Tasting the Holy
Today’s post is by Joyce Anderson Reed
Have you ever showed up for worship on Sunday morning and nothing worked? God didn’t speak to you through the songs you sang. God didn’t speak to you through the Scripture readings. God didn’t speak to you through the sermon. God didn’t show up during the prayer time. The special music during the offertory didn’t touch you. Even the children’s story for all those adorable four- and five-year-olds didn’t penetrate the surface. You hugged a few people, drank some coffee, went home, and thought, “What was that about, God?”
One Sunday like this every once in a while is somewhat expected. But have you ever showed up for worship on Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. . . and nothing worked? You still believed in God. You still knew God was showing up every Sunday because you saw God’s grace played out in other people’s lives. But your conversation with God suddenly seemed paused, while the spiritual journeys of others seemed to flow all around you.
This is what happened to me. For months. It was as if I had sailed a boat into a dense spiritual fog where all sound was muted. It was eerie. I couldn’t trust my senses. Everything I tried in the past didn’t work anymore. I tried praying. I tried praying more. I tried reading my Bible. I tried passages I knew, passages I didn’t know. Whole chapters. One verse. I tried talking to wise people whose spiritual counsel had always given me momentum in the past. They still had wise things to say, but nothing kicked loose. I tried listening to praise music, to hymns, to soothing classical sonatas. I confessed all my known sins and repented. I read theology books as well as Christian inspiration. But finally, I just sat in my chair, by a window, and stared at flowers blooming across the street at my neighbor’s house. Day after day. Puzzled about why God still seemed in the room but was no longer speaking to me. Silence.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Occasionally. Once in a while. God would whisper. The syllables almost swallowed by the fog. Just two words: “Trust me.” That was the extent of the conversation. I’d ask for more. Clarification. A hint. A crumb. Anything! But nothing more came. I was drift in the fog. Wondering if I was hearing voices. Going slightly insane. But I’d show up every Sunday with a smile, pretending all was right with my soul.
One church observance, however, managed to break through my fog every time it happened— the celebration of communion. I could fake my way through the singing, zone out during the prayer time, critique the sermon, and pull off a few hugs during fellowship time to appear spiritually “normal,” but communion snuck through my defenses every time. Those moments of receiving and ingesting the bread and the wine (or grape juice) would lift the fog, just a few seconds, and I would feel the authentic power and love of God. A five second high. Then it was over. “Great,” I thought. “I’ve become a communion junkie.”
But I was also grateful. It wasn’t much. Just a tiny sliver of bread and a sip of juice. But I could count on God to BE there. I savored those moments. Hoarded them. And wondered how long I could spiritually endure until my next hit.
Then came our 10-day residency for Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program. Smack dab in the middle of this residency was a silent Sabbath. It began Friday night at sundown and ended with worship at 11am Sunday morning. Approximately 36 hours of silence. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced silence in community, a community where everyone is intentionally seeking God’s heart all at the same time. It’s indescribable. As the silence extends, deepens, the mystery and majesty of God expands. You could almost taste holy. And for the first time in months, the fog was completely gone.
It was like stepping into a meadow on a clear, bright summer day: golden light everywhere; the type of brilliance where you glimpse everything at a molecular level. Crystal clear. And God was literally showing up in everything I did. Praying. Scripture. Journaling. Dreams. Walks outside. A visit to the chapel. Coloring. Writing a poem. Laughing. Crying. Even eating became sacred. Each bite, each morsel, an opportunity to thank God. My silence was so filled with God that I literally scribbled in my journal one day, “God, please slow down a little. I can’t keep up!”
The worship that broke our community silence was simple and profound, and it included communion. And suddenly, I wondered what this communion would hold. We stood in a circle. I dipped my bread into the wine, and held it a few brief seconds, thanking God for the gift of Jesus. Then I popped it in my mouth.
I really have no adequate words to describe what happened.
It was an explosion of flavor so exquisite and so provocative that I immediately thought, “I’m tasting Jesus.” And at that thought, I fell to the ground, weeping uncontrollably. I couldn’t have remained standing even if I’d wanted to. In my head, over and over, I kept hearing, “Christ in you, the hope of glory. Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It is found in Colossians 1:27. I couldn’t stop shaking. I was still crying, kneeling on the floor. I wondered if this was how Moses felt when he discovered the burning bush. I was being consumed from the inside out by Holy.
Later, the woman next to me in the circle said, “When you fell to the floor, a wave of power hit me.” A woman on the far side of the circle said the same. What was I thinking at this point? I found it truly ironic that I, a Baptist girl since the day I was born, was having some type of sacramental, mystical experience with holy communion. Apparently, with me, God took the Emeril approach and kicked it up a notch: BAM!
The mute button is off. God and I are free-falling, holding hands, spinning wildly through the sky. And since I don’t have a parachute, God laughs and shouts—I almost wince it’s so loud—“TRUST ME!”
I wish I could tell you what the cumulative silence and these communion encounters were all about. Even after deep reflection, I don’t have many clues. One realization is that the celebration of communion is one of the few times in worship where everyone in the community seems to be focused on Jesus with intentionality. Our hearts are re-aligned, renewed, re-membered with the body and blood of Christ. The enigma of God’s incarnation in Jesus is continued through us as we bear witness to the mystery of God.
I have the feeling that my rational, linear, problem-solving self will never fully comprehend what this was all about. It’s as though I had a body/mind/soul cleansing. That’s why God’s voice is so loud. The toxic stuff that used to get in the way . . . is no longer there. And I sense God inviting me back into the silence, but—this time—with an awakened heart.
Joyce Anderson Reed is a member of the 2016 class of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program.