“All Are Welcome” – on Communion, and limits.

I was at a retreat and heard the sound of Mass. The songs were familiar. The words were familiar. I have spent many years as an Episcopalian. The Catholic service is close. It is like the difference between England and America – everything is almost the same. I could have joined in and faked it. I could have taken Communion. It has been four months since I’ve had the sacrament of Communion. I miss it.

I wanted to join in, but knew I shouldn’t. Catholic rules say only Catholics can get Communion. Jesus didn’t make any such rules, but when in Rome…or dealing with Roman Catholicism…it is best to play by their rules, even if I think the rules are wrong. Even if I know the rules are wrong.

I’ve spent the past day at a convent for retired Catholic nuns. There are two chapels – one big and one small. They both have a box called an aumbry or tabernacle for the reserved sacrament. It is where you put consecrated Communion wafers. Before they are consecrated they are just wafers. After a priest has blessed them, they are different. They are so different that they are separated from the others in a special box. The Catholics believe that the wafers become the actual flesh of Jesus when they are blessed by the priest.

Here is a picture of the altar in the little chapel.

box 5

Here’s slightly closer.

box 1

I know that consecrated wafers were in them because the candle beside the altar was lit.

box 2

The candle means Jesus is in.

I can’t even tell you how tempted I was to see if the box was locked. Yes, these boxes have locks on them, but often they are open. If I tried the door and it opened, would I have taken a wafer?

Here’s a picture closer up of the box, showing the lock.

box 4

Taking one out would be stealing. That would have been the same as attending Mass and going up to take Communion, knowing full well that their rules say I can’t. No – actually, it would have been worse. It would have been sneaky and sly. It would have been taking something like a thief.

When I was wandering around the room, I came across a little statue with some candles around it. I saw the key behind the statue.

box 3

I felt like I was part of some adventure game, where you find the key to the locked door with the treasure. Remember those? You’d use simple instructions with a verb and a noun to get across what you wanted to do.

Take Key. Go East. Go to Box. Use Key. Open Box. Take Wafer. Eat Wafer.

And then I’d win a bonus life in the game.

But I didn’t. I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t even touch the key.

The Methodist church that sponsored the retreat has Communion every Sunday. They say on their website that their Communion is open to all. “All are welcome” is their motto. They even go so far as to explain that this means everybody – members of that church, members of other churches, and people who have never been to church. This is a welcome surprise. This means that people who aren’t baptized can take Communion there.

This is a radical departure from the Episcopal Church. This is right up my alley.

I’m all for opening up Communion to everyone. While I was part of a church that allowed people from other denominations to take Communion there, it still didn’t allow unbaptized people to. Sure, there is nobody checking baptismal records at the altar rail, but still, the rule is there, printed in the church bulletin you got when you came in the front door. When you read it, you know you’re out. You know you are breaking a rule if you put out your hands for a wafer.

It isn’t the role of Christians to stand in the way of Christ. Who are we to set rules and parameters as to who is worthy? If someone is called to the table, who are we to stand in their way?

Jesus is all about welcoming and including. Jesus is all about breaking down barriers. Jesus is all about leveling the playing field. Jesus is all about opening doors wide open and inviting everybody in.

Bonus life, indeed. This is a game where all can play. It isn’t a game of musical chairs, where there are limits on who is in. We all win. We all are invited, and blessed, and loved. We all are. No exceptions.

Mary holding Jesus.

We often see Mary holding Jesus. She is either holding him as an infant or holding him as he came off the cross.

It had to be hard to be Mary.

I cannot imagine her anguish holding Jesus after his crucifixion. So much injustice. So unfair. His life did not warrant death. In the image of the Pieta, all looks lost. His ministry seems over. All that work, all those followers, and now nothing. Jesus is dead, his disciples have scattered. Nobody wants to be associated with him because that would mean death for them too.

This is us. This is us, in the middle of the story, in the middle of the night. This is us, not knowing what is going to happen next. When all looks lost, when everything is dark, when nothing makes sense, we aren’t alone.

We know the end of that story. Jesus rise from the dead. Jesus rose and continues to live. He lives on, alive, continuing to heal and teach, through us, his Body, his Church. And because he rose, we know that he will work through this story too.

When we can’t see what is next, call on Jesus. When we don’t know where to go, call on Jesus. When we don’t know what to do, call on Jesus.

Perhaps that time when all seems lost is a time to wait. There were three days in the tomb. There were forty days in the desert. It can’t all be go go go.

Waiting can be holy time.

There is a lot of time between seed and flower. There is a lot of time between grape and wine. Jesus is there in those times too.

(Written 9-14-13, 11:45 a.m, about 16 hours into a 26 hour silent retreat. I’d wandered around before bed the night before and sat for a while before a statue of the Pieta.)

Talking to myself.

Oh my God. I still have another 3 and a half hours until supper. Then two more hours until we leave. So maybe less than 5 hours of having to be by myself.

How will I stand retirement? How will I stand my vacation coming up? At least half of that I will be alone. How will I stand being a widow, if that is to be?

I’m not really by myself, but I am. We can’t talk. There are others here, but the convent is big enough with enough areas that we can wander around and have space to ourselves. There are porches, and swings, and trees, and libraries, and snack areas that we can go to. Or we can stay in our rooms. But we can’t talk. So it feels like I’m alone.

Perhaps I don’t like being alone and silent because I’ve just not done it before. The day here is broken up with meals. We see each other then, but we still don’t talk. I write. Boy, have I written. I’ve wandered around outside. I took some pictures. I read two “elf-help” books. I did scrapbooking for the first time.

