Sacrament at the Soul of Me

I grew up at a Baptist church receiving Communion seemingly whenever the senior pastor felt like offering it, which probably amounted to once a quarter. Ushers would pass heavy silver trays up and down the pews — a tray of wafers followed by a tray of little, thimble-sized plastic cups of grape juice. It seemed like snack time to my seven-year-old sensibilities.

06-2015-laity-lodge-02I don’t know exactly when the sacrament became something more than snack time. But it certainly has.

When I visited and joined an Episcopal church at age 22, I started receiving Communion once a week. It was the focal point of the Sunday service, as opposed to the music or sermon, which I have seen centralized and even quite frankly sensationalized in some settings.

When I interned at and worked at that Episcopal church, I started receiving Communion multiple times a week, because the parish offered the sacrament typically every Monday-Friday in conjunction with morning prayer.

Eventually, I started hungering for it. Just a few months ago, when I was away from home and from my home church one Sunday,  I noticed the hungering for it and semi-jokingly told a friend traveling with me: “I think I’m having Eucharist withdrawal!”

It’s not a physical hunger. Because, let’s be real; that’s best satiated with some Sunday brunch after church.

It’s a spiritual hunger. The hungry searching of a weary swimmer grasping for a buoy. The “hangry” searching of a tired traveler scanning airport corridors for some trustworthy sustenance. Subway and Starbucks are my airport go-tos. Bread and wine are my life’s go-tos.    

The comparison of Eucharist to fast food chains is a pale comparison indeed. But what I mean is this: it’s a source of constancy. I remember the relief of finding a Subway at the Toronto airport during a layover once, tucked away among all the unfamiliarities of poutine and ketchup-flavored potato chips. I remember the warm comfort of sipping Starbucks at the Charlotte airport during many a layover when I used to travel periodically between Texas and Virginia. Travel where I may, these edible anchors would be there, offering much the same menu each time and at each location.

Having recently moved halfway across the country, I find that Communion is an edible anchor too, offering “much the same menu” upon each reception. Maybe a thin, round wafer or a piece of sweet, soft bread. Maybe juice, usually wine. Always “the gifts of God for the people of God.”

When I receive nowadays, I go back to my seat and might recall fondly other times I have received. I might recall a quiet Jesuit retreat center in North Texas or an Anglican mission church in Belize. I might recall that home parish that first taught me to cherish Communion, glance at my watch, and realize that even across time zones they’re eating and drinking of the same body and blood at about this same time.

I might recall the time last summer when my grandma’s 94th birthday was approaching and I arranged to give her Communion for her birthday. As I told my mentor-priest: She really doesn’t need anything else, and I really can’t offer anything else. So, come Sunday, she wheeled her walker into the sanctuary, sat on the edge of a pew, fell asleep twice during the sermon (sorry, preacher), and watched as I served the chalice to countless parishioners more ambulatory than herself. Finally, a priest gestured to me to follow him out to the pew where Grandma sat. He leaned over, handed her “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” and stepped back into the aisle. I stepped forward, making eye contact with this white-haired woman of God who has thus far been around all my life but who cannot possibly continue to be around all my life. I held out “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” she warily dipped her wafer in, and promptly dropped it. I looked at my priest, who shrugged, and I fished the wine-soaked wafer out of the chalice and placed it in her thin, receptive hands.

Later, we laughed about the awkwardness of that Communion.

Much later, I would cry about the gift of that Communion.

When so many things change, move, age, and even pass away, the Lord does not. For me, Communion attests to this.

Because, a thousand miles away from some of my closest family and friends, the continuity of Communion over time and space tells me that the Lord provides for those family and friends. I have done and will keep doing all that I humanly can to care for them, but ultimately the Lord will provide. And, Communion tells me that the Lord provides for me too. Travel where I may, this edible anchor will be there. Thanks be to God.    

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In a Foreign Land

“How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” – Psalm 137:4

IMG_3085I recently moved to the foreign land of North Carolina. To be sure, I am no Israelite in exile, for I chose to move here of my own free will, accompanied by all the familiar belongings that would fit in my car, a few familiar faces, and countless familiar chain restaurants (God bless Cracker Barrel).

