Comfortable Blood

Musings on the cup of salvation

I cut myself when shaving my ankle the other morning, a once routine occurrence I rarely thought about until last summer when I underwent chemo and was not allowed to use a normal razor for four months because any cut could get infected and lead to big problems. I was thrilled when chemo was over and I could get away from the partly pink electric razor. I hated it, even though I had loved the comforting hum of my father’s electric razor when I was a child. He sometimes sat and shaved while reading the paper. Now all I can think about are little hairs that might have escaped and collected on the furniture, but that razor is part of the soundtrack of my childhood. But because he used an electric razor, Dad never cut himself shaving.

I can’t escape blood in my faith. One of the Easter season readings was 1 John 5:6: “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.” He emphasizes blood. Some may find this gruesome, but for me, such references are normal, even … comforting.

During the pandemic, many Episcopal churches have emphasized that communion can be received in one kind to avoid the common cup, so they distribute “bread” only—bread in pandemic times being wafers. I grew up with such cardboard-like circles, but I miss the wheat bread that St. David’s used until March 2020: real bread that I would break up and place into people’s hands, some of whom always wanted a bigger piece while others wanted something small. It was hard to keep track of who wanted what. Now I wonder if I will ever break up and distribute bread again without using disposable gloves.

Since last July, St. David’s has used individually wrapped sacrament in vessels that look like tiny chalices with wine on one side and a petite cracker on the other. Some of my Episcopal colleagues speak scathingly about these, but I was grateful to have them last summer when I was watching church via livestream while on disability from chemo, and I remain grateful for them every week as I wear gloves and distribute them to my beloved community.

Following revised CDC guidance, the bishop in my diocese recently lifted all restrictions regarding worship, so now we are scrambling to figure out on our own what restrictions to keep as we continue to try to protect vulnerable members of our congregation, including children who are not yet able to become vaccinated. We have already decided to keep the individual cups. We’d had to receive special authorization to use them last summer, as Episcopalians normally use one common chalice. I wonder how the pandemic will change that practice, which I have never liked, but which many of my colleagues feel passionate about.

Some parishioners and others have told me that they will never partake in a common cup again and that if we don’t retain individual servings, they will receive in one kind only. I thought about that when I saw the drop of blood forming on my ankle. How would I feel receiving only the bread for the rest of my life? While I respect those who decide to receive in one kind only, it would feel incomplete to me. While many find references to “blood” gruesome (not to mention songs like “Power in the Blood”), I find the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood meaningful and important. Comforting. Even essential. But given my own health issues in the past eighteen months, I can’t imagine sipping from a common cup again.

Celebrating the Eucharist is the best part about being an Episcopal priest. I used to be surrounded at the altar at St. David’s, with Deacon Bill (“Deke”) at my right, a lay eucharistic minister on my left, other lay eucharistic ministers and acolytes on either side. Now I celebrate alone. We have not had acolytes since the pandemic started. Deacon Bill and one lay eucharistic minister stay against the wall as I elevate the paten with one wafer alongside a basket stuffed with the pre-filled sacraments, as I elevate the lonely chalice with just a splash of wine, only used by me. I still don’t sip it, even though my lips would be the only ones to touch the goblet. Instead, I dip my flimsy broken wafer into the wine and then place it in my mouth underneath my mask, reminding myself of all the months when I was denied communion because it was deemed too dangerous to do at all. I can’t see what sharing communion will look like one year from now. I hope that all who want to can safely receive in both kinds.

Blessings,

Elizabeth


What I’m Reading

Storycraft. As part of my continuing ed benefit at St. David’s, I’m participating in an online writing residency through my MFA alma mater, Spalding University, starting on Saturday and running daily for one week. My focus will be professional writing, and we read this text, which had some helpful information. We had to turn in a reported feature with two interviewed sources for the workshop. I learned a lot just through writing it, and after reading Storycraft already have revision ideas before the piece is workshopped. I interviewed my colleague Deacon Bill Jones and our conversation went in a totally different direction than I expected, which is not reflected in the piece I turned in. I’d love to write a second piece where I can use more of the material from Bill, as he spoke movingly about his experience as a death row chaplain decades ago. My writing partner Dana VanderLugt had told me that she loves interviewing, and now I understand why.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. An informative memoir somewhat similar to Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which I loved.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion. I tried to resist buying this collection, but then the workshop leader of the continuing ed professional writing course I’m taking, Jason Howard, praised the 1968 essay “Pretty Nancy,” so I bought the book and read the essay and am now making my way through the others.

“A Week of Emails” by my friend Megan Castellan. Especially recommended for churchy types.


What I’m Writing

My writing life has been consumed by one bit of good news since my last newsletter: I am now represented by a literary agent, Keely Boeving of WordServe Literary. We are in the midst of revising a book proposal so that she can approach some publishers. I’m thrilled to be working with her, and nervous about the process. Prayers welcome.

Easter 6 sermon: This one is about fierce love. If you ever wonder why I don’t talk more about Mother’s Day at church on Mother’s Day, check out this classic from three years ago.

Easter 7: Good news: the early church was full of screw-ups just like the Episcopal church is now!