Sunday, September 28, 2008

body and blood, and weeping in public

(a revised version of this post is now at The Exponent.)
For the second week in a row now I have found myself in the embarrassing position of weeping in public, and I am trying to unravel what is it the root of it. It started last Sunday at the Episcopalian church I visited. The service itself, while heavily Christian, was a liberal interpretation that resonated with me and I felt the spirit during it. Then it came time for partaking of the Eucharist. Now, I had been looking forward to this, was really curious about it and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate, because I wanted to experience it. Sort of like trying some new foreign food.

I was relieved when it was made very clear that this Eucharist was open to anyone who wanted it... and then became completely baffled when I began to weep uncontrollably as I stood to walk to the front (I was just one in a crowd of people moving up to the alter). Perhaps you know the feeling, tears start pouring down your face and your breath becomes erratic and your face muscles start trying to contort and you are doing everything you can to be discrete and keep it hidden from everyone around you. Yeah, that was what happened. And inside I was thinking... "...huh?!?" Up at the front, we knelt on a padded bench and a priest came and put a small thin round wafer in each of our hands and said "body of Christ" (or something like that) and at this point I am trying to hard to keep it under control, but my weeping is obvious to anyone who looks at my face. Then the priest comes around with a cup of wine for us to dip the wafer in. "Blood of Christ". And I ate it and wept. Back at my pew it took me a good while to stem the flood. And the whole time I am thinking "Get a Grip!!!" It wasn't a bad feeling. Actually felt pretty good and clean afterwards. Just embarrassing. And baffling. What was that?

Then yesterday I visited a United Congregational Church. Totally different feel from the Episcopalians, no vaulted ceilings, no crosses, no biblically themed stained-glass, no elegant pews with folding down pads for kneeling. It was rather plain with folding chairs, some stylized "unify-the-world" type paintings and a rock band set up at the front. The service had lots of music, a reading from the Book of Acts and a sermon by the pastor (a friendly funny woman) about leaving the Comfortable in order to follow God. Still Christian themed, but much looser than the Episcopalian sermon. It was all actually very inspiring and I felt the spirit strongly again. At this church a big loaf of crusty french bread was used instead of a wafer, and it was dipped in grape juice instead of wine, and there was none of the pomp and ceremony of the Eucharist ritual. But once again I found myself getting a tiny bit teary-eyed as I waited with the other parishioners for my bit of "Jesus snack". Not much, nothing like last week, just a little wet around the eyes. "Cool" I though, "I got this under control". Until it was my turn and this friendly funny young woman tore off a piece of bread, put it in my hand and said "even for you". And I sort of crumpled, and tears started pouring out.

What is this?

So I have been wondering why this ritual of the bread and wine is doing this to me. It's crossed my mind that a part of it may be the active participation required, the need to stand up and go get it, which, especially as a visitor unfamiliar with the process heightens the emotional vulnerability. (I wonder if I went to a church where it was passed around in a similar fashion to the LDS church, would I still find myself overcome with tears?)

But I think it also has a lot to do with a real craving for sacred ceremony, for spiritual ritual. I was always very aware that the sacrament was supposed to be that, but even when I was trying really hard to focus and ponder the atonement it seemed the bread and water would come and go in a haze of a routine rendered invisible because of it's familiarity. And more recently it had merely become an uncomfortable moment: should I take it? If I do, will the bishop try to intervene? Actually, I think the yearning more closely aligns with what I sought for in the temple. In fact, the last time I remember weeping in church like this was this past November, the 18th to be precise- I was sitting in Sunday School and had the strong impression that I should give up my temple recommend. When I had that thought and knew it was a true one, I began to weep and beat a hasty exist from the class. Those weren't good tears, those ones hurt. Yet, at that point attending the temple had been arduous and painful for quite some time, not a place of solace or spirituality for me at all. But it was my only available outlet for a spiritual ritual. For a sacred ceremony.
It's just an educated guess, but I think perhaps my emotional response to the communion of these faiths is relief at finding an alternate venue for some form of meaningful ordinance.
And I'd like to keep exploring that. But seriously... I hope to be able to keep the emotions under check next time. Please!


Bored in Vernal said...

This is very meaningful to me, and especially after reading _Take This Bread_. I think it is so beautiful that the Sacrament is offered to everyone who desires to remember Christ in this way in the two churches you mentioned.

Please continue to write about your experiences visiting these different congregations. They are lovely.

G said...

thanks, biv, I will :)

yeah, it was Take This Bread that led me to check out the Episcopalians. and I it also made me feel even more sheepish when I reacted in this way... wondering if it was maybe just the power of suggestion- didn't she have a similar response when she first took communion? I was thinking "oh, yeah, SURE... of COURSE I'd cry too!"

Elizabeth-W said...

When I have attended other churches it seems to me the unfamiliar becomes a teaching moment. To hear a doctrine or principle put forth with just a little spin can make all the difference. Sometimes the novel seems more true, but when I really think about the concept, it's just wrapped in a different package.
I told my bishop yesterday I'm ready to start taking temple prep classes. My husband's only question when I asked/told him I wanted to was "why now after all these years?" I think the new, the ritual, is certainly part of that.

G said...

elizabeth-w, congratulations on starting the temple prep!

and yes... I think your right about the newness of this. I am sure that if I continued to participate at one of these churches, eventually going up and getting my piece of bread may lose some if it's... power? that is not the right word, but you get my meaning... perhaps similar to how the sacrament had become just a haze because of how routine it was for me.

one thing that has been particularly strong for me, however, has been the intentional and blatant offering of the communion to EVERYONE. These past few months in my ward, the passing of the sacrament has been an awkward moment for me... still wanting to participate in some meaningful ritual but wondering if the bishop was watching and going to protest. That may sound silly, but I was raised hearing anecdotes about bishops who would leap to stop some unworthy person from taking the sacrament... these stories were always told from the slant of how appropriate and necessary this action was.

Numismatist Facts said...

A powerful post. I admire your honesty and open expressions.

The search for peace can be painful. My search took years and is constantly evolving. Much of my struggles came from figuring out who Christ was and how to use his teachings to be a better person. The sacrament ritual was always a puzzle to me.

Please keep writing and sharing.

Alisa said...

Thank you for sharing this. I think there is something wonderful when other people invite us to participate in their sacred ceremony, to include us.

Lessie said...

Wow, G. I'm glad you're finding some happiness in these different places. I'm not even going to try and guess at what made your reaction so strong, but I think it's wonderful that you're still able to feel such a connection (with what, again, I'm not going to try and posit anything). I hope you find something that works for you.

G said...

thank you Numismatist Facts. I have to say, I am still working out my feelings on christianity myself, I liked the UCC's communion concept that was more removed from it being the body and blood of christ, more just a meal that he shared with his friends to help them through the rough times

thanks alisa. I'm really appreciating that too :)

hey lessie! thanks, I hope I find something that "works" for me to... but for now, I am enjoying just feeling things again and seeing how other people "do it" :)