At dinner a few nights ago, my daughter asked, “what is the most important thing to remember in a social situation when you get nervous?” I answered, without hesitation: “Look people in the eyes.”
It seems like simple advice, I know. But, I continue to be amazed at its truth and poignancy.
Last night, it was pretty late. We’d been out to the movies, and I needed to stop at the store on the way home to pick up a few things to prep for coffee hour after church. My daughter is at her social best the later in the day it gets. By the time I had unloaded our items onto the conveyor, she had already struck up conversation with the person in line behind us, giving a “two thumbs up” movie critique. The two were chatting back and forth like old friends by the time the transaction was complete. I love seeing her like this, spontaneously engaged even with adults. I noticed that she was taking the lesson to heart, making eye contact. I was doing the same with the very tired cashier, who also smiled broadly as if seen for the first time when I looked him in the eyes and wished him a good night and thanked him for working. My heart was warmed as I placed the bags in my car, even though there was nothing exceptional about any of these events. Yet, there was something powerful about the connection. We were present…we saw each other…instead of simply going through the motions.
That is an everyday lesson which took on divine significance for me today.
Today, I was humbled and grateful to be in one of my favorite roles, serving at Holy Eucharist. I am always in awe of how much connection is palpable during this sacrament in ways both simple and profound. Maybe it is more noticeable because I grew up with a very different experience. Communion in my childhood was matzoh bits passed down the rows on a plate covered with a paper doily and grape juice in individual, sanitized cups. It had a sterility like those little processed “communion to go” kits that I saw someone tweet the other day. There was no touching, nor any human to human contact. It was a symbolic act, and a meaningful one I will admit. But there was not a tangible, human connection and even then I craved something more. I practiced serving my dolls and my teddy bears, and it was always more like a tea-party than a self-serve buffet.
As an adult, I also remember vividly how I was raised to think of humanity as deeply flawed, wretched, and sinful. Maybe that’s why the action of taking communion involved as little “human” as possible. The goal was to move away from our humanness toward God. It took me the better part of forty years to realize the power present when we understand our humanness…my own humanness…as created by God, and beloved of God. We move through the world differently when we see God reflected in the people we encounter, when we see the eyes of our neighbors as reflecting the Presence of God.
So, it is different for me now, theologically and practically. Everything about serving, assisting, receiving at Holy Eucharist is human-in-divine, and divine-in-human. But, for the purpose and scope of this blog, let me just talk about the practical. Let me tell a few stories…
First, there was the young child who was so excited to dip that bread she had been given into the cup that I held that I thought the whole row might be wearing sacramental wine stains. I looked into her wonder-filled eyes and said the same words as I do to the adults, and her face exploded in a huge smile as she said back, “the cup of salvation AMEN!” and popped that feast in her mouth with unrestrained joy. I think every person kneeling there felt the palpable presence of God in that moment. I certainly did.
Other moments, I look into the eyes of those I know well and those who know me well. Our roles at that table are to be something to each other that changes the world in ways both subtle and great. There is joy, and yearning, and the beauty and pain of life all wrapped together, intertwined in this community where we worship. This knowing is present, with the real presence of Christ, in the feast that we share. Surely, this sharing is how we become Church, feasting together.
Then, perhaps closest to my heart, I knelt to serve worshipers from a neighborhood group home who are faithful in their attendance even if unclear at times in their cognitive and psychological state. Each person’s eyes met my eyes, focusing even in that singular moment, around wholeness. These are divine moments, filled with palpable humanity and beloved community. Eyes are meeting, and hands grasping to find a place to hold, and my hands are there to meet and steady their fingers that would otherwise tremble. Wholeness, together, in that holy moment. It is so clear to me, so real, to know that we were all seen as whole, and human, and partakers together in Divine Presence. Amen, my sister the last person I served whispered to me as we shared this sacred feast.
Friends, neighbors, strangers….in the grocery store, and at the communion rail…we have one craving, one human need that outweighs the others. We need to be seen. When we are seen, we can be known. When we are known, we can be loved. When we are loved, God is there in our midst.
small points of light.
In Your Eyes.