The Holiest Communion

 

When that cup passed from one hand to the other the word absolution became solidified like rain that falls at 11:59pm on December 21st. We ushered in a snow capped mountain, a glacier that stayed white and dense all year round, white like the robes John dreamed of. Our body: a bag of old WonderBread ripped with grimy fingers and presented like an engagement ring. We were unified in our embracing of jokes like “The Body of Christ: the best thing since sliced bread.” We didn’t have anything better, holier, purer, than sliced bread. I imagined the plasticky wafers I’d been consuming at communion since childhood and I realized that all those other communions were Wheaties in the face of this one. This one was Captain Crunch, Peanut Butter even. No other sandwich will pass my lips without bringing me back to that place of WonderBread salvation. Those wafers of old were good but bland, or at least as good as a wooden pew and “Peace Be With You” salvation is. Not that that kind of salvation is bad or even below average, I know tons of souls who find Jesus in the two-by-fours of that seating arrangement, but me? I’d rather be wished “Life Be With You” than “Peace Be With You”, I want a life that embodies the full spectrum of chaos to peace. I’ll take Peace any Sunday afternoon, but he better keep his hands off of my Friday mornings. I imagine 12-year-old Jesus had just as many skinned knees as the rest of us and He was still the definition of Holy.

 

Our blood was a company issued bottle full of vitalyte water, because if the Lord’s blood is going to bring you forgiveness, it might as well bring you electrolytes too. “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you and for many in forgiveness of sins”. I thought back to the grape juice I would guzzle back in a church that had walls and all I could think was that Jesus’s blood probably wasn’t that dark. He was probably malnourished, with blood wanting for iron and sugar and anything not the color of the dust he walked. I like to think our barely tinted orange vitalyte water reminded Him more of Himself than that grape juice ever did. It certainly reminded me of Him more. At the end of a long hike or run or climb, when I’m sweaty and tired and scraped up and yearning for rest, vitalyte water will provide me with a layer of restoration far thicker than purple sugar-water ever could. I could tell the hands that gave it to me understood how much more sensible it is to use a plastic water bottle instead of a chalice, they understood how important each ounce of weight is, they understood that Jesus probably walked more than we did and that he understood the importance of weight too. If I am going to carry a salvation with me into the afterlife, I hope it’s a salvation that doesn’t force me to my knees, that’s a stance no one should ever have no choice in. A man I met in the Canyon once told me that the holiest of rivers is the one quenching his thirst. In that same way, I think we found that the holiest of communions wasn’t the wine or grape juice bought by the church’s kitchen committee, it was the sacrifice of vitalyte powder, a potion that has literally saved lives in the Canyon, a potion that allowed us to keep on sweating and breathing and walking.

 

Regardless of the lack of propriety our body and blood may have had, the people that passed that cup around the circle are the kind of people you want holding your hands all the way through this life and then as pallbearers when you enter the next. They were the kind of people who would laugh in your face when you tried to pull the “but look at all of my sins” card, they would laugh in your face and then stick that card right in a shredder and say “this ain’t texas hold ‘em so stop trying to hold onto them and just let go”. I suppose we all did a whole lot of letting go. Or at least started to. Doubt fear loneliness parents broken bodies broken brains resentment shame perception sadness lust loathing mistakes self destruction, you name it, we had it. We entered that circle at the start of the summer carrying a whole lot of shit and, I don’t know about everyone else, but by the time we left I felt a whole lot lighter.

 

I don’t know why that communion was the first communion that actually gave me some sense of relief. In one word it was Holy. And it was equal. There was no man standing in front of me acting as a mediator between my sin and God. There was only us, equals, and that brought God out of his tall, unreachable throne and put Him barefoot, in the dirt with the rest of us.

 

I’ve been reading Mark 7 a lot this week. Verses 14 and 15 say this:

 

“14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

 

We talked a lot this summer about how our church leaders don’t really support us listening to Kendrick Lamar and how us girls were always told to put more clothes on and how we felt heretical when we admitted to liking beer. We found solidarity in our feelings of “bad Christian” because the things we liked didn’t fit with what we are told is good. I wrote all my sermons with a beer sitting on the rim next to me and I know that elixir helped me relax enough to stop thinking that I am only filled with bad things and I should not put my femininity in front of a congregation, and to actually come up with words of Peace and Truth. I am not ashamed to say that I shared some really good messages this summer. That is not the bad kind of pride. Kendrick talks more about racism on one album than entire churches do in a year so I will be proud of my ‘bad’ habit of cracking open a cold one with the boys – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

 

A lot of good things came out of us this summer. I rescued a girl from the woods. We prayed over a suicidal coworker. We sang worship songs at people hiking into The Void. It is my belief that God cares a lot more about what comes out of our lives than what goes into our bodies. It is my belief that Jesus wouldn’t hesitate when it came to using a swear word if it gets his point across. It is my belief that The Church places too much emphasis on what we look like doing something than the thing we are actually doing.

