I have given thought lately to some of the religious stuff we do. Specifically the stuff we do for reasons that don’t necessarily move or change us. Like for example; celebrating Palm Sunday. Why do we do this? I don't mean the liturgical or theological reasons. I mean does it have a transformative effect on our walk with God each year? Or do we celebrate it out of habit; a cheerful, hat-and-floral-dress wearing route we all follow. I think everyone goes through this; those who are full of faith and those who are new to faith. And I don't mean to say if you honor those rituals out of simple obedience or a wish to be in community, that this is wrong. But a few years ago I had an encounter with communion in particular which changed how I experience the rituals of my faith and it left me with the believe that there is a great deal more for us in these traditions if we're willing to pause a moment.
I've taken communion since I was old enough to. As a little girl I was taught the need-to-know parts;
- Its something Jesus told us to do. (So...not something to take as optional.)
- Its in remembrance of ChristOkay. Check. Remember.
- And when you take communion, you're not supposed to do so if there are people in your life you haven’t forgiven. Roger. Forgive first.
On a cerebral level, I understand these things. I can systematically and successfully go through the ritual of communion.
But the problem was, that I don't understand what Jesus did. Not in that "I was there" kind of way like the disciples would have. I have only ever known him, present in my life, in the way Jesus is present with us now.
Not only that, but also, I was deeply removed from the concept of my own sin and the fact that Jesus death was actually for me. I was raised in a faith-filled home where I was blessed to know about Jesus until the time I knew Jesus. In that, I went from being an innocent child to being His innocent child. Although this gift was immeasurable and profound, I had no contrast in my life at that time to help me experience and understand my wealth. So, was I able to remember intellectually that Jesus died? Yes. Was I able to translate that into an experience that connected He and I? Not deeply, no.
But in 2005 I took my mother to Paris.
Paris, for my mother, was the biggest red pin on a map of longing. Mom’s life was full of France. She spoke the language and incorporated elements of that place into her life, from her home to her wardrobe. In fact, when I look back at how she was there, it was like she’d found her long lost home.
When she realized the trip was really going to happen, she went directly to the library and consumed every Frommers and Fodors she could find, scouring books and websites to know exactly how to make the most of our time in Paris.
Everything vital and beautiful that my mother was grew by proportions on the streets of the city. Long before Macarons were on the cover of Indianapolis Monthly magazine, long before anyone in the states knew they weren’t made of coconut and eggs, my mother had a bead on them from her research, and led us on The Great Macaron Hunt. Like how you mark trees when you walk through the woods, we marked our path through Paris in Patisseries and Macaron. I still remember, standing in my very first French bakery, as she ordered in beautiful French, earning surprised approval from le vendeur.
I remember the lady handing us our sweets and the three of us, Kate, Mom and me examining them. We Looked them over carefully, inhaling deeply and then, all together, eyes closed we took the first bite. Everything else faded except the texture and taste and smell, the little crumble of the cookie top, the creamy sweetness of the filling. Our senses belonged wholly to the experience.
Good is such a meek little word, but no other word really does any better by comparison. It is true that in Paris they are better than anywhere.
Needless to say, they became a sort of compass to our days. Every afternoon as we wandered we ate them. We rated, compared, and savored. As if we were some fancy macaron somalier, we made a habit and a game our of how we ate them. Each time we paused. We examined our little treat, we smelled them with our eyes closed and then we took our first bite, trying to be fully present for every second of this once-in-a-lifetime experience we were sharing. The Macaron marked the trip for us, like the mascot of the entire experience.
Once we arrived home, withdrawl soon followed and mom returned to research to see if and where she could find them here in the states. At that time, the answer was "no where". She found 3 places where you could order them online...from New York, San Francisco or one of the large stores in Paris. To the tune of $28.00 plus shipping for 6. And by this, I mean to illustrate that they were rare to come by.
Our time in Paris undoubtedly captured one of the most intense times of closeness in our relationship.
Three years later, on October 15th of 2008, we lost mom. I still have no way to express the harshness of that experience, no way to describe the void she left or how loudly the hollowness of her absence echoed in my life. But I will never, ever forget that the morning of her funeral, my then-boyfriend, through what could only have been God working to demonstrate His love for us, found Macarons at a little tea shop just down the road from her service.
In a tiny town in rural Indiana, before Macs made it big in the states.
The little shop had hung a huge sign in their window; “French Macaron, Saturday only”. In a small town, locks on doors are superfluous, and that’s how it came to be that he unknowingly barged in to the little tea shop before it was even open. He made his way to the kitchen, where he finally found the surprised staff. Surrounded by teacups and lace, looking earnest and entirely out of place, he announced "I'm here for the French Macarons”.
He told the startled ladies the story he had heard many times, of three girls in Paris, hunting for Macarons and how now there were only two.
He explained how he needed to bring us the Macarons and maybe a tea-cup too, which sent the ladies into a flurry of helpfulness, choosing and wrapping and tying up with ribbons.
That night, having no idea that as kids, Kate and I would hide in Mom’s closet when she was gone, when we missed her, he laid out a candle-lit tea for my sister and I. Right there among her clothes and her still-present soft smell, he tucked us away and then guarded the door, so that we could have some time alone. Some time away from the kind-hearted church friends and the world at large. Time before my sister went back to college. Time to remember Mama.
Like a day hasn't passed, I remember holding the macaron with shaking hands. I remember thinking about how, the last time I had one, she was right there with me.
And I remember that as Kate and I went through the ritual of looking at them, inhaling their sweet scent deeply and then closing our eyes to take a bite...
In one powerful, all encompassing rush, I remembered her. I remembered everything she meant to me, everything she had done for me, our best times together, the sound of her laughter, the way that she loved. It was there in the flavor of the chocolate, in the smell that filled my nose. Every sense that I had was devoted to the singularity of who my mother was and always would be to me.
And in the same blinding flash, I understood communion.
I understand. Not just in a cerebral way. I understand, with every nerve ending, with every emotion and in such a way that I was able to connect myself to what it means to remember someone who isn’t there with you in a flesh and blood kind of way.
I'm not trying to tell you how to take communion, whether you should use oyster crackers or real wine. I’m not insisting that your communion should be every time you sit down for a meal, although I personally have begun to think of communion in that way. To acknowledge that in the same way that it’s vital to life to nourish the body with broken bread and a cup to drink, that it’s just as vital to remember the one who bought life for your soul, with broken body and blood. But you search the word for yourself. I’m not here to make a theological determination of proper rites.
But I am here to encourage you, that when you take communion, find a way to go to him, in your mind, in your soul. Don’t be anywhere but with the one who loves you. Give all of your thoughts and senses over, if just for that moment, like you would when you think of someone you miss dearly. Think of how He shows up in your life and what it’s like to be loved by Jesus.
For me now, when I take communion, among my thoughts of his sacrifice for me, I remember the relationship that we have now. Things like how Jesus' love of me was so intimate and personal that he somehow gave us Macarons the day we said goodbye to Mama.