*Brian Wilcox. 'Intimations of Another World'. Flickr
Written on the eighth day of silent retreat at Raven's Rest hermitage, in the Great Smoky Mountains, outside Hot Springs, North Carolina.
A continuance of dialogues with a sage who did not see himself as a sage, but others did; from Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
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Jessica, the Christian young adult who had attended the previous discussion gathering between the sage and his followers, met with the sage in a private meeting. She told him she was touched deeply, in a way she could not explain, by his words and presence, during the meeting, and would like to have these times of one-with-one together on a regular basis. She said she would appreciate the guidance. He was glad to be available to meet this time, and afterward on a set schedule.
"I would like," said Jessica, "to talk about our relationship, I mean what role we have, how this works. But, today, I have another concern I would like to share with you, and hope you can provide some guidance." The sage agreed, for he preferred letting things flow, rather than deciding an agenda in advance for such guidance meetings.
"Well, you know I have been a Christian all my life. I was baptized into the church. It's like I never even had a choice, just, 'You're a Christian.' And the church I have attended is one of those more ritual churches, we observe things like the Holy Communion and Eucharist weekly. So, I've been attending a class on Christian doctrine in my college program. And I learned, for no one had ever told me, the churches around the world and over history have never agreed on what the Eucharist really is."
"And what are these different opinions?"
"That sounds like a good choice of word, right now, to me, 'opinions'. But I'm confused. Some say one is literally eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Some say Christ becomes present to us in the wine and bread, but it's only a spiritual, not material, presence. That's what my church taught me, and I thought. Then, some say the Eucharist, which they call usually the Lord's Supper, is only a memorial meal, they are taking the meal in memory of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the world. I was shocked to discover some Christians have taught not to participate in the Eucharist or any ritual like that, for they say it's a distraction from the presence of Christ within."
"Interesting," replied the sage, with a somewhat serious look, as though he were musing on what Jessica had shared, or thinking on how to respond. When the sage remained silent, Jessica continued, partly for being a little uncomfortable with the silence, which she wasn't much used to.
"Yes, 'interesting'. Another good word for this, like 'opinions' and like 'confusing.' Do you have any advice?"
"First, let me share from my experience. You might not know, I used to share in Eucharist weekly; and, when a pastor, I offered the Eucharistic meal weekly, even though the sect I served in didn't mandate that and most offered it only once monthly. At one church I offered it twice weekly, for we had a midweek contemplative prayer gathering. We shared in it there, also, as on Sunday mornings. To me, the meal was that important. I had, like you, studied the theories. And a time came, when after leaving the pastoral ministry, I realized the doctrines were theories, and mostly man-made, if not completely, meaning literally male-made."
"Does that mean they're all wrong? I mean the doctrines wrong."
"I prefer not to talk about them being right or wrong. In some sense, they may each be wrong and right, or neither, as ideas are, for ideas ~ all ideas ~ are relative. The best they can do is seduce us, so to speak, to the truth, hint at the truth. Yet, to continue my experience... I started attending, after being out of church worship some years, a congregation and began enjoying receiving the Eucharist, it was more meaningful and enjoyable to me than before."
"But you said you came not to have an idea of what it means?"
"True, and that's why I enjoyed it so much."
"How can that be?"
"For me, Jessica, it was about letting go of needing to know. That was an act of integrity, of trust. I could no longer try to believe in ideas about something that, to me, simply cannot fit inside any ideas, any doctrine, any teaching. I related to the Eucharist as a total mystery. In some odd way, I felt it to be more playful, less serious than before. I simply, kind of in what some might call a Zen way, but is equally a Jesus way, relaxed into having no idea what it all meant. I received the meal with reverence, being totally present to the whole process, and the physicality of it, without trying to spiritualize it with some theory. I assumed we weren't told what it means, for it was intended to remain a mystery to us. Why would we want to worship in any other way?"
"Could you explain a little?"
"Well, for instance, I found simply opening my hands to receive the bread, or host, was a profound act of surrender, of being willing to receive, and it was all physical, the open hands, the host, the priest placing the host in the cup of the hands, his blessing me with words, human words, my placing it in my mouth, the slow, mindful chewing of it, the ingesting of it, and, yes, the mystery of it. Kind of like a coming together of the unseen and seen, one could say, or time and eternity, but remaining grounded right there and then. Presently, I don't partake in it, but one day I might again. Possibly. And I would feel no need to understand it, at all."
"So, really, no one knows?"
"You got it! ~ 'really'. But it's okay that they think they know? And it's okay I know I don't know and still receive it?"
"Why not, Jessica?" ... "You know, you have answers before I give a reply. You know more than you know you know." They both laughed at that. Jessica felt a more light atmosphere with the laughing being introduced into what had felt a very serious discussion to her.
"Wow! I was really struggling with this, and actually starting weekly to dread going to receive the meal. I was all in my head about it, not in the heart. Now, I feel I can relax with the process and simply, like you say, be present to it all."
"Yes, and, at the same time, with the aspiration for Grace to work within you and everyone who participates in it with you, in ways no one there can be aware of. Grace works mostly like that, in secrecy."
"So, then, what's most important is simply to receive with the intent of love to Christ and those who come to the altar with me?"
"True, but love for yourself is just as important, for you're one with them. As your Scriptures say, you together are the Body of Christ. And, remember nothing sacred is ever really about what we think about it. When all is said, what remains is love, and that is so much more important than our ideas about religion or ritual, or even ideas against religion or ritual."
"Then, I have one more question. It's okay, then, if I don't agree with what my church teaches about the meal and continue to receive it with them?"
"I would say so. But go not thinking about how you disagree, put all ideas of agreement or disagreement out of mind, that's between you and your God. And, one last word, usually it's best not to talk about these things with others. Usually, that helps no one, the other are you. If you share such, pray first and seek peace to share, and share only with a sense that you can do so out of goodwill to edify the other, not simply a wish to share. Those who live close to the heart of your Christ, they are wisely private about their thoughts, unless they are given an inner calling to share with others. Anyway, silence is eloquent, more eloquent than words."
"I've never heard that about silence, that sounds like a good discussion for another sharing time."
The sage bowed with hands folded. He could tell that confused Jessica, she was not used to being bowed to. He said, "We can talk about that bow later, too." With this, the two planned a time for the next sharing, and they said their goodbyes and parted ways, for a time.
*Brian Wilcox. 'where Past & Present meet'. Flickr
*(C)Brian K. Wilcox, 2019
Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered from major booksellers online, including the publisher 1stBooks.