Torture

It has been nearly a decade since I read Bill Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist, but it is very much on my mind this morning. I am especially thinking about his words about how pain turns the mind inward, drawing one so into one’s own body as to make community with God or others seem unreal – a fading dream or terrible illusion. For those who are tortured, removed from anything to think about but their present, past, or anticipated pain, removed from any persons but those who would cause them pain, torture becomes an anti-Eucharist, a ritual of stripping an individual from communion with anyone. The suffering of the individual makes them more individual than ever before, and even when released, their isolation can be impenetrable.

Last week I broke my tail bone. It is the fourth time in ten months that I have been sufficiently injured to be confined to the sofa for the better part of the day. I am beginning to have my own scale for injuries – this one the least bad of the four because driving, while quite painful, is in fact possible. Once I get going on the subject of it, it can seem that there is nothing much going on in my life but my ailments. I am concerned lest I become a caricature of an invalid – driving away what community I have by an insistence on cataloging my woes, my inconveniences, my various doctor’s appointments, until a sympathetic noise made at a nonsensical point in the conversation betrays that my audience is in fact bored beyond endurance, and has long since stopped listening. Pain can be isolating in more than one way.

It is painful to sit up and write, painful to bend over to tidy up or load the bottom rack of the dishwasher or put food in fridge or the oven. The most comfortable place for me is the sofa, on my side, with an ice pack wedged between my rear end and the sofa. Which is where I can be found in my alone time, mostly reading novels. In the past two days I have finished Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Jonathan Franzen’s Strong Motion. I am hoping to pick up Russell Banks’ Continental Drift again and finish that in the next day or two. And so, in addition to the assurance that my torment is localized, and will come gradually to an end, I have many opportunities for community: with authors and with their characters, with my daughter and my husband, with our neighbors and other friends. Through my memory, I have community with friends past and present, as my eyes light on books and other objects around the house that serve as reminders. And so it is that I have the assurance of God’s presence, too.

For Christians, Trinity means that Godself is communion, and Church means that God is made known to us through communion with one another. My pain does not make me wise or focus my mind. I am distracted and impatient and tired – and not able to think as clearly as I would like. But I am grateful that my pain is materially different from torture in almost every respect – and while not Eucharistic, is neither anti-Eucharistic.

Or better yet, I will endeavor that my pain might become Eucharistic, insofar as it might remind me to pray for those who have been intentionally separated from any but those who wish to increase their pain. Love is stronger than death, the scriptures tell us. For those who endure torture and who have lost all hope for release, may the subverting love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be for them stronger than their pain.
And may the Church find courage to embody this subversive love in defiance of those who would isolate any from that love which, in Christ’s own body (a body which was brought to death through torture,) was offered for them too. If we are to claim Christ as our Lord, then we may condone torture for none – for torture isolates the individual being tortured until the very notions of love and community seem impossible, in such a way as may never be undone. And that is the very opposite of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

This mandate – that we teach others of the love of God for them – for every one of them – if God is real, then there is no more expedient, no more practical work than reaching all with this news. But perhaps, for those who condone torture, Love is a weak thing, neither stronger than death, nor pain, nor fear. Perhaps for them, God is not love, and Christ did not die for all, and security means that we can keep ourselves safe through the biggest guns, the most money, the latest and best information – or, should “the worst” happen, with gas masks, off shore banking, and evacuation plans. Just admit it, please. So that it may be clear that you, my dear trembling sisters and brothers who place your trust in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” so that it might be clear that you, too, might rightfully be considered those who have still not truly heard the Good News:
“Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people…”

Bread of Heaven

For at least four reasons that I can think of off of the top of my head, using bready bread – leavened bread – yeast bread – for eucharist is a matter of some importance for me.  I don’t have time to get into that today, but hopefully in a later post.  The point is, I have been generally opposed to wafers as the “bread” element for a long time now.

After some unreasonable hoping that the Episcopal church I was visiting this morning would run contrary to type, and that the rector would somehow produce a full loaf of challah from the sleeve of her robe, I found myself watching her lift up the large round wafer and thinking to myself, “this could be a deal-breaker.”

I have spent some time now not particularly expecting God to show up in worship, so that might be what opened me to be so thoughtlessly cheeky about the sacrament.  Or perhaps God has just become that small to me that I thought I could predict or even dictate when and where I might feel God’s presence.  Or maybe I am just an ordinary broken human being who, like anyone else, is riddled with hubris.

At the rail, I could not wait to get the wafer into my mouth, to let it melt there and to think about Christ and the medieval desire to honor him by making sure that not a crumb of his body might be lost between the floorboards.  When a priest came around with the cup and saw that my upturned hands were empty, he began to tip the cup towards me, and I drank – perhaps for only the second or third time.  “The cup which we share…” The wine, so unfamiliar at the feast to this Methodist, burst on my palate as if welcoming me home to a place I had never seen – a foretaste of the kingdom, a reminder of the already and the not yet that is this time between the times.  I leapt back from the rail and managed to make my unsteady way back to my seat; thought of pulling out a kneeler, but didn’t know whether it was allowed at this point in the service.  And then I burst into tears as I felt God clearly articulate to me, “Did you think that I could not show up for you here?”

After a couple of words to the rector, I decanted myself some decaf and made my way to the car where I cried and texted my husband and cried some more.  I felt so unworthy, so impossibly beyond redemption.  And at the same time, so near to God – reminded that my second greatest sin (after the first of thinking I no longer need to be redeemed) is the idea that I cannot be.

Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.

Where I am from

Got the idea for this from Brian Madison, who got it in turn from George Ella Lyon –

Taste and See

I am from popcorn popped in Wesson oil and smothered in salt on a Sunday night,
From Wonderful World of Disney and the Mini Page.

I am from a series of homes not my own with furniture not my own,
Made home only by the people within and the pictures on the wall,
and by just caught fish dredged in cornmeal and deep-fried
on so many summer nights that the kitchen curtains
took on a perpetually greasy smell.

I am from the white clover and the yellow dandelion and the red raspberry:
a thicket full of thorns and flowers and profuse green leaves, with fruit enough
for the rabbits and the birds and three small children to eat their fill of,
and still enough left over to fill jar after jar of seed studded jam.

I’m from the Easter family softball game and a dogged insistence on fair play:
From Winburn and Mason and Charlie and Ed.

I’m from rooting for the underdog
And tense rivalries.

From “Let your little brother win” and
“You could have killed your little sister!”

I’m from the parsonage and the pew and the taste of grape juice
Made holy by my father’s reassurance, “poured out for you and for many…”

I’m from just outside the Beltway and the banks of the James,
From venison and oyster stew, and squash boiled with onions and then mashed;

From the spicy sweet smell of my Father’s head, that lingered on his pillow,
The showtunes Mom sang as she stirred bargain ground beef in Ragu.

From the countless carousels of slides, pulled out and shown
With a hum and a click-clack, but only after wrestling the screen from its mustard-yellow metal tube.

I am from a bottomless cup of coffee at a pharmacy lunchcounter,
I am limeades and calamari and fried chicken livers;
I am the smell of dead pine needles in the hot summer sun,
Sitting on a wood deck by the Rappahanock and cracking crabs.
I am from learning to lose graciously in the pool halls of Austin, Texas,
and from learning that love doesn’t have to destroy me, almost too late.
I am from Brian and Hannah and a baby whose name I do not know yet, but whom I will love just as fiercely.
I am from the halls of Duke Divinity, from the distant sound of hymns being sung and the warmth of a hand in mine as we pray together.  I am from discovering that I am not the firstborn, but that Christ is, and he has forever redefined for me who is my blood-kin.