speak again

Lear:  … Now, our joy,
although the last, not least…
what can you say to draw a third
more opulent than your sisters.

Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
Lear: Nothing!
Cordelia: Nothing.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.

Today I shall read Lear. And walk by the river, and search for kingfishers.

My mind is scattering fragments: Lear is rubbing uneasily with Genesis 1.  The tension between Cordelia — who lives closest to truth in her silence — and the idea that the word (Word) is creative; that we are called to share in that creation.

I know that the answer (for lack of a better word) comes in the fact that Lear only perceives the truth when he is stripped of everything and enters the nothingness, only to find there the truth of love.

I know that the answer (for lack of a better word) is that silence and speech are both creative if they hold their root in God’s love.

But the thought is like mercury today.  It is so obvious and familiar that I walk it like bedrock and stomp in frustration at its unyielding. And yet is is so elusive that all I know gets lost there as I try to take up a share in creation.

Lear and Kingfishers.   Till silence yields.

take, eat

Kelvin has been throwing cats among pigeons again, asking us to think about the nature of consecration and possibility of virtual communion.   The question begins with an example of bread being consecrated while held in the hands of eucharistic ministers, and ends with the tease of asking us to think about how great the distance might be for this to still be valid (across islands and ferries, for example).  I imagine you’ve all read his post, but do go there first if you haven’t.

My initial reaction was to shudder in horror.  I haven’t got much beyond that in a day.  But this is where I am so far…

Let’s start with degrees of separation.

I don’t like the model of celebrating in which bread or wine is being held by people around the altar rather than resting on the altar and taken up by the priest during the eucharistic prayer.  I don’t like it, and I wouldn’t want to do it, and I would discourage others from doing it, but I would take the bread to be duly consecrated, all else being equal.  I suspect I might feel about it the way I feel in a presbyterian communion service where there are shot glasses and little squares of bread.  I grant intellectual consent to the validity of what is happening and trust God to be present, even though really I don’t like it.

But I can’t get there with the idea of virtual communion, consecration by video link, or other imagined forms of ‘do it yourself’ communion.

The next bit I can’t state very clearly, but it has something to do with the point of disintegration.  Lets try with an analogy.  For written words to have meaning, there are certain limits on the variety of expression that each word can bear.  So, if I’d written ‘bare’ just then, you’d have laughed or groaned or not even noticed, but given the context, meaning would have carried on just fine.  We can cope with variations in spelling, mistakes, and the vowelless shortening of text messages — up to a point.  But there does come a moment when what you have is no longer a word, no longer a carrier of meaning, but just a jumbled mess — no matter how sincere the initiator of the message may have been.

I suppose it’s a slippery slope argument, but not quite — slippery slope assumes things will just get worse and worse, and while I might well argue that virtual communion would too greatly erode our understanding of the eucharist, what I’m saying here is slightly different.  At some point meaning breaks.

(deep breath, and jump…)

Incarnation is embodiment in space and time.  We may well say that Jesus has two natures, but in his human nature, he was located.  In the eucharist, we play games with that.  God who is here, there, and everywhere, is ‘with us now’ in a particular time and place.  Christ, incarnate by nature, but no longer bound by a particular time or space, nonetheless comes to us in fleshy (bready, grapey) form.  And though God is always with us, and Christ can come any time and any way Christ chooses, still we say that in communion there is a real change in the locus of Christ’s presence.  What begins as bread and wine becomes the body and blood of christ.  What begins as ‘ordinary food’ becomes ‘sacramental presence’.  What begins as Christ’s universal presence becomes a specific type of presence in the sacrament. Something happens.  Something changes.  We are changed.

And the physicality of that is important.  There is an intimacy in communion that is lost when the person who is holding and focusing the community’s prayers doesn’t take the bread and wine in their hands.  I can cope better with a silent eucharist (assuming all who are gathered know the story and are praying it) than I can with words-no-actions.  So maybe that is why I can’t see anything desirable or right in different people taking up bread and wine in different places while a priest transmits the eucharistic prayer through cyber-space.

As a celebrant, I find I can’t get started till everyone is there.  I will wait and wait and wait for the children if Young Church has been delayed, rather than knowingly start with part of the community absent.  What I am doing changes — in ways that I can neither articulate or defend– depending on what is going on in the gathering:  mood, feelings, hunch… Different bits of the prayer live differently each week, and while it is all the same eucharist, the same presence, the same Christ, each celebration is different.

And I don’t think you can celebrate in two places at once.  I don’t think you can celebrate with people whom you have not seen, and engaged with, and shared space with during the eucharist.

So, that’s as far as I am with this.  Not very coherent.

On the white elephant: I don’t think that communion from the Reserved Sacrament is in any way adequate as a main service of worship.  I think that that does indeed erode our sense of what we are doing when we celebrate, and that we should be developing better patterns of non-eucharistic worship for small isolated congregations that do not gather with a priest each week.  Perhaps we need to take advantage of the small scale, too, to encourage regular table fellowship: real meals together that emerge out of worship, and provide a context for the sacramental meal which happens more rarely.

And I know, that’s easy for me to say:  I don’t have to live with it.  But there have been times in my life where I have had to make difficult choices about worship.  I chose to drive 75 miles to church fortnightly to share in the eucharist.  I thought about where I would live, and thus where I would apply for jobs, in relation to where I could worship.  And there will come a time in my life when I do that again.  We choose.   And if daily or weekly communion is essential for us, then that may limit certain other choices we can make.

Well, Kelvin, see what you’ve started?  (but I suppose that was the point)


And then there are those conversations that a priest lives for: God-talk, prayer, worship, relationships, reflection, cultural norms, laughter, books, work, old memories, new possibilities, growth, choosing…

I’m sure that conversation flows richer and freer when God doesn’t have to hide in the shadows lest he shatter a teacup by the unexpected weight of his presence.