Sunday, December 11, 2011

#4 Broken Bread, Poured-Out Wine

The fourth entry in my list of Ten Things to Remember is food sitting on the four-sided, four-legged breakfast table I sit at on my three-point (“h”-shaped) chair wearing my two-legged pants that I put on after pushing the one button on my old-fashioned alarm clock.

These words, of course, find their roots in the Last Supper and echo through time and space during the celebration of the Eucharist. "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you." and "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 15:24-25, KJV) However, they come to my list of things to remember via an intermediate source – Oswald Chambers as memorialized by his wife in My Utmost for His Highest. Nine times in the 365 entries of this classic devotional, the reader is called to give his or her own life as broken bread and poured-out wine.

C. S. Lewis writes in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer about hanging “festoons” on the familiar phrases of the Lord’s Prayer during Church of England liturgy, contemplating various aspects of each line. This is sort of what I do with broken bread and poured-out wine. Beginning with the nouns, I think about bread and see it as a solid presence. Being bread in the world is simply getting out there and being present, showing up. When I think of wine and its symbolism for blood, I see it as representing life. Wine is the sparkle of life that accompanies the simple presence of bread.

Picking up the adjectives, adds new dimensions. The idea of being broken takes a lot of pressure off my days. I tend toward perfectionism. I want to get life right, keep my promises, fulfill the expectations others have for me, meet standards of excellence. But I fall short. There are more expectations than I can possibly meet. I can’t always keep my promises, and even my best efforts often leave people disappointed and irritated. Besides, there are sad situations I can’t fix; there is needed help I can’t give. I am broken, less than perfect. I not only am unable to be all things to all people, I don’t even get out of the gate in that regard.

And so I go into the world broken yet present. Broken bread is still bread. And brokenness is the best I have to offer. Rather than drawing back from life for fear of being exposed and rejected as broken, I push myself to offer my presence to others even in my broken state. When I am knocked flat and fear I am irreparably broken, it helps to remember that I was already broken and live in a broken world where there is value simply in being a solid, dependable, nourishing presence.

Poured-out wine adds a dimension of being dissipated. Bread is a solid. It stays in one place. Wine is liquid. When poured out on the ground it flows and is gone. It’s one thing to be broken but solid. It’s another to pour out my life energy into others and watch it flow away and be irretrievably gone. When I am knocked flat and it seems life it draining out of me, it helps to see such a state as one to which I have been called. Jesus told us we find life by losing it. When I choose to live as poured-out wine, it takes the panic out of realizing that I am being drained of my life energy.

As I remember this phrase, I pray daily that God will give me to my world as broken bread (a flawed but solid presence) and poured-out wine (life freely and irretrievably given away).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

#3 I am not out of resources yet.

This is the third item on my "Things to Remember" list. The third "hook" for remembering the list is the (three-legged?) chair you sit on at the four-legged breakfast table after pushing the one button on your old-fashioned alarm clock and putting on your two-legged pants.

For this particular list I can't sit on the chair because it's loaded down with stuff, reminding me that I'm not out of resources yet.

It's actually a different image the lies behind this reminder: a memory, a snapshot of a moment in time. I am slaving away in the kitchen, my least favorite room in the house, while my husband and children are in the living room. There may be guests in there with them. I am a most unhappy Martha (see John 10:38-41) working my fingers to the bone washing dishes and feeling sorry for myself while my imaginary sister Mary is sitting in the other room listening to Jesus' stories. (Why does everyone assume Martha liked kitchen work? Maybe she was simply the responsible one thinking, “SOMEbody has to be busy in the kitchen. This work isn't going to do itself!”) I'm exhausted by all the labor.

Really? I asked myself that day. Am I truly overworked? Would I be so exhausted if I weren't alone? Is this about me being overworked or is envy pulling me down?

The truth is, I'm not overworked in that memory. I had plenty of energy left. A little work in a modern kitchen isn't going to do me in. It really was a case of envy because I was working while others were not. I have never in my life experienced complete and total exhaustion, any more than I have ever truly been “starving to death,” and it's disrespectful to those who are driven to the absolute end of their resources to say I am when I'm not.

Well ... there was that one bout with mononucleosis at age 20. I was pretty much wiped out for a week or two. But even then I wasn't unable to move at all. I had to severely curtail my total energy expenditure, but there was always enough energy to stumble through one more task if absolutely necessary.

This reminder starts with physical resources but doesn't end there. Sometimes the threat of exhaustion comes in other areas. The “I can't do this anymore” cry in my heart can be a response to any number of aggravating circumstances. Still, the same questions apply. Really? There are absolutely no resources left? Not even for one more time? Five if the situation is guaranteed to change after that? Ten if someone offers some encouragement and support? The answer has never been, “Yes, I am absolutely and completely exhausted. I cannot take even one more step.” Maybe for some people in some situations, it is. It has yet to be true for me. Every time I hit this item on my list I have to acknowledge its truth to myself.

There is another dimension to this reminder. Thus far, I have focused on personal resources, inner strength to endure one more moment. If I look around, there are any number of alternatives to relying on my own strength. Resources abound! I can recruit help. I can walk away and leave the work for another day or another crew. I can apply some mental energy to finding a quicker and easier way to get done what needs to be done. I can incorporate the ideas of others into my own processes. I can reassess the need. (Is that what Jesus encouraged Martha to do?) I can pray for an extra boost.

Someday I may hit a wall, a dead end from which there is no escape, no rescue. But this far along the journey I have yet to encounter that wall. I always have options. I may feel like I'm running on fumes and about to keel over, but when I look more closely I can say with conviction, I am not out of resources yet! Most of the time I'm not even breathing hard.