While growing up, communion in church began for me in my imagination. The bread that was used during our small church services was made by hand in the kitchen of Lois. I imagined her tossing the flour on a wooden board as I put the pinched-off bit from the loaf as it was was passed from member to member down the pew. I recall the warmth of it in my hand swaddled between the linen cloth, the sweet smell wafting up to my nose. The bite of a liquid that warmed my throat and belly in a way that was special, reserved for just this ceremony. I close my eyes and return to this memory to transmute the drive-through communion line, running up and down the red carpeted aisle, that I experienced as an adult. We must be out of church by 12:00 p.m. Sharp.
It wasn’t the loss of bread and wine over crackers and grape juice.
Not the casual service and contemporary music.
The offering plate or the parking lot that was empty Monday through Saturday.
My soul unchained me from the pew for reasons I am still not sure.
The bank takes the house. The lover leaves. The child dies. The job terminated. In most cases, we become exiles to our own lives not by choice, but by default. But in some ways, I felt I had no choice in this version of exile. It wasn’t any particular church, denomination, pastor, or individual person.
It was quite literally, the whole kit and kaboodle.
In the beginning of this self-imposed exile, I had grandiose visions of what my time away from church would be like.
For a mountain to become the altar and the sounds of water the hymn is what I imagined. Jesus would show up, pat me on the back, saying “I am well pleased with your desire for congruency in your spiritual, political, and personal beliefs. Thanks for taking one for the team” and sign-off with the secret handshake from the Those That Really Get Him Club. But that didn’t happen. What played in reality was tears, loss of friends, and the muted confusion that ensues when you pry yourself from a lifestyle choice. In most every way, going to church had become the business of showing up to what in reality had become more like a country club than a house of worship. Sleeping in late on a Sunday morning was the only relief after years in parochial school, service as a Sunday school teacher, Bible School leader, and missionary to a foreign country even. Yes, I knew how to talk the talk, walk the walk. I was in deep. So deep from a lifetime of entrenchment that I didn’t realize just how numb I had become to my own soul.
Not really knowing what to do, only heading a distinct call from a voice that sounded kind, I began walking. Walking to fill the time and take the edge off my frenetic, questioning mind. Nothing special. Just walking in my neighborhood, then slowly across the edge lands into the forest that borders my neighborhood and the rest of the city I live in. I began to see how much I really didn’t understand. I began to ask “who are you” from the plants and animals rather than “what are good you for.” The daily patterns of the deer, the feeding calls of the crow, the moment before the burst of a bloom, the raindrop perched on a blade of grass, the clawed climb of my cat up the dogwood tree, and the graying of winter’s sky into nightfall all rose in its own distinct significance, as every experience was new and worthy of being hung on my “spiritual refrigerator door” for all to see. The seasonal patterning of the flower-to-berry bush that tartly stains the tongue, the honk of geese in migrating trains in the sky, the instinctual crawl of the furry caterpillar… so much to see once I began seeing. And so much silence from the grinding noise of my life. My ears found rest in the silence. With child-like wonder, I could not keep up with all the small occurrences I had once been in too much of a rush to notice. It’s as if my body began to remember an old dance. Knowing exactly where the next placement of the foot should land, the tilt of the head, all in rhythm to a song I knew long ago.
I, like most people, have a difficult time with the here and now. I struggle to know where I am at in the world because I often have one foot in the past and an outstretched arm in the future. So much so, that I miss it. By “it”, I mean the Now. By “it”, I mean the Divine.
For one full turn of each season, I deprived myself a steady drip of music, doctrine, offering, prayer from church. It had become a fast to religion of all forms.
Mostly, scabs were being peeled back to discover how much wounding I had received from myself and by others in the name Christianity. Puss filled wounds exposed my perceived worth. Was I good at something or good for something? Was I more Queen, Goddess, or Divine Mother than Cunt, Bitch, Whore? Superhuman or subhuman? What about just human? It seemed as though within my traditional religious and cultural upbringing I could not find a full-spectrum of my gender’s humanity represented anywhere in the places I knew to look. Even at 45 years old, I found myself fumbling with a hazy empowerment to my spiritual life.
And it wasn’t because I wasn’t searching.
It’s because it simply was not there.
I wanted something more than a social media-based female solidarity narrative poorly disguised as misandry.
I wanted more than to kick the dirt under the Christian rug with a meme or status update quoting random and contextualized scripture, however innocuous on the surface, that do more harm than good by intubating our souls with binary stereotypes.
I wanted more than a tarot spread for insight.
I wanted more explanation than astrology could ever provide.
I wanted a non-linear, progressive movement in my spiritual journey over an alignment of my chakras.
I wanted to trace the ridges and valleys of my fingerprint on ancient myths that transcend a religious sect and the suffering of fate.
I wanted my Soul.
There is a greater communion than the one we receive between stained-glass windows or statues, symbols or incantations. It is the one we initiate in faith by allowing our Soul to meet our Feet on the Earth. And this was my problem because I believed the divine to be anything other than Human and human to be anything other than Divine. Human, as in the farting, slobbering, sad, arrogant, greedy, fucking, hungry flesh that is just as capable of heroic acts of bravery, selflessness, and belly-aching laughter.
To become an animal unafraid of my own skin and the sound of my breath in the darkest of nights was my greatest treasure and deepest communion. To embrace another in their humanity, embarrassing and catalyzing in all its forms, is my deepest devotion and offering.
The mountain didn’t become the altar nor the river the hymn. No, not exactly. The undeserved grace and choice of my soul becoming flesh became the entire temple. Ancient and crumbling, infused with woody incense, held together with blood and bone, my body became a sanctuary for the indwelling of my deepest heart perceptions of Love.
A couple of years ago during a church service of no particular distinction, I carefully watched a little boy sitting on his grandmother’s lap in the row in front of me. I noticed how she bounced and held him, looking at him affectionately in the eyes while smiling and making soft, but silly sounds that only he could hear. As communion was being passed to the congregation, I noticed that she took her piece of cracker-bread, broke it, and gave it to her grandson to eat while simply smiling into his eyes.
I remembered being aghast at the sacrilege. How could she offer this sacred rite to a toddler? Sitting on his grandmother’s lap, what could he know? He had not been tested and proven acceptable? He had not memorized timelines or could recall key scripture on demand. What could he know, really, about anything? He only knew how to say a handful of words! Back then, I passed it off and thought surely she’s just doing it to keep him quite. When the grape juice was distributed to the congregation in the customary small plastic cups, the grandmother brought it slowly, intentionally to her grandson’s lips and tipped a bit into his mouth. Each smiling to one another after the small cup was emptied.
I thought back to this moment of the grandmother with her grandson on her lap recently while on a walk around my neighborhood. The memory broke free and I saw the truth of her giving and his receiving that far surpasses any kind of deserving or attaining. To my chagrin, my Soul leaned in and said “It is always just like that”. “But seriously” I barked back, “I don’t need to put my offering in a plate or serve on a committee or memorize one damn thing….what could this mean? “
It means Love loves.
And our pleasure in the world is how we return Love’s first kiss.