I feel I didn’t need to focus on my childish “sins” quite as much as I was encouraged to, especially given that I had so many adults to tell me what I did wrong anyway, it would have been nice to keep at least my internal voice free from that (it has been a toxic addiction my whole life to dwell on my guilt and shortcomings, it’s exhausting and it doesn’t make you a better person and nit-picking yourself is not the same thing as genuinely taking responsibility for your actions and identity).

But those days when we had the sprinkling were always festive days. We’d get a sharp slap or reprimand from Mum or Dad if we dared giggle aloud like we wanted to but we grinned. As I got older and there were seven children I learned to plan strategically where to sit so the water would land on me. Some priest seemed to have a sense of humour they would grin at our large family lined up and deliberately give us an extra splash. When it was clear that “father” did it on purpose we also seemed to get away with a muted snort of laughter. It was clear that laughing at church was only OK if the priest started it. Small wonder I wanted to be a priest, there was so much to laugh at (joy or amusement) and I wanted to be starting the laugh every time. But girls “can’t”.

The feminist theologians have pulled apart the metaphor of baptism and I find it easy to agree with them that “baptism” as it stands, controlled by an all male “celibate” clergy is a sort of insult to the actual physical fact of baptism, where each person comes into the world to take their own life in their own hands, through blood and water- out of another person (and the love and nurture that led to birth) and welcomed INTO a community. So concurrently at birth we gain our independence (arguably personhood) and our connectedness, membership and dependence (later interdependence) of a family. But patriarchy responds to this sacramentality with envy and seeks to erase its significance by mimicking it in an authorised and controlled way where “father” presides. When my youngest was baptised I wrote a poem about this mystery and how I feel we are “baptised” by birth itself (though like a good little member of church I let the rituals take place) and when my children questioned whether their unbaptised friends would go to “hell” I said that I didn’t really believe in hell and that God could baptise them any time when they get caught in the rain or go for a swim in the warm, motherly font we call the sea.

I explained that when we each are born we come out through blood and water (the children found this fascinating) and our cord to out human mother is cut, but the cord to Mother God is never cut and we draw life from her in the Eucharist, which can be any lovingly shared meal. They asked why we went to church then if we didn’t have to and I said because it makes God happy when we show our love that way and in my head was an image of God that was an older woman, like my grandmother who always wanted everyone to gather at her house every single Sunday (unless we all agreed to meet at the forest instead) and gathering to mean celebration and sharing. Those were gatherings where we laughed whenever we wanted and there was food and singing and serious talk just like at church.

But I was not allowed to laugh at church. Because they didn’t see God as the laughing silly Grandmother who lets you sit on her lap even when you are 12 and too big. They saw God as the angry Father who demands respect. Father as in “wait ’til your Father gets home”. Father as in “head of the household”, stern and proper. But the edges between these two possible images blurred a little on days when the sprinkling happened, because sprinkling in my real life was something that happened when Mum was watering the garden. We would come up and make funny voices at her and tease her until she laughed and turned the hose on us. Then we would squeal and run away and come up again trying to make her do it again. And sprinkling was racing Dad into the waves on a hot summer evening, kicking up the salt-spray with our feet and he would always overtake us and plunge in first, he could swim like a fish and let all of us try to crowd on his back while he swam under water. Sometimes it was the “underwater bus” and he swam quietly past the fish as we clung to each other and other times it was one at a time and he would try to shake us off. Sprinkling was play, sprinkling was silly, sprinkling was being accepted by the bigger people.

My missal tells me that water “gives fruitfulness to the fields, and refreshment and cleansing to man (sic).” and refers me to all the “Old Testament” stories of the Red Sea parting to let people through and water gushing from the rock to give them life. In the Sprinkling, the hostile waves of Patriarchy parted and I walked through into another world where God’s reality collided with who I really was, not who someone else tried to make me be. In that desert place of estrangement from my tradition and inability to adequately answer my call to ministry I drank unexpected water from a rock, when feminists broke open the texts to give life-giving water. Life-giving because it was what I was made of (over half of my body is water). Life giving because I am someone who cries, sweats, salivates, bleeds, and once had the potential to lactate and give birth.

I could rewrite the final prayer of the rite of sprinkling with water if I borrow an image from Colleen Fulmer.

