At the Lutheran church in my hometown, there’s an atmosphere of inclusiveness I didn’t feel at the monastery I visited. In the chapel at the monastery, the area where the nuns sat and from which they conducted the services was separated from the pews by a wood lattice. It wasn’t a real barrier; I am almost certain I could have ripped the thing from its ceiling hinges if I had been so inclined. Its function was symbolic, a reminder to them and to me that we occupied different worlds. The nuns sing-songed all the prayers, the words to which were provided for guests in a little booklet, but most were Latin so even as I tried to follow along, I was lost. For me, personally, the services were a show, a lovely display that communicated nonverbally to my heart. But I gazed upon them passively.
As a non-Catholic, I was asked not to partake in communion in the monastery chapel. So I watched during mass as each nun extended her tongue to receive a wafer, followed by the nun-in-training and then the two organic farming volunteers, both apparently Catholic. I felt like the kid not invited to the party, just a tiny bit like they were sticking out their tongues at me.
Back at the guest house, the nun-in-training explained that when she takes her wafer she knows that she is eating the actual flesh of Jesus. I giggled. Honestly, I thought she was joking. I guess it goes to show how deep my Noneness runs that I had never heard such a thing before. When I laughed at this most sacred and fundamental heart of mass, the nun-in-training was inordinately kind. She retained her composure and gently maintained that, yes, she knew this miracle to be true—perhaps she saw my ignorance as a test and, if so, she passed with flying colors.
At today’s Lutheran service, the program clearly states that everyone is invited to participate in communion, but I decide to abstain. While Luther refuted many church rituals, the bread and wine into flesh and blood thing was not one of them. His only edit was to insist that the priests weren’t responsible for the miraculous transformation. It happened according to a greater authority.
I can see why the nuns discouraged me from participating. I’m not sure how I feel about eating Jesus.
An ice cream social is waiting in the church lobby at the end of the service. Someone has set out tubs of vanilla and chocolate with little bowls of toppings and squeeze bottles of caramel and fudge. I marvel at how many enticements have been added to the church-going experience and, yet, fewer people seem to be showing up. The chapel was about two-thirds of the way full and out in the lobby more than half the welcome baggies for newcomers remain in neat rows. Five hundred years ago, regular folks weren’t allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Now we can wash Jesus down with a free sundae.