Senses and Sacraments

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Rebecca Barnes

In my home church, at least once a month we take communion. On those Sundays, we take a few moments as a community, to remember our connection to God’s grace, to Christ’s love, and to the Spirit’s drawing us back together as a people. It is a powerful, beautiful, evocative, simple ritual and it is crucial to our identity as a Christian family. It is a Sacrament, a sign and seal of God’s presence and grace, and a mark of who we are called to be.

The thing is, though, that I don’t always experience it as true communion, and all the implications therein. And, for me, it isn’t always the hoped-for experience of eucharist (“thanks-giving,” in Greek). I wonder why it so easily happens that I can fail to notice, to connect, to commune.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to talk about, think about, and write about how amazing and intricate the Sacraments are, a straight-up invitation to be reconciled to all God’s creation. It’s truly awesome! Think about the implications: for us to have Eucharist and Baptism, we must have a healed earth and be a reconciled people. Fair labor, healthy environments, better relationships. How can we have communion without healthy land to produce wheat or grapes or without people paid justly to transform those fruits into added-value products of bread and juice? How can we have baptism without clean, accessible water for all? The Sacraments are such a clear instruction to care for the earth—if we fail to care for God’s good earth then we risk not having access to this profound piece of Christian life.

And yet, sometimes, distracted by my young teens or thinking about things to do after church, I forget the mystery, history, and sacramentality of the ritual. I smile lethargically when the almost too-easily anticipated groan escapes my kids’ lips, because communion makes church last longer. I half-heartedly shepherd myself and my family through this thing we do, eyebrows raised if reminders are needed that the little cups are not to place fully inside one’s mouth and chewed gum isn’t to spit into our palm right in front of the server, before dipping the bread in the juice. Sometimes I ingest the elements without really letting them affect me, my brain spinning on parenting, post-church, or even the sermon my mind still is processing. I am in my head and not, it turns out, paying attention to my senses. Maybe that’s where I fail to connect.

Yet in communion (and in baptism, as well), we have the opportunity to use our senses, and it is actually part of the sacramental experience. I suspect for me the disconnect between me and the sacrament mostly comes if I’m too much in my brain and I devalue the work my senses are able to do for me: connecting me to other creatures, creation, and Creator. My intellect and emotions may still be processing the sermon, but my senses are ready for their part of worship—to help me be the full creature, adam from adamah, that God made me to be. If I am using my mind but forget to be in my body, I don’t really let my senses do the work God invites them to do—to be the physical gifts of matter (eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue) that help me connect and bridge to God’s wider creation, to the elements in front of me, and to the grace-filled promise of God’s incarnate love in Jesus Christ. Whether I’m walking or sitting to take communion, touch is engaged. Whether eyes are open to take it all in or closed to focus, sight is engaged. Taste buds and sense of smell are stimulated. Ears hear the words “this is God’s body, for you.”

Like the Sacraments, senses help keep us ground-ed, reminding us that we too are from the ground, and that we are God’s. If we pay attention to our bodies, to our senses, then perhaps we pay attention to the earth as God’s body, to the bread and juice being reminders of Christ’s body, and to the ways our bodies touch other bodies (human and non) for the healing of God’s world.


Rebecca BarnesRebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Find her via emailFacebook, or her blog Eco-Justice Journey.

 

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