May Washerwoman God, loving Grandmother, with much laughter and play,

wash away all that hurts us or holds us back from her table:

which we are called to set for the whole world and all creation,

which we are called to supply and serve at,

and at which we will sit and celebrate on earth

and forever more. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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”?

Beginning of a new phase

My intention when starting this blog was to follow the lectionary readings, and there was a two-fold idea in there. One was that since I am called to preach, but not allowed to do it weekly from a pulpit, I had to find another place to preach each week. I thought the discipline of struggling with the readings week by week would be a good proof to myself of whether or not the call I had was real- if I couldn’t do it then it wouldn’t be real. As for who to preach to, I guess I needed first of all to preach to myself as at times I haven;t received the preaching I have needed (although currently I am in a community where that is not really true anymore) but then there might be others out there too who needed a Catholic framework but a female/feminist perspective. Not that I can speak for or to ALL women, I don’t think that sort of a generalisation can be helpful. Also I do think men need women’s preaching a lot more than they realise.

But just as God was nagging me to preach, albeit I didn’t have a formal role anywhere so I figured if I put it out there God would find people who want to read it (whether they agree or disagree) so I told a few trusted friends but didn’t waste a lot of time promoting my blog. If God finds it useful then God will support it and if not then promotion isn’t helpful. I still feel very strange talking without cynicism about my faith but I do think that God works in the world even if we have frightening amounts of freedom as humans.

Anyway I could go on following the lectionary forever (I haven;t completed the three years I intended yet) or I could try to find the liberative bible readings that DON’T get included in it and bring them back into the centre. This is a worthwhile activity, one that has already been done by wiser heads than me but a conversation and movement I could engage with so I won’t discount it as a possibility in the future. But as far as the lectionary goes I seem to have got into somewhat of a repetitive pattern where the reading is constrictive and kyriearchal. I tell it so. I find the little bits of hope and tell myself I need to be a better activist in the world. Well and good but I have actually done that already and while for the first cycle the process shaped and honed my thinking, at this point I need a fresh way of seeing so that I don’t make a “routine” out of my blog.

So I had a lot of prayer and reflection time as well as reading some exceptional books (look back on previous blog posts for some of them, currently I am reading “Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory by Chris Weedon) and I have had the opportunity to work (unofficially) with some people at the liturgy itself. I would like to then break the mass up into small sections in its logical order and do some deconstructive and reflective work on the meanings of the words and rituals and what it means and how this functions in the life of a “lay” person, a woman, whatever I am (and hopefully in a way that helps others find their similar or differing perspectives).

This week is just an introduction while I try to locate my very, very worn Sunday Missal which I was given by my parents on the occasion of my “First Holy Communion” an exciting day when I got to play dress-ups in a white dress and veil and finally allowed to go to communion from now on forever and ever (until I was 19 and got raped and thought I was excommunicated for a while). My very battered old missal is a symbol of my relationship with the mass (and sacraments) in terms of having been carefully red (the black writing and the red writing and the variants we never used in our church) and consulted for the reflection my parents encouraged me to make on Sunday readings before we even got to church (a-ha so maybe it is their fault I want to preach). In a sense it was my first lectionary too. It has been an exciting and treasured possession, a constricting and difficult document, an out-dated part of my past but somehow I have held onto it.

It symbolises my long, rich, deep and sometimes troubled relationship with the church- the way I used to choose to go to daily mass as a teenager, my discomfort from the time I was two years old at how passive I was expected to be in the service, the ways I found to do “Something” (such as being a reader or “special minister”) and my envy at brothers who were altar servers. I  really did grow up as a “sacristy rat” as many clergy claim to have done, but I was more rat than most because my place in the sacristy was transgressive and contested, I was more rodent than guest there (being a catholic girl). The euphoria of the sacraments- is it life giving, living water? Or is it just opium of the masses? Being dragged in to pray for vocations to the priesthood and even at the age of eight knowing how ironic it was of them to ask me to pray for this.

“Why didn’t you make me male?” was a prayer that automatically came to mind since it was so strictly held that only men could be ordained, “that would be one more priest”. My prayer was missing the real point but since either God was wrong to make me female or the church was wrong that females couldn’t. Sorry church but I have more faith in God.

