We Are the Feast

How does one see a tiny hummingbird nest in a huge liquid amber tree? Only by grace.

Yesterday morning I was leaving for work preoccupied by my habitual failings and on the brink of descending into an internal slough remembered that self-compassion would be more helpful. That’s when I spotted the little beak near the tree’s trunk where it usually wouldn’t be and saw the hummingbird flit to a nearby branch. I later discovered the nest, so tiny it had been hidden from my original vantage point by a single leaf.

Last night we celebrated the Feast of the Supper of the Lord, one of my favorite days in the church year. This is the night Jesus said, “Take my body. Take my blood. Remember me.”

The disciples must have been mightily confused. That’s pretty far off script for a Passover Seder. Two thousand years later we’re still repeating those words, and I probably don’t understand them any better than the original disciples did. Yet there is something essential for me about Eucharist.

When I give Eucharist to others and say, “The body of Christ,” I hold a state of mind that they are receiving what they already are, that something about our communal consecration amplifies and reveals Christ already within each of us.

We need a lot of reminders of this reality of who we are, from the glory of the hummingbird’s nest to the weekly gathering at table. It’s so tempting to think we are just about anything else and are here for just about any other reason. But only participation in God’s love, in the evolutionary force of existence will do.

All creation is groaning to be born, St. Paul writes to the Romans, “even until now.” All creation is participating in this feast, in this being and becoming Christ, each of us in our own way. The hummingbird participates by building its tiny nest. If we pay attention, we’ll learn how to build ours.

Carrying Christ

At New Camaldoli Hermitage, the evening meditation session begins with bringing the Eucharist into the chapel. For years, the same monk filled this role every night. Brother Emmanuel raised the host—housed in its glass and brass stand—carried it into the chapel, placed it on the altar, and led everyone in a deep bow before the presence of God in our midst.

Br. Emmanuel had shrunk somewhat and was a bit stooped over when I started visiting the hermitage, but there was something about the way he carried the Eucharist that let you know, even if you couldn’t explain what it meant, that this was the body of Christ. I never spoke with Br. Emmanuel, who passed away last year, other than to offer the sign of peace, but I always looked forward to his entrance. I thought of him as the monk who carried Christ.

“We are the body of Christ,” we repeated many times in multiple languages last night as we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. We hear certain phrases so often that they lose their meaning.

We are the embodiment of eternity, of the Alpha and Omega, of the creative, evolutionary energy of the universe. We are the flesh and blood of the Word of God, which was present in the beginning. We are—collectively throughout time—God’s coming into being.

It is given to all of us to carry Christ, not in some abstract way but in the particles that compose us, in the love that connects us, in the kindness we show each other, and yes, on this Good Friday, in the suffering we share, not for the sake of suffering but for the coming transformation as we look toward Easter morning.

From all eternity, God has known you, Jim Finley says. From all eternity, we are the body of Christ. Within and outside of time, we carry Christ forward as does all of creation.

I think Br. Emmanuel walked into the chapel with such conviction because he knew his kinship with the Eucharist in heart, soul, and body. May we all come to know this reality that surpasses understanding.

A Time of Longing

I’ve often heard Advent described as a time of preparation and waiting, but my friend Barb Kollenkark recently described it as a period of longing.

I suppose that makes sense. We are, after all, waiting for the coming of a child, and I’m sure parents-to-be would confirm that those nine months contain a great deal of longing.

A woman who is pregnant is “expecting.” During Advent we expect the birth of Christ in our hearts. That’s a strong word, with a lot of faith and an element of demand to it. We’re not wishing, we’re expecting.

I so often consider the object of my desire to be a conclusion: the completion of a project, the settling of a decision, the ending of an uncomfortable emotion. But in that delivery room, all parents are hoping for a beginning, not an ending.

Life is a continuing unfolding, and that’s what parents want for their children. Not a straight path, not without difficulties, probably messy, but at every moment the potential for growth.

And so with us and Christ. The coming we are longing for is not a consummation, though we often get ourselves into trouble in big and small ways by searching for fulfillment in everything from alcoholism to the salvation that might arrive in the next email or Facebook post. Not that I’d know anything about that.

What arrives on Christmas, what we’re waiting for, is not an end to yearning but a deepening of it. We are finite beings with an infinite capacity for love, multiple teachers have said, and on Christmas we will receive at least two things, regardless of what is under the tree: a historical example of someone who will show us what our hearts are capable of and that ability itself, which is to live in the evolutionary moment we’re in, to live into our longing, into our true selves in God.

That’s something worth expecting.