 

I want to do Good things. I want to have people in my life who aren’t afraid to challenge the tradition of man. I want to find absolution in the shape of a Nalgene water bottle and a bag of trail mix. And maybe this is heretical and I am just a wild eyed temptress who will never find salvation because it stays seated on a church pew, but John the Baptist drew closer to God than ever before by wearing camel hair, eating locusts, and running around the desert. Something tells me there weren’t many steeples full of plastic wafers out there.

Ministry Training (ACMNP) and a Return to the Beginning

This weekend I attended the national training conference for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) up in the Rockies of Colorado. I had the utmost pleasure of meeting my ministry team to the Grand Canyon for the first time and I already feel myself falling in love with our dysfunction. During our free time, I set out to hike on my own and was quickly engulfed by four other ministry members who refused to let me find the freedom in solidarity I thought I was chasing. We summited a peak that was supposed to take two hours, so naturally, we did it in one. The second we set out at that boisterous pace, huffing and puffing, I thought about the palaces I had been summiting just months early and realized “this is a piece of cake” even though my sensitive sinus cavity screamed with the change in altitude. Mind over matter is not just a mantra used for the weak who capture our pity. When we reached the top, someone, I don’t remember who, said, “you guys just want to read and chill?” and that’s how I knew I found my people. I threw up a hammock between some rigid pines and fell into a Spanish story of love and mystery and regret while the sky dusted it’s icy blessing onto my head.

We had hiked the first mountain that ever captured my undivided attention some 8 years ago. I remember how that peak flirted with my competitive side and how the bigger, older, stronger boys won me over to loving the dynamic landscape by daring me to sprint down the mountainside with them. They must have seen that subtle flicker in my eyes of someone who is never satisfied and whispered, “let’s go” before going full force with the pull of gravity. And me in all baby-of-the-family mindedness had the nerve to think I could keep up with them. I was right. When we reached the bottom eons before the rest of the group they all turned around to me and laughed, not at me, but in surprise. One of the boys leaned over to me and said “keep flying, kid”. At the time, I might not have known what he meant, but I think my heart kept that promise anyways. I remember how we parted ways from there and never shared a moment of depth again. I remember how one of them died a few years later and how that was my first clue into the fact that death doesn’t see in the spectrum of age but rather in the black and white of “yes or no”. I hope he thought about flying down that hillside when he laid his head back for the very last time.

My ministry team kept things slow on our way down that old familiar peak and even though I was grateful they had chosen me to go along at all, I realized I have a thing or two to teach them this summer about choosing to go fast simply for the sake of going fast. About speed for the sake of speed. About flying for the sake of flying. But, we had just met so I kept my mouth shut like I always do and hoped it would be enough just to write it down later.

My team makes a lot of sense to me and I’m not really sure why. I suppose it’s because their quirkiness seeped through their cracks just enough to not make me feel incessantly uncomfortable in my own skin like I do with most new people. I felt that I didn’t have to keep my mummy wrappings on so tight, that I could loosen them up enough to breathe even though a bit of weird and dark and sarcastic and spacey slipped out. Heaven help them the day I cut the wrappings off in full this summer.

We learned many things about how to do effective ministry in a national park and throughout it all God spoke to me and said, “this is what you’ve been looking for” and I believe Him. I believe Him in that He sent me to the place of my roots in Christianity to tell me that this season of my life isn’t an escape like nearly every other season has been. He sang Job 5:8-11 to me all weekend long saying “little thorn bush of mine, it’s high time you realize you’ve got flowers coming alongside your thorns and they will make each other beautiful. stop acting like you were meant to scare everyone away”. I realized that I am the earth He has been pouring rain on and that this period of sunshine – hot, dusty, desert sunshine – will go hand in hand with that rain and make flowers pop up on my skin previously thought to be barren.

I am still hopelessly afraid of that canyon; I keep having dreams that he reaches up and swallows me whole. I think it stems from the fact that I haven’t been able to place my hands and forehead upon this type of land yet to ask it for forgiveness and permission. I’m worried he will speak to me in a language the mountains never used. I’m worried I’ll like it more. All I know is that I fully plan on standing on that rim with my guitar singing songs yet unwritten into his open palms and hopefully, he will believe that I mean good.

I’m overly excited to get the summer started, to be back with my team, to be back surrounded by Christians who treat the earth as a sacred place and not a servant. I’m ready to be challenged and lonely and swallowed and completely whole in a place where most people aren’t. I want to get lost in it all, I think I already am.