If any good thing shall go forward, something must be adventured— Sir Thomas More, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529)
I believe that Christ is eaten with the heart. The eating with our mouth cannot give life, for then should a sinner have life— in Pollard’s Thomas Cranmer
Reflections by Elise Erikson Barrett, author and singer/songwriter.
I am a former ordained United Methodist pastor, in full communion with the Roman Catholic church, found sitting with my children in an ELCA Lutheran sanctuary nearly every Sunday.
I have to admit that as a Wesleyan, I never thought much about the Reformation, except as I suspect many Protestant Christians do: hey, remember that one time we fixed the church? Wesleyans are big fixers, as it happens. John Wesley’s accidental denomination was born out of his desire to fix the Church of England. My church used to visit amazing archives with our confirmands up at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina, where drawer after drawer of Wesley’s journals bear testimony to his ardent and unflagging determination to fix his own soul.
We would have talked about it as cooperation with the Holy Spirit. We needed grace; of course we did. We admitted that we were certainly sinners. But we knelt and vowed at our ordinations that we believed we were in the process of being perfected in love. Perfection in love: it’s possible. Even commanded, by Jesus himself.
My entrance into the Catholic church was inaugurated with angelic visitations, mystical visions. Skin-popping golden-blinding breaking-through of a wilder reality into my downtown office. Hungry to be in the room with the Eucharist, the next day I tentatively slipped into a back pew in the closest Catholic parish, and heard, “Trust yourself to the apostles,” as the scriptures were read. It was one of many moments that I experienced as confirmations. And the miracle of it, if it were true, if one could trust that God had established a covenant home for revelation and holy Presence -- ! Through the magisterium, peace could be accessed, I thought. Confidence. Freedom.
I entered joyfully into full communion with the Catholic church in February of 2016. I still hunger for Eucharist. I sit in front of a wafer, sometimes disbelieving, sometimes in disbelief that our Christ would want to sit with us, quiet, gaze upon gaze.
I have found gifts here, gifts that I believe God wanted to give me. The gift of a reconciliation that I can’t argue with (my conscience is too sharp and proud to be satisfied by mere forgiveness). The gift of a real Presence beyond my feeling or not-feeling.
But I have found that the same tendencies to control, to reduce God’s inexplicable holiness to a holy calculus of tokens, to fix ourselves beyond all falling, are present here as well. Recipes to ensure smooth passage to heaven. Ways and means of fixing our sin. Not too surprising. Fear always searches for a a path it can pave, make safe. Fear thirsts for the fix.
I hear you, Cranmer; I, too, would love to think that my heart is a purer receptacle than my stomach, that what happens when I encounter our Spirit-God in prayer is superior to the earthy animal act of chewing, swallowing mere symbols that dwell alongside the richer spiritual realities. But oh, my heart - as I open it farther I know the wideness of its darkness, the unexplored forests and fjords and fearsome gulleys that drown my intentions silently from below. All the therapy and spiritual direction and worship and prayer and service and suffering of my life has not yet taught me to tell myself the truth about what is hidden in my heart. The path to my stomach is a much shorter road for the Christ to travel, molecule for molecule.
And if Christ’s life is not for sinners, it is for none of us, and our darkness is absolute.
So I linger in the places God has promised to be, sometimes fight against circumstances and my own disillusions in order to place my body in these spaces: my mouth open for a wafer and warm wine; my arms straining to calm three children in a room where two or three are gathered; my rosary and Bible together there under my fingers as the tabernacle is opened and the monstrance sits placid, golden rays confidently illuminating the flat white round at their center.
Not mine to control. Not mine to understand. Not mine to delineate, sharp and stable, comfort full and frantic and false as a shelf full of parenting books in the room where the child shrieks with colic.
Mine, rather, to be known. Mine to trust. Mine to receive the gifts of both sacrament and sacred words, offering a life both earthy and holy to the hands of the God whose ways will never be our ways, but who tabernacles among us because of the promises that will not be broken. Unfixed. Unfixed. But somehow loved.
Reflections by Elise Erikson Barrett. Elise serves as the manager of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s national initiative to address economic challenges facing pastoral leaders. She is the author of What Was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage, which received Christianity Today magazine’s “Best Book” award in the Christian Living category, and she is a singer/songwriter currently participating in the Sister|Sinjin musical project. She warmly invites you to connect with her at www.elisebarrett.com or www.sistersinjin.com.
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