I have been on study leave the past month in order to work on a new book. The generosity of Crestview United Methodist Church, where I work part time, and several generous donors to the Sanctuary Fund have made this gift of time and space possible. I have prayed, listened, written, and rested in the stunning abundance and goodness of God. Did I make progress on the book? Oh yes. I also discovered how much more there is to do. My goal is to complete it by the end of this January. I tell you this so you will hold my feet to the fire. All of you are in my heart and thoughts. Thank you so much for your support and presence in this conversation about our lives together in God.
Here is a sneak preview of the work in progress:
God is voluptuous and delicious. Meister Eckhart
O taste and see that the Lord is good, promises the psalmist. (Psalm 34:8) Yet many people find God hard to swallow, not to mention the side dishes served up with God: religion, piety, doctrine, rules, austerity, judgment, conflict, and war. According to contemporary research quite a few people are not swallowing Christianity.
Over one third of the people in this country looking at Christianity from the outside have a bad impression. Researcher David Kinnaman writes, “The growing hostility for Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers. One outsider I met put it this way: ‘Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical empire builders; they want to convert everyone and generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe as they do.’
In a time when faith didn’t have such a bad image, Thomas Merton, teaching a group of monks about swallowing God, used this approach, recorded in a poem by Ron Seitz:
So, you see, it’s something like this, to use an image or a metaphor.
…In total inhalation, in the act of the Eucharist, you eat the Mystical Body,
the Cosmic Christ by accepting, by participating, by celebrating, in joy
the total charity of your Being in creation! …
And in total exhalation you offer up, give back, go home in redemption.
You do this by curing the inner spirit between you and God the Incarnate Creator,
what we oftentimes call in Mystical Theology, original sin.
That’s why you go to the monastery, the primary reason anyway.
It’s to do that, to heal the illusion of separation, the separation of you from your true person,
from the world in creation, and especially from God.
It’s all, we’re all one. So relax. Quit apologizing.
We really don’t have anything to be afraid of, now do we?
If Merton is too abstract for you, try this: Seeing the communion elements being passed down the row the little girl exclaims, “O look Grandma, we are getting snacks!”
Holiness seeks intimacy, asks to be consumed, taken in and digested by us in a fundamental, earthy way as food. Fruit of the vine, wheat from the fields grown in the soil, watered by rain, tempered by wind, kissed by the sun. Simple ordinary food becomes transformed by the presence of the one who said, “Here, this bread, this wine is my body. Drink it and it will become your body too.” We get snacks.
See. Either we are one with the Holy Spirit or not, eh.
And if the incarnation, the Word make flesh is a living reality,
then the whole cosmos is sacramentalized, is sacred and holy.
Is really church,
see (laughing) and you cannot get out, eh, can’t escape that, even if you wanted to.
Not everyone understands God as Merton. A friend and long time church member once confided that one Sunday when the pastor tore off a chunk of bread and handed it to her with the words, This is the body of Christ, “Something happened. I almost gagged and suddenly this seemed like some primitive cannibalistic ritual of eating the body of some person to gain his prana. It seemed repulsive.” She hasn’t been back to a communion service since. Another friend, victimized by a satanic cult, has excruciating flash backs when she goes to receive the Eucharist. Add a few verses of the old hymn “Nothing But the Blood,” and one can imagine most any curious new comer beating a path out the door before the pastor gets out the benediction.
As one of my daughters would say when she was little with her hands on her hips, “Mom, you have a lot of splaining to do about this.”
For starters let’s take a larger, metaphorical view. God invites us to eat what is before us, the fundamental reality of our lives, no matter how unsatisfactory. As we taste and see, chew and digest our experience and truth, we are nourished and transformed by the sacred reality of this world. We grow into the likeness of God, holiness itself. In placing us in this life, God has asked us to swallow this world and one another with an inclusive unconditional love.
Many times I have preferred to spit it all out.
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