But there is a foreign-ness to be faced nonetheless. New roads to roam, grocery stores and gas stations and pharmacies to track down, and — most interestingly in my opinion — churches to visit. Churches that remind me of home just enough to turn my slightly-homesick heart into a gumbo of gratitude and grief over what was and is and is no longer in my life at this point in time. Churches that make me wonder: “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”

Apparently, we shall check and double-check church websites, take the wrong exit off the highway, arrive nearly ten minutes late, and eventually slip into the back pew.

We shall study the bulletin and juggle it with the hymnal, Book of Common Prayer, and Bible with all the clumsiness of a court jester.

We shall see a bespectacled gentleman who reminds us of our own beloved priest back home and a young family with two boisterous blonde boys who remind us of a young family back home — a family that almost always sat in the pew in front of us, their own boisterous blonde boys squirming and saying “peas be with you” at the appropriate time.

We shall close our eyes and click the heels of our Sunday shoes three times, thinking “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

We shall receive bread into our open hands and wine to our waiting lips and think, first, like a pouting three-year-old that it tastes nothing like we’re used to and, second, that it feels everything like we’re used to — like sitting as we do so many Sundays “at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all” (Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion).

We shall be grateful for that bread and wine, that one old hymn we recognized, that one priest who offered a handshake and a helpful “Hi, are you new here?” on the way out.

We shall drink coffee and meet parishioners, who in turn introduce us to more parishioners, whose names we can’t keep straight and who make us long for the many names and lives we know (knew?) so well back home.

Finally, we shall drive home wondering what home even means.

And, if we listen we shall hear Jesus say:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

We who are homesick, who wander and wonder, who miss things and mourn things — we shall be home with Christ and in Christ both now and forever.

Shifts in the Story: An Update on New Things Happening

Shift-buttonBig things are happening in my life, friends!

In June, I started a new job as part-time Blog Manager for EA Resources, a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to equipping churches and parents to meet the needs of emerging adults. In this position, I get to create and/or curate content for the organization’s blog, as well as possibly work on building the blog by recruiting guest contributors and developing social media strategy. It’s a new role, very part-time, and entirely remote work that has me working at a coffee shop one day and in my kitchen the next, so I’m learning a lot about content coordination and WordPress functionalities, as well as time management and self-discipline.

dukeChapelIn August, I will be moving to Durham, North Carolina to start a Master’s in Divinity (M.Div) at Duke Divinity School, with likely concentrations in Christian Spirituality and Anglican Studies. If you know me, you know that I’ve struggled with change and have said right here on this site that “this is not a travel blog.” But, you know what? “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). That includes time for travel blogs and time for staying-put blogs, time for putting down roots and time for putting out shoots. And always time for rooting ourselves in Christ and his Church. There’s plenty more that I could — and probably will — say about this process of starting seminary, but for now: I’m so excited for what this will do for my writing and my sense of calling toward vocational ministry.

Finally, because I’m not defined by just work or school (no one is), here’s what else I’ve been up to:

  • Writing. Several blogs. And several initial chapters of what I’ve long hoped will eventually be a book-length collection of personal essays about prayer. I’ll be workshopping a piece of this project next week (!) at the Glen Workshop, which is a combination arts conference and spiritual retreat in Santa Fe, so that’s provided a much-needed deadline on my recent writing journey!
  • Reading for fun just as much as I can before getting hit with an oncoming onslaught of academic reading.
  • Praying. Sometimes at morning prayer. Sometimes at evening prayer. Oftentimes whenever-I’m-panicking prayer.
  • Spending time with people. Celebrating birthdays, soaking up the simple sweetness of sitting around with friends, meeting with mentors as though their wisdom is on tap and about to run out.
  • Being a bit of a tourist in my own town to make sure the bucket list gets taken care of before moving day.
  • Going to counseling. I believe in counseling, y’all.
  • Eating chocolate. I also believe in chocolate.

Thanks to my friends, family, and YOU — whoever you may be — for sharing in my story. To keep being part of these new adventures, please take a second to follow my blog and/or pray for me (God knows I need it)!

This Is Not a Travel Blog

When I wrote blogs like Go In Peace (To Canada?!) To Love and Serve the Lord, I was trying, even in the writing process, to convince myself that it was real. That the move was really happening and there was really peace in it.