So over the next few weeks I will look at the liturgy as we have it. What the priest says and does and what we say and do and how the little girl/teenager/woman that I was experienced it all. And what scripture, theologians and other thinkers tell us when that can inform my thinking. And my struggles to articulate female-friendly liturgy that is faithful to the essence of sacrimentality (but also the reality that God created women/priests, we are not as the church would have us think divine mistakes). I will be very critical. But there is love here- always love.

I keep circling back to the love that exists in the gaps between the patriarchy. The love of activist, assertive women and nurturing, listening men. The love of the children who make noise during the service and the “communion services” where we are not allowed to use words that sound like consecration (but where at times I have experienced a far more consecrating reality). The love of a cat who wanders in and tries to pull down the altar cloth and of the sudden giggle that comes up in a serious moment. The love of the people who take so long to give everyone a “sign of peace” and resist going back to their quiet places. The love of a pot of coffee and plate of biscuits, of elaborately decorated altars with flowers and draped material and candles, of wearing my “Sunday best” or just shorts cause I rode a bike to church. The love of children who go to church just to humour their parents.Love of water, bread, wine, word, flame, breath, hands.

Liturgy remains the work of the people- infused with love.

 

 

 

 

A lesson in reconciliation

I am one of those people that finds it hard to forgive. I find it hard to let go in general, of things good and bad and especially of control and predictability. To forgive is to allow the unpredictable in your life, to submit to the possibility that you have not foreseen and are not equipped for.

Recently I arrived into a room where I was working with 2 year olds. I was greeted by a little girl in tears. “She’s just been bitten” said one of my colleagues. There was a mark on the child’s hand and she was clearly in a lot of pain. She followed me quietly, showing me the mark again and again with tears flowing down her face. I comforted her of course but I could not make the terrible even not have happened. The child was very clear about wanting me to know that she was bitten, that there was a mark there and that it hurt. It seemed like all I could do was travel those facts with her again and again and allow her to stick close to me.

As the day progressed, a group of us- children and educators went for a walk to a beautiful garden nearby. The bitten child and the child who bit her both were there. In the beautiful garden we were all engrossed in the birds on the grass and in the trees, the flowers, the fish in the fountain, important things like that. We showed each other things, ran, rolled in the freshly grass until some of us were covered in green stains. The inevitable happened, another child fell and hurt her finger. She was comforted by one of the educators, assisted by all the children and suddenly the child who had been bitten ran up to the child who had bitten her and took her hand.

“Please don’t ever bite me again, is that ok?” she said in a half-stern, half-caring voice. I held my breath as it seemed almost rude of her to refer to the event so long after it had happened. The other child looked her in the eye, “Yes” she said calmly.

“Thank you very much” said the first child and it was as if the air sparkled, that was a definite sacramental moment and I caught the eye of another educator. Something amazing had happened. The two children hugged and ran off together in the friendliest possible way. These children were two, how did they know to keep it all so simple and so sacred?

The process of reconciliation in this true event was actually quite complex. The child needed the wisdom to move away and get comfort and acknowledgement, she needed a chance to feel a bit stronger in herself. She needed joy to have happened (play in the garden). Then as she approached the other child to heal the rift between them (notice it was the one who had been injured who began the reconciliation process) she did not make light of what had happened, but nor did she demand any sort of emotional show about it. She didn’t demand an apology, punishment or compensation from the other child she simply made it clear that she did not want to be bitten again. The other child appeared to have understood (at least in that moment) the need to have a better-care for their relationship. Both of them expressed a simple faith in the possibility of a better “from now on” and both were healed by the encounter.

Perhaps this is all too obvious to state, I cannot seem to find words to express how profound it was to witness it. I do not think I forgive so ungrudgingly  or with so much honesty (I probably try to avoid talking about it unless I am laying blame). I do not think I take the hand of the person I want to forgive before they have even given me any sign of possibility. I do not think I (even metaphorically) roll in the grass and get grass-stains with the ones I feel injured by. And do I so simply without guilt or excuses agree to do better when I have hurt someone? Often not.

I did not say a word to those two children about their encounter, they had already used all possible words and few of them at that. But I was challenged to try to believe that life won’t “ever bite me again” that the church “won’t ever bite me again” that we will understand each other and move on.

So mote it be.