Bread and blessing, still.

I recently refound an affirmation of faith I wrote over twenty years ago. Returning to this heartfelt articulation of belief, I felt tenderness for my past self–wisdom I already held, and all I was on the precipice of learning. I felt deep gratitude for the transformative events, teachings, teachers, and lifeworlds that have necessitated shifts in worldview, political analysis and commitment, religious identity, spiritual belonging–even though transformation usually, if not always, involves some element of loss, or grief, or pain. I felt the embarrassing cringe at language that was once intuitive, meaning-full, but can no longer roll off my tongue. I felt awe at all we can learn and unlearn in one precious lifetime.

What we believe—about the world, about ourselves and each other and who we are and how to be together, about the earth and the myriad earthling life forms inhabiting this home, about the sacred lifeforce pulsing through it all—shapes and shifts how we live our lives, shapes and shifts what is possible in our collective aliveness.

My theology has always been deeply, thoroughly sacramental. Material. Earthly. Spirited. Relational. Connectional. Divinity, alive and reflected and encountered in the world around me, in the elements that constitute the worlds in which we live and move and become.

Communion, for me, has always been about nourishment, and sharing. Gathering at table, passing bread and cup. Grain from the fields, fruit from the vine. Companionship for the journey. Com-pan-ion: with bread. We companion each other by sharing nourishment. As a pastor, I’ve loved sneaking big hunks of fresh bread to the children coming forward to receive, my winks meeting their grins. I’ve loved those same children running toward the altar the second the service ends to eat leftover bread, and take some out to scatter for the birds. I’ve consecrated many elements for many services of communion: pizza and beer; dark chocolate and wine; manchego and bourbon; donuts and coffee; water sipped from a mountain spring and backpack-smushed granola bars.

Over the last few years, I have been letting go of and losing and leaving the church that raised me, that baptized and confirmed and nurtured and called and commissioned and ordained me. Knowing and remembering and returning to my core beliefs through the tumult and transformation of these losses has been part of getting through.

These days, I mostly celebrate communion outside of sanctuaries, no words of institution, no formal liturgy. Consecrated by the intention of savoring and sharing. The sacred practice of paying attention to bodies and bellies, to beauty, and longing, and hunger, and delight, and enoughness, and need.

The sacrament of communion, manifest in outdoor brunches with beloveds and sourdough loaves dropped on neighbors’ porches and weekly homemade meals for the students I chaplain. Mulberries plucked in the heat of summer, staining my hands. Birdfeeders bursting with sunflower seeds, the squirrels and chipmunks and cardinals and tufted titmice and sparrows and woodpeckers all taking their turns. The coconut lime bar and iced tea a friend brought to share on the patio, along with laughter and tears, for a how is it with your soul? check in. Peaches sliced and shared, juice running down chins. Ice cold water on a hot, summer day.

Earlier this week I was taking a walk with my three niblings. My job was keeping them content enough, distracted enough, that their parents could focus on packing everything into boxes for their upcoming move. All of us were hot, and tired. The youngest refusing his customary nap. Blessedly, we happened upon a raspberry bush, and made a game out of trying to spot a ripe raspberry on a bush mostly still ripening. Finally, we found one, single, perfect red raspberry. We split it four ways, a tiny taste ceremoniously placed on each of our tongues. We tried to describe the flavor. Like honey from bees! Like dirt! Like ice cream and rainbows and a hug! Like sunshine! 

Millions of things, coming together. Enabling life, making aliveness possible. We feed each other and are fed by each other. We need each other and we have each other. We inhabit a living world. We give and we receive, hands cups, hearts courageously open. Our collective body, broken and beautiful and blessed. Miraculously, part of something–always changing, and also eternal. Communion. Connection. Nourishment. Crumbs into feasts, and feasts extended and shared. The bread of new life. The cup of blessing. Thanks be.

Anna Blaedel (they/them) is cofounder and theologian-in-residence at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.

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