But we have only begun
to love the earth.
We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
–so much is in bud.
(Denise Levertov, “Beginners”)
This morning I meditated in my doctor’s office, my shoes left under a nearby chair and my socked feet tucked under me as I sat curled on that crinkly doctor’s office paper.
It’s been that kind of week for me so far, beginning with the moment when I rear-ended a confused elderly couple on my way to work Monday morning. It almost seemed like they’d never done this whole thing before.
“You take your car to the shop and then you call me,” I told the husband, pointing to my phone number, which I’d scrawled on a pad of paper I found in my car. The paper was decorated with the word faith in flowy letters across the bottom.
“You call me,” I repeated, and he looked unsure. A new ritual.
I really hate going to the doctor, but I’ve been to this doctor’s office a few times over the last months for routine follow-ups to various issues, so it’s starting to feel almost familiar. Every time I’m there, a different nurse weighs me before I go in.
“I don’t think I’ve changed much,” I say to this morning’s version, and she smiles and tells me to take off my shoes.
So I do, and I’m right: I haven’t changed much.
Then we walk down the hall and go to the room and she asks me the same questions and I give the same answers and when she leaves, I consider reading the only magazine in the room — Michael J. Fox is on the cover promising to tell us all how to live bravely — but I don’t even pick it up. I squeeze the blood pressure bulbs and watch the magical mercury rise and fall, rise and fall, and then I pull my feet up and just sit there.
I just sit there, and live bravely already.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Why do those exam rooms always feel so terrifyingly small and lifeless? It’s the places where we’re most vulnerable that we most need human contact, I suppose.
Before they got back into their car, the wife put her hands together and looked at me. “Do you think it’ll be okay?” she asked. I found the question a little surprising, not in small part because I had tried to take a picture of the damage to their bumper with my phone, but the dent was so slight it wouldn’t even show up in the photo. “Honestly?” I say, “I’m not even going to fix mine.”
But her face doesn’t look like that’s enough, so I tell her: “Yes, I’m sure it’ll be okay.” That Julian of Norwich comes through in a pinch, every time.
It’s normal to drive a little extra cautiously the first few days after a car accident, even a nearly invisible one. When I slowed down on the commute home to let a semi merge into my lane ahead of me, he flashed his tail lights at me in thanks. I felt surprisingly touched by such a gracious gesture.
Human contact, I suppose.
Later that night, I’m leading a worship service, and it’s quiet and dark in the stone chapel. We are almost too many to fit around the Eucharist table, and we have to squeeze close to each other, even standing before and behind each other, like we’re readying for a family portrait, even though we’re really mostly strangers.
It takes a long time to pass the bread and cup to all of us, so we sing while we wait: Use the light you have, and pray for more light.
By the time the sacrament gets all the way around the circle, like a game of telephone, we’ve forgotten which words we’re supposed to be using to serve, and each person is saying something different, like “the bread of heaven” or “the body of Christ,” and we break the pieces small so there will be enough for everyone.
Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo, “to give thanks.” As in, “He gave thanks, broke bread, and gave it to them to eat.” And hidden inside it, the word charis, which means “grace.”
I think of my experience teaching middle schoolers about the meaning of Eucharist. They gave all the predictable lines about how it was gross and weird and cannibalistic. Then I shared with them that I always prefer to receive by common cup, when I’m able, and that one really threw them.
I can understand their feelings — unfamiliar rituals and all. And really, it’s hard to explain what it is that I like about that particular method. Human contact, I suppose.
I drink from the common cup tonight, and hold the chalice just so before passing it to the woman next to me. I’ve never met her before, so I can’t use her name. I just say, “the cup of salvation,” and she drinks, too.
Before we close the service, I get up and walk to the center lectern to read. “We have only begun,” I say — not my words, but also mine.
“We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.”
The words echo like thunder, and I drive home in the dark, somehow changed and not changed.