7 reasons I love the Eucharist {the feast of corpus christi}

Bodies. Blood. Bread. Brokenness. My children bring all of this into my life.

Care for their bodies takes up hours of my day: washing faces, changing diapers, giving baths. Boyhood brings bloodied knees, scraped elbows, tears and band aids and doctor’s visits. Feeding our family is nearly a full-time job in itself: planning meals, buying groceries, cooking dinner, baking bread.

And brokenness? Well, families don’t have to go far to find proof of faults and flaws and failings. We rub up against each other all day long.

The Eucharist has never felt more real than it has since I became a mother.

IMG_1063

This is my body; take and eat; blessed and broken – almost everything I have learned about the love and sacrifice of parenting is wrapped up this sacrament at the center of my faith.

So in celebration of this Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), here are 7 reasons I love the Eucharist – and 7 favorite posts to explain why…

It re-members me back into the Body of Christ: What Your Kids Taught Me About God

It helps me notice the ones that the world rejects: We Care About The Crumbs

It changes how I understand my own flesh and blood: This Is My Body, Given Up For You

It reminds me that the ordinary is holy: Diapers and Chalices

It teaches me about forgiveness and reconciliation: On Bad Moods and Breaking Bread

It trains my eyes to see with deeper imagination: Start Seeing Sacraments: Eucharist

It inspired me to write this book! Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting

What do you love about communion? How has this sacrament shaped your faith?

he is one

When you are the third child, especially the third of three boys, nothing comes new. Clothes, books, toys – all are gently loved or well-worn-out by the time they reach your hands.

When you are still tiny, you accept this, of course. You don’t know the world to be any other way.

Your firsts are not earth-moving milestones. Your every move is not captured on video or preserved in photo albums. From day one your needs and wants cannot command complete attention.

This truth is hard and humbling and healthy. For you and your parents.

You are not simply a special snowflake. You are one among many. 

1stbirthday

One year ago we met for the first time. My memories of birth are fast and foggy, snapshots of scenes. The first flash of him, wet and purple, his radiant heat in my shaking arms. His wavy dark hair and deep eyes squinting to see. My astonishment at his existence, the breathing weight of him on my chest, still startling after I carried him for nine long months below my heart.

Twelve months later, he crawls, claps, chuckles at every silly dance his brothers perform to earn a smile. The tantalizing prospect of walking awakens as he reaches to pull himself up and learns to steady uncertain legs. Words slowly take shape within the babbles of his voice.

He is one for the first time. He has never been here.

. . .

Last week I crossed my legs on church basement carpet and watched his brother celebrate his summer birthday three months early.

He placed the Montessori mat carefully on the small table, set the candle for the sun in the center, and opened his hands to hold the small globe as his teacher told the story of seasons. How we are always moving around the sun, how we would never know time was passing if we didn’t stop to notice the changes around us.

As his classmates counted, he took almost-four trips around the table, circling the sun with the world in his hands. His teacher read the short story of his birth that I had written, a rainbow of markers telling his first day of life. Everyone sang the song he chose and listened to the book he brought as a gift. His face was squinched in a strange smile, equal parts proud and embarrassed to be at the center of attention.

Then he walked quietly around the circle again, tapping each child on their bowed head to send them off for the rush of shoes and jackets and lunch boxes.

A simple celebration, ended as soon as it began. Perfect for preschool. Maybe enough for all of us: to celebrate another whirl around this spinning sun, to remember our place in the world, to let light shine on us for an instant.

One among many. He could not have been happier.

1stbirthday3

Christianity teaches these twinned doctrines of identity. Imago Dei: we are created in the image of God, each of us unique and unrepeatable, worthy and beloved in our own right. The Body of Christ: we are part of a larger whole, all of us interdependent and intrinsically connected, bound up in each other for the common good.

These two beliefs – that we are one and we are many – braid together to become two essential practices for my parenting. I want to teach these children that they are loved beyond measure for the individuals that they are, created and called by God to do their own particular good in the world. And I want to teach them that they are part of something much bigger than themselves, that their own joys and struggles are put in humble perspective within a world of seven billion others.

Let your light shine, but remember Who you reflect.

Build your life into worthy service, but remember you cannot do alone.

Trust that you are one and we are many.

1stbirthday2

Last night we celebrated the baby’s first birthday. In such ordinary ways that I felt almost disappointed. Shouldn’t I have done more to make a fuss? Spread a feast or lavished him with bright bows? Would he know how wondrous his life has been in ours if we didn’t preserve perfect memories for posterity?

No. I see in the crumbs of this morning that all the love he needed was there.

Homemade carrot cake, the work of his brothers’ helping hands. Lilacs dripping out of the blue glass vase, picked proud by those same siblings. Hand-scribbled cards, a new CD, one book to replace the favorite he tore in half.

He loved the party hats, lunged for the candle as we sang, smashed handfuls of cake in his mouth. I stretched back to that exhausted, euphoric new mother I was one year ago that night, holding him and learning him and wanting nothing more than for him to be safe, loved, here with us.

And now he is: right here. This is exactly what we wanted.

It was what a birthday should be. A celebration of the blessing of a life, still fresh and unfolding before our eyes. And a reminder that all of ours are intertwined, that we are – thankfully – not the sun center of the universe.

I have to practice this truth each new morning, as I ready myself for another day. To remember that I am beloved but also beholden to others. To believe that I am called by the One who calls the many. To hold fast in the knowledge that my life is one small part of a much bigger story.

This truth is hard and humbling and healthy. For all of us, maybe.

He is one. We are, too.

we care about the crumbs

In our family’s parish, we eat bread. (This is not a theological discourse on the real presence; this is a simple recipe.)

Each Sunday, instead of the thin white wafers traditional to Catholic communion, our priest breaks brown bread. It is held high in his hands for all of us to see and heaped high on silver plates for all of us to eat. It wasn’t what I was used to as a cradle Catholic. But I have come to love everything about this practice.

I love that the simple bread is baked each week by members of our parish. It tastes like loving service.

I love how our priests have to take time to break the wide flat circles into hundred of tiny squares. It tastes like holy transformation. 

I love that the Eucharistic ministers need the help of altar servers to hold the plates while they offer the Body of Christ. It tastes like living community. 

Most of all, I love what real bread requires of those of us who eat it.

You have to hold it carefully in your hands so you don’t drop whatever small square you’ve given.

You have to chew it carefully and consider what it means to consume the Body of Christ.

And you have to care for the crumbs.

. . .

Since Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (ok, there is theological discourse here after all), we pay particular reverence to the bread-turned-body and the wine-turned-blood.

Watch the next time you’re at a Mass, and you’ll see this. The patient wiping of plates after communion. The careful consuming of every last drop from the chalices. And the watchful care for every last crumb.

Cut back to adolescence. I’d see communion ministers scurry to snatch up a dropped host or rush to daub a spill from the cup, and I’d roll my eyes. Honestly, what’s the point. Is Jesus really in that little speck of a broken wafer? Do we really have to go through all these theatrics? Can