Then Jesus took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ (Luke 22:17-20)
‘You know,’ Swami Jeff told me once, ‘God couldn’t care less about the church. We don’t understand the Eucharist, or that bread and wine live within us, so we ritualize the things that hold the mystery. We focus on the container and formalize the mystery. But you don’t have to do that.’
So, at last, I came out to my mother. But it turned out I had to cook for her to do it.
First, I set off the smoke alarm. Then, as the room filled with heat and grease, I calmed the large, neighbourly stranger who’d rushed into her apartment to help. After he left, and I finished cooking, we opened the windows to the warm Vermont night and sat down The table was set with the bread and wine and lamb. It still didn’t occur to me what I was doing, or what a ridiculous pun I was stumbling toward with my pan-seared Lamb of God—much less that I was invoking the sacraments. But I broke the bread and lifted my glass and said, ‘Ma, I have to tell you something. I’m a Christian. I’ve started going to church.’
There are moments in worship described as happening in ‘liturgical time,’ kairos, time out of time, a kind of suspended, unwordly immanence. I can’t remember exactly what the two of us said, but as our conversation spilled out slowly, then in little rushes, I felt fear evaporating—not just mine but hers—replaced by a sort of joined, eager leaning into truth.
My mother was kinder than I ever deserved. ‘I guess I’m a bigot,’ she said. ‘It’s just that I had to fight so hard against my parents’ religion. It cost me so much. I can’t believe in it.’
I blurted out the stuff I love about Jesus. ‘It’s about food,’ I said. ‘And being with people who aren’t like me.’
She looked at me. ‘I get that,’ she said slowly. I could see the rigid, frightened mother and the rigid, frightened child. ‘But I told my mother when I was ten I didn’t believe in God, and I haven’t ever since.’ She took a bite of her meat. It was dark outside now, the last light gone down over the Adirondacks to the west, and I thought of her listening, unbelieving, to her parents pray … until they, too, were gone, and she was left with her yearning and her refusal.
‘I love the hymns, thought,’ she said. ‘I bet I still know all the verses.’
I remembered my mom singing to me, long ago. ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream,’ she’d croon, ‘bears all ours cares away.’ …
‘Do you know this one?’ I asked. It was a clean, odd Shaker tune. I’d learned it at morning prayer, and I loved the minor, shape-note harmonies. ‘For happiness I long have sought, and pleasure dearly I have bought,’ I sang. ‘I missed of all, but now I see, it’s found in Christ the apple tree.’
‘Jesus Christ the apple tree?’ my mother said. ‘Huh.’
She poured me some more wine.
It wasn’t official Eucharist. It was real communion, with all the incomplete, stupid, and aching parts still there. Made by human hands, out of meat and hope, incarnate: what the Russian mystics called ‘a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where none are left behind.’