And I listened.

And God listened with me.

I’m waking up to the voice. I’m hearing the echo. Rumi says “Who is speaking with my mouth?” and it makes sense.

I’m afraid to say that the voice is me, and I am the voice. It sounds vain, petty, selfish. It sounds crazy. Yet if “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine”, it makes sense.

If we are a way for the universe to know itself, then this praying to God is self-reflective. God is within all of us. God created us, and gave us life. When we slow down the noise of our lives we hear God’s voice. It is inside us, as close as our breath, as essential as our heartbeats.

We aren’t God. But we are part of God. And God dwells within us, every one of us. God is within all things. It all came from God.

There is no division between living and not, animate and not. Everything has value. Everything has a purpose. It does not matter if it benefits humans in general or you in particular. God made it for a reason.

(Written 9-14-13, at 2 pm. Three quarters of the way through a silent retreat.)

Maps and schedules, and getting lost and found.

Sometimes the scariest trip is the trip you make alone. Alone, in a room, no props, no safety net. Stripped of all your toys, your familiar things. Everything taken away, and all that is left is you and God.

That’s all there ever was anyway.

Everything we do, we buy, we read, we are, is an escape from God. We are constantly filling our heads with noise so we can’t hear the still small voice that is God.

I’m doing it now. I’m afraid of the silence. When is the next part of the retreat? Where is it? What if I need something? Where’s my map? Where’s my schedule?

I want to catalogue this experience. I want to lay out words like breadcrumbs so I can find my way back. But what am I finding my way back to? Am I finding my way back to where I was before the retreat? Or am I leaving a trail so I can find my way back to God?

Breadcrumb trails work both ways.

Words are my lifeline. I’m afraid of silence. I’m not talking, and I don’t have anything on – no podcast, no music. I’ve turned off my phone. I just remembered to turn off my wireless signal on my Kindle.

I did notice there is wireless here for the guests. I did try it. I admit it. I don’t have the password. This is a good thing. Temptation, thy name is the internet.

So, silence. Am I obeying the rules? We can have our journals so we can write. I have made a commitment to not send anything out (no posts) and not take anything in (no email, no Facebook). So writing on my Kindle – is that cheating?

Words are Jesus’ way in for me. And beads. And painting. And music, dance, yoga. He isn’t picky. He wants it all. But I like words. I’ve used them for many years. And he is the Word made flesh after all.

I’m afraid. The first retreat I went on in my adult life, I got woken up in the middle of the night to have a chapel call, only I didn’t know that was what it was. It was strange. It was beautiful. It resulted in the diaconal discernment program I was in being put on hold. I came back a little more Pentecostal than the Episcopal priest could handle. I was made to feel that I was being done a favor by the program being put on hold. It could have been stopped forever. Once you get told “no,” there is no going back.

The second retreat after that resulted in me writing a post about how I believe that we as a church are doing everything wrong. Jesus didn’t come to create an organization with denominations and hierarchies and committees. He didn’t want us to have ministers separate from lay. We are all ministers. We are all the body of Christ. That post got me in trouble with the priest and the head of the pastoral care committee. They were angry and hurt. They took it personally. I’ve not been back to church at all since then.

But I’ve not left God.

I’m wandering in the wilderness. I’ve left a ritual heavy church, where moment to moment you know what is going to happen next. There’s a program. There’s a script.

Now I’m adrift, at sea. And Jesus is standing twenty feet away, his feet lapped by the waves, saying “Follow me.”

(Written 9-13-13, 8pm, at the beginning of a 26 hour silent retreat.)

Retreat! A trip of a different sort.

Going on retreat is like going on a trip. In some ways it is like going on a trip like the kind you would need a suitcase for. But this time I mean like one where the only place you go is in your mind.

When I was in college, I went to the mountains with some friends. We rented a cabin and we “tripped”. We took our candles and our snacks and some acid. Nothing was how we expected it to be. But that was the point. We were used to things as they were. We wanted something different. Or really, we wanted to see what was there all along for a change.

I knew a guy who listened to his favorite album when stoned. He heard parts to that album he’d never heard before. He thought it was the pot that brought it out. It wasn’t. He was simply in a state of mind where he was open to new experiences. He was looking for something to happen. Those notes were always there. He was just too distracted to notice. With pot, because he was expecting something different, he noticed what he’d been missing. Pot didn’t do it. His expectation did.

Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda’s books drugged Carlos for the first few years. He wanted him to see what the reality that was beside our reality was. After a while, Carlos got to the point that he could see unusual things all the time, sober. When he asked Don Juan about this, he said that those things were there all the time. Carlos was just too pig headed to see them. Don Juan drugged him up so he would stop paying attention to the expected, and start seeing things for a change.

We are all like this. We practice closure. We see what we expect to see. We look over what doesn’t fit unless it is glaring. We race through our days, unaware, unawake.

Retreats take things away from us, so we have to look. We have to take time off. We have to slow down. We have to be, alone, quiet.

We sit waiting for something to happen. Our senses are wide open. Will Jesus talk to us? Will we see hear smell touch taste differently? How will we be after? What will happen?

We sanctify this time. We set it aside, expectant, hopeful.

What if we did this all the time?

God is constantly present. God is constantly communicating with us. We just have to slow down and listen.

Wait with me. Watch with me.

(Written 9-13-13. 11 pm, on retreat at the Sisters of Mercy Convent.)