Wednesday, July 13, 2011


so much of life is about how you tell the story. it was a charcoal gray vw beetle from hawaii that got me thinking about it. but i should probably back up.

at the church we attended when i was a kid, we always sat in the same pew. always next to the same people, always behind the same people, always in front of the same people. every single sunday. always said hello, always shared the handshake of peace, every single sunday. but never once in all the years--my entire childhood, in fact--that we attended that church did i learn any of those people's names.

(i will pause here to allow you to reflect on the strangeness of that fact. my southern friends especially will find this inscrutable. someone told me once that people have two walls around them. for southerners, the first wall is very low, which is to say that it's easy to meet them and get to know them on a superficial level; it's not hard to get over that first wall. but the second wall, the one surrounding the real inner person, is much higher. whereas for northerners, the first wall is the insurmountable one; you just can't get in easily at all. we yankees don't say hi to strangers on the street, don't even know the names of the people we sit next to every single sunday for decades in church. but once you're past the very initial introduction, getting over the second wall, the one where you get to the real person, is much easier. be that as it may or may not, now it's time to get over the strangeness of this piece of my childhood lore because the strangeness of it is not what this post is about.)

this post is about storytelling. because the fact that we didn't know anything about any of the people we worshiped with every single sunday did not at all mean that we weren't curious. so we made up stories instead. we guessed at these people's lives: who they were, how they were related to each other, what they did all of the other 167 hours in their week. and in our conversations about them, since we didn't know their names, we made up names for them, too. the mafia family, the sausage lady, the little people--these were the (mostly unflattering) ways we referred to the people we sat with as we guessed at their stories. how were all those people in the mafia family related to each other, anyhow? why wasn't the husband of the little people couple in church two weeks in a row? was it possible that the sausage lady just didn't own a mirror? (putting these thoughts in writing doesn't make me particularly proud of them, come to think of it.)

the point--other than the fact that i am suddenly wondering what moniker my family and i earned and why and what stories were imagined about us--is that we naturally make up stories to fill in the gaps in our lives. we are, whether we realize it or not, constantly trying to make sense of life and our experiences by filling in details where they're lacking. which is what happened the other day when i found myself following a newish-looking charcoal gray vw beetle with a hawaiian license plate reading "ncduke." hmmm.

i made up some stories, none of which could i quite get to make sense. there are lots of details to fill in in such a circumstance, after all, unusual as it is to see a hawaiian car in north carolina. how did the car get here, anyway? and why? a student might have such a university-centric license plate, sure, but what kind of student is going to bring a car all the way from hawaii? instead, surely it was someone who had just moved here and thus shipped the car all the way. but could s/he have known s/he'd move to north carolina when s/he registered the car in hawaii? is this some far-flung cameron crazy who finally made it to the land of the blue? and the car looked very new, which meant it couldn't have resided in hawaii for long before coming to north carolina...anyhow, i just couldn't make the story make sense.

(another aside: if you'll indulge my curiosity and leave your version of the story in the comments, i'd be greatly obliged. maybe you'll figure it out more easily than i could.)

fast forward to later that night, when i found luke, who i supposed to be getting ready for bed, on the floor in tears. he didn't want at first to talk about what was wrong, but he finally did explain: "i just want to have a normal family." when i asked him why he thought our family wasn't normal, he said, "what kind of normal family has a dead sister?"

in retrospect, i am quite sure the combination of some old family photos he saw upstairs for the first time in a while with the fact that he had earlier in the day been telling a new friend about his sisters is what led him to end up in such a state. he tells his story very matter-of-factly: i used to have a sister named eliza, but she died. now i have another sister named anastasia. no big deal, or so you'd think to hear him tell it.

but that's a crazy story for a seven-year-old to have to tell. how does he fill in the gaps in his so-young, so-brilliant mind? how does he figure out the details that he cannot remember or never understood? and how will he tell the story over the course of his life, in a year or ten years or fifty years? how will he tell the story to anastasia, who will one day see those same family photos and wonder at the sister in the picture that she'll never know?

there are different kinds of stories, after all. and different versions of the same stories. there are stories we love to tell--stories of falling in love, of discovering five dollars in an old coat pocket, of the day we got a new puppy, of an exotic vacation. but there are stories we have to tell, too, even if we don't love to tell them. stories whose details are burned into our minds and whose gaps we can't help but fill...or sometimes can't bear to fill. sometimes, we can't but stick to the facts: that's a newish charcoal gray vw beetle with a hawaiian license plate reading "ncduke" here in the middle of north carolina. and that's all there is to say.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

dipped too deep

(a disclaimer: i didn't write much of this post. in case it isn't familiar to you, all of the italicized text comes from the anglican book of common prayer, eucharist rite II.)

Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

seven-year-old luke returned to his seat with a grimace on his face. “i dipped my bread too deep into the wine and it tasted bad!” he struggled to swallow the wine-soaked morsel.

On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me."

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

does it leave a bad taste in my mouth? it should, i think. do i choke on the bitterness? on the night He was handed over to suffering and death. Christ has died. to suffering and death. the wine is sour before the sweetness.

We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.

All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ: By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. AMEN.

dipped too far into the wine. it tasted bad. is it possible to be dipped too far? sanctify us also. a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

The gifts of God for the people of God: Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

we are bold to say.
i am bold to say, Father, that i want to be dipped deeper in the blood. bitter and sweet, the sour taste of suffering and the bold sweetness of redemption. in the blood. i cannot be dipped too deep.

in some churches, the communion drink is grape juice served in those little plastic cups. while there is nothing wrong with this, it will never be enough for me. i believe i am meant to grimace a little, to choke a little on the bitterness of dipping my bread deep in the wine. we are meant to be shocked by the sourness of it--as He spread out his arms on the cruel wood of the cross, shocking indeed--before the sweetness. our bread, our daily bread, is meant to be tainted by the memory that the very Son of God is broken for us. we take and eat, we feed on Him in our hearts by faith, only because He is the bread of life, broken for us. dipped in blood. broken.

Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

“i dipped my bread too deep into the wine and it tasted bad.” amen, my love. this week, i am grateful for the reminder of the bitter suffering of the cross and the sweetness that only the blood can provide. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). i will drink deeply. “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,’” (how can we but choke?) “’you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’” (John 6:53-54). sweetness.

as we struggle through the bitterness, the sour first taste and the grimace it inspires, may we long ever more for the sweetness to come. Christ our passover, sacrificed for us. we cannot be dipped too deep.