body and blood and tears in church
When I stopped attending the LDS church last year I started visiting other local worship services and I found myself in the embarrassing situation of weeping in public. (Two Sundays in a row!) It started at the Episcopalian church. The building was extraordinary, a mini cathedral (to my eyes at least.) The sermon was inspiring, a delightful interpretation of the scriptures and I felt that clear burning sensation that I associate with feeling the spirit. Then it came time for partaking of the Eucharist. Now I had been looking forward to this part (especially since reading Take This Bread), curious and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate (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 as I stood to walk to the front (I was just one in a crowd of people moving up to the alter.) I was doing my best to be discreet, but still. 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 really 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!!!” What was that?
Then the next week 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 special padded benches 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 looked in my eyes and said “even for you”. And I sort of crumpled, and tears started pouring out. What was that?
I have revisited these churches (and others) several times and no longer weep when it comes time for the sacrament ritual. But I have wondered what was it that affected me like that initially. Maybe it was the active participation required; the need to stand up and go get it which heightens the emotional vulnerability for a newcomer. But in addition, I think it also has a lot to do with my craving for sacred ceremony and 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?
This craving I felt for a sacred ceremony closely aligns with what I sought in the temple. In fact, the last time I remember weeping in church like this was when 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 cry hard and beat a hasty exist from the class. Yet, at that point attending the temple had been mentally arduous and painful for quite some time, not a place of solace or spirituality for me at all. However, it was my only available outlet for a spiritual ritual. For a sacred ceremony. It hurt to lose that, or at least to lose the idea of what I wanted it to be.
I’m still not sure all the reasons my emotions reacted the way they did: Perhaps a bit of pain from the sense of losing my community? A twinge of guilt for betraying my community? Maybe a sense of relief at finding alternate venues for meaningful ritual? I’m not sure. It’s complicated.
Meanwhile, I have begun attending the lds church again but refrain from partaking of the sacrament. Also I plan is to continue visiting other churches (and partaking of whatever communions they offer). And in general, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other as I figure this out and find the things that work for me and my little family.
I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea.
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch —
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.