Return to the Table

Do you ever have those days? Days where Jesus is right beside you? And do you know those other days, those panic-stricken days it seems he’s up and left, you can’t remember if he’s ever been there, and you don’t know where to look, let alone whether you will find him?

I began those reflections in a previous post.

And maybe it’s just a season, but these days the latter are more prevalent than the former. And I just don’t know why.

I could write for days and days about Jesus. I could write for days about the faith and the tradition of which I’m apart. I could write for aeons about the things I’ve been reading about him, how they’ve impacted me, how they’ve changed my worldview, my way of walking in this world. But these days I don’t feel as though I have a prayer of recovering the sense of Jesus’ imminent presence in my life.

Back in Toronto, living with a couple of roommates in the Annex there’d be nights we’d come home after a long day, make a pot of tea, and gather in the living room to pray. Candles lit, we’d invite the spirit, seeking God’s presence, guidance and direction, giving thanks to the Creator of all for the gifts of the day, and petitioning God for those aspects of the world that really needed some fixing.

We prayed “How Long O Lord,” and “Hallowed be thy name” and “Thy Kingdom Come.” We prayed faithfully, expectantly, believing that God would hear our prayers.

And God showed up.

God showed up, maybe not in a direct answer, but in presence. We felt it. And others who entered the space did too. One night, a friend walked into our apartment only to say “it’s buzzing in here…have you been praying?” Of course we had. It’s what we did. It was a fundamental practice of our faith. Together, we encouraged each other in the practice, making time – even in our busy making-it-in-the-big-city-lives – to sit in the presence of God.

This was faith embodied in an admission of deep need. We didn’t have the answers. The world was messed up. We were struggling to make things work. Our friends were trying to make it work. And there were plenty of people in our city, and across the globe in deep suffering. And so we vocalized our worship of the one who is worthy, we admitted to our own frail humanity, and submitted our desire to somehow participate in this whole Kingdom of God thing we were still trying to figure out.

It was raw emotional faith. Was it faith beyond reason? Perhaps. But then again, I’m not convinced reason is the ultimate arbiter of what’s possible for God.

Times have changed. Oh, how times have changed. And the truth is – at least as far as I can tell – that between there and here, I’ve read a lot of books, studied so much. My faith, such as I can explain it, has migrated from heart to head, rather than expanding into both.

It’s a loss when the time feeding the mind is marked by both liberation and enslavement. Liberation through new understandings of what God has done in Christ. Enslavement to an intellectual faith that struggles to operate in the raw emotional world beyond reason. I can argue til the cows come home, but how am I being transformed in community by my encounters with Christ?

Again today I found myself inspired by a friend who doesn’t know why they are a Christian, except for the Eucharist. If there’s anywhere that they can meet Jesus, it’s in the bread and the wine.

And thinking about it today, that experience offers insight for me too. I have so many questions. My own immersion into the competing views of who Jesus was and is has left me lots to think about. But where is the raw, visceral, emotional, experience of God’s presence that I crave?

Where once I was fed, where I once was able to lay my soul bare and to pray in a particular way, I cannot. But none of this means that I’ve abandoned God. And it surely doesn’t mean that God has abandoned me. What it means, if anything, is that our relationship has entered a new season.

There are days I wonder what it’s been about the past years that has moved me so far from that emotionally-driven faith.

And then I remember where I meet God these days. God meets me in the Eucharist. Not in an awkward handshake and how-do-you-do, but in the intimate embrace of a lover. And that’s when I’m reminded that this is the Gift of God, to be received not just in emotion or intellect, but in my very body too.

On those panic-stricken days I wonder if Jesus has up and left, all I have to do is return to the table. It’s there that I find him in the wafting, yeasty smell of bread. In the glutenous texture and taste of that broken fragment extended to me by a friend. I find him in the waft of wine filling the room, and the rich silky feel as the port envelopes my tongue, warming belly and heart on its way to my very core.

That’s when I know. That’s when my body fully knows. That Christ is closer. That Jesus is more real and more intimate than my errant thoughts. And that yet again he has provided me, with all I need – food for the journey – and the ability once again to pray.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as an Assistant for Evangelism & Christian Formation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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One Response to “Return to the Table”

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