I’ve crossed the threshold into life's second half. Forty; four decades; one-half of eighty. The exuberance of my twenties is gone, the thought that the world was somehow mine to take by the tail. The gut punch of the thirties is a memory too, the winded nausea that results from anything overwrought. Thank God Almighty. Forty came, somehow, like the morning sun waking Bayou Desiard. It settled in, patient as the heron on the bank, waiting. It was the daybreak that cleared the fog.
In the weeks of waking before my birthday, I turned to intentional reflection. I set out to make note of the things I believe, the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve experienced in my body as true. I explored the ideas I’d yet to practice too, the places where knowing hadn’t translated to proper doing. And as the sun rose over the stretch of my beliefs, experiences, and shortcomings, I caught a reflection of my true self in those waters.
As for the things I’ve experienced as true, they are few. The sound of a Martin guitar on the front porch. The smell of hiding in my grandma’s cedar chest. Mulberry jam. The mesquite grove. The scissor-tailed flycatcher. Love. Marriage. Sex. And this: the way bread and wine transforms under the words of institution; the way those man-made, God-given gifts become (no matter what men say) the body and blood of Christ; the way the bread sticks to the ribs, his body becoming part of our body; the way the wine sucks the damned poison from our DNA, the way it eases the pain; how the sacrifice of Christ becomes more than a good idea; how the Eucharist is life.
(For more of my Eucharist story, follow this link and listen to “Dispatches, Vol. 2.”)
True sacrifice is a mirror, and what is a truer sacrifice than body and blood given for the life of the world? What is a truer mirror?
This, I suppose, leads me to the confession. As I turned to examination of the things I’d believed but hadn’t practiced, I saw this in the mirror: the way I paid lip service to the poor and marginalized, maybe even made financial sacrifices on their behalf before patting myself on the back; the way I’d thought and thought and thought about the trouble of the orphan, even how I’ve written about it; the way I’ve thrown my two-cents into Twitter’s coin slot and hoped the responses would end up triple 7s. It’s easy to get behind the idea of service. Wearing service like a rumpled suit, though, is a different story.
Last night, I spoke with my friend, Enneagram coach and Jedi force-wielder, Chris Hueretz. We talked through my proposentity to think, to strategize, to turn that thinking and strategy to written words, maybe even financial sacrifice. I shared my reflections with him and said, “I have this working theory that seventy... maybe eighty... no, ninety percent of our power complexes, interpersonal struggles, and political hand-wringing would work itself out if we’d just put our bodies in the way of sacrificial service.” He laughed, knowing this was a sort of epiphanal awakening for a Five (wing 4) Enneagram type. Between laughs, he gave it to me straight: You think?
I’ve pushed into my fortieth year of living, and I suppose I’m ready to put this on the page. I’m ready to stop thinking about service, about offering my own body and blood for the sake of the world. I’m ready to live into the thing I know to be true. Sacrifice, body and blood, Eucharist—this is supposed to be our way of being; it's the gift we're supposed to carry to the world.
What’s this mean for me in the years to come? I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m exploring. And in that exploration, I’m hoping to work my way into a sort of Eucharistic integrity, by which I mean this: the integrity of a life conforming to holy sacrifice. Without that, what does it mean to be Christian?
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