Here’s the thing: I couldn’t convince myself.

As moving date began to approach, I began to feel increasingly, physically sick with anxiety at the very thought of such a big, international move away from all of my family, friends, and professional network. With 6 weeks to go, I began to admit that I didn’t want to move to Canada for a growing number of reasons, and trusted advisors began to say: “you don’t have to, you know.” And they were right.

I don’t have to do something that makes me persistently, excessively uncomfortable. None of us do. In fact, I think we shouldn’t. Not even if we’ve paid a deposit or posted a Facebook status about it or had a goodbye party. Over the course of applying and planning and preparing, we can change and grow and realize things about ourselves. It’s like the saying goes: “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” 

So, after a lot of prayerful consideration, I officially deferred matriculation to Regent College.

Let me be clear that, in the midst of this change, a few facts remain: 1) Regent is wonderful. I have no problem with the institution. 2) Vancouver is beautiful. I have no doubt about that. 3) Seminary is in my future. I have clear goals to someday — not too long from now, God willing — engage in a season of dedicated theological study.

But I do not feel called to Regent or to Vancouver at this time. I feel called to mind my mental health, take my time with life changes, listen to my body, and listen to the Lord above all.RestHere

And I think the Lord is calling me to stay put for a little while. That sounds like a terribly un-catchy blog title. That statement pales in comparison to today’s worship anthems that say “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders…” and repeat emphatically “I will go, I will go.”

Going is a good thing; don’t get me wrong. But I’m learning that being sent by the Lord definitely does not necessarily mean being sent far away. I’m learning that, on the contrary, there can be wisdom in stability. (More to come on that topic.)

So this is not a travel blog. Not now anyway.

This is not a blog about seeing new sights, encountering God in surprising, exciting places. Maybe it’s a blog about seeing new insights, encountering God in the most surprising place of all — the here and now. Maybe it’s a blog about the joys and challenges of persisting in praying and praising, writing and reading, resting and working, loving God and neighbor right where I am. I’m genuinely excited about that prospect and hope you’ll continue to join me!

Roots and Shoots

There’s a question that’s plagued me for years: Why would a person leave something he knows to be good in exchange for something he hopes to be good? 

We’ve all done it — or had the opportunity to do it. I think of colleagues who have left good careers in, say, law or engineering to pursue ministry or art. Classmates who have left family and friends to work or study abroad. And, yes, now my own journey joining the ranks of those world-traveler classmates.

Why do we do this? What leads to such stay-or-go decisions? Certainly faith and gut feelings, maybe fortune telling and flipping a coin, come into play. But is there anything more, I’ve wondered, we can wrap our minds around?

Yes. I think so.

Last weekend, I spent an afternoon with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.

As you might guess from the title, I half-expected The Wisdom of Stability would convince me to cancel my Canada-bound plans and stay put. Indeed, Wilson-Hartgrove makes a strong case for committing to our communities both for our own sake and for the sake of the community.

But The Wisdom of Stability didn’t exactly change my mind; rather, it may have eased my mind. From its pages on staying-versus-going, I gleaned that we’re ready to go when:

  1. We’ve established roots. Quote: “We might even go so far as to say that true Christian mission is not possible until we have established roots of love through the practice of stability.”
  2. We’ve faced our demons. Quote: “Maybe none of us are safe to respond to God’s call until we’ve stayed put long enough to face our demons.”
  3. We’ve received a call to bless others (whether in specific, known ways or not). Quote: “We should expect authentic stability to nurture the virtues that allow Christians to become mobile in the best of ways — ready to hear the Abrahamic call” to go bless others.

 
Establishing roots helps us move with a support system in mind. arbol-raizbFacing our demons helps us move with peace in our hearts. Responding to a call helps us move with a sense of purpose in our souls. We should never move, I’m learning, because of restlessness, escapism, or even why-the-hell-not-ism (I just made that up) but because we’ve pursued some stability, some peace with the past, and some purpose for the future.

Picture a tree. It has roots, and it has shoots. Here’s the thing: both are important.

If you’ve been putting down roots for a while, praise God and consider challenging yourself with growing in some way. If you’ve been growing shoots for a while, praise God and consider challenging yourself with putting down roots in some way.