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Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion


tinythinker
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I have not read this book yet. But a blogger I really respect reviewed it last year, and I followed up by trying to find an excerpt from a particularly vital section. I found what appears to be an excerpt from the book itself as well as an adapted version posted an an essay on Beliefnet. So even though there are many books I might choose to discuss (for examples see my intro post), ironically, I am asking about a book I've only seen a glimpse of. I was wondering how others here react to the author's description of her initial experience of the Eucharist and whether they have had a similar experience. As an atheist who dropped into an Episcopal service on a whim, she was shocked and shaken by what happened next. Here are some exerpts from these two accounts...

 

 

 

And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying, "the body of Christ," and handing me the goblet of sweet wine saying "the blood of Christ," and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.

 

I still can't explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb, or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening –– I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening -- the piece of bread was the "body" of "Christ," a patently untrue, or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening -- God, named "Christ" or "Jesus," was real, and in my mouth –– utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.

 

The bread, I learned over following Sundays, was baked by the people I took communion with. Caroline made the crumbly, slightly sour loaf I'd tasted first; someone called Tom made a dense whole-wheat bread; Jake baked a sublime brioche. Each of the loaves was slashed with a cross, and when the people at the table broke the bread, if I was standing close enough I could smell the yeast. The wine was sticky and sweet: pale gold, not at all red, but it warmed my throat as I swallowed and then passed the cup to the person next to me. "The blood of Christ," I'd repeat, in turn.

 

Yet obviously it wasn't blood: it was Angelica fortified wine, alcohol 18%, from a green screwtop bottle, as I saw once when I peeked in the church kitchen. It was no different in its basic chemical makeup from the Zinfandel I'd drink with my brother in between bites of a nice hangar steak. So then was it a symbol? Did the actual wine symbolically represent the imagined blood? No, because when I opened my mouth and swallowed everything changed. It was real.

 

I went around and around like this, humiliated by my inability to articulate, even to myself, the nature of what was happening. It seemed as crazy as saying I had eaten a magic potion that could make me fly. Much later, a friend would tell me that I'd looked like a deer in the headlights during that time. "You didn't know what direction to go in, you simply stopped. You were mystified, confused... what you were experiencing in your body didn't jive with what you knew in your head." He laughed gently. "You thought you had lost your mind."

 

I thought I probably had. I went through my days excited beyond words, frequently on the verge of tears, then confused and scared. My throat was tight as if facing danger or intense sexual excitement; I'd be ravenously hungry then unable to eat, as you are when you're heartbroken, or newly in love.

 

 

What happened a few minutes later is a mystery. I still can't explain my first Communion; it made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb, or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ,” a patently untrue, or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named “Christ” or “Jesus,” was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.

 

All the way home, shocked, I scrambled for explanations. Maybe I was hyper-suggestible, and being surrounded by believers had been enough to push me, momentarily, into accepting their superstitions: what I’d felt was a sort of contact high. My tears were probably just pent-up sadness, accumulated over a long hard decade, and spilling out, unsurprisingly, because I was in a place where I could cry anonymously. In fact, the whole thing must have been about emotion: the music, the movement and the light in the room had evoked feelings, much as if I’d been uplifted by a particularly glorious concert or seen a natural wonder.

 

...Raised in a secular family, ignorant of the whole historical sweep of Christianity, I held no particular affection for this figure named "Jesus," no echo of childhood friendly feelings for the guy with the beard and the robes. If I had ever suspected that there was such a force as "God"—mysterious, invisible, "silent as light," in the words of an old hymn—I hadn’t bothered to name it, much less eat it, for crying out loud. I certainly had never considered that this force could be identical with a particular Palestinian Jew from Nazareth. So why did Communion move me? Why did I feel as if I were being entered and taken over, completely stirred up by someone whose name I’d only spoken before as a casual expletive? I couldn’t reconcile the experience with anything I knew or had been told.

 

...As I struggled with bread and wine and belief over the following year, it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, for once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula ––“accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” for example––that became itself a form of idolatry, and that actually kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself an official Christian and go back to sleep.

 

The faith I was finding was jagged and more difficult. It wasn’t about abstract theological debates: does God exist? Are sin and salvation predestined? Or even about political/ideological ones: Is capital punishment a sin? Is there a Scriptural foundation for accepting homosexuality?

 

It was about action. Taste and see, the Bible said, and I did. I was tasting a connection between Communion and food—between my burgeoning religion and my real life. My first year at church ended with a question whose urgency would propel me into work I’d never imagined: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?

 

What do you think?

Edited by tinythinker
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I have not read this book yet. But a blogger I really respect reviewed it last year, and I followed up by trying to find an excerpt from a particularly vital section. I found what appears to be an excerpt from the book itself as well as an adapted version posted an an essay on Beliefnet. So even though there are many books I might choose to discuss (for examples see my intro post), ironically, I am asking about a book I've only seen a glimpse of. I was wondering how others here react to the author's description of her initial experience of the Eucharist and whether they have had a similar experience. As an atheist who dropped into an Episcopal service on a whim, she was shocked and shaken by what happened next. Here are some exerpts from these two accounts...

What do you think?

 

I'm intrigued by the story. :)

 

I guess that was my reaction, haha :) Now I want to read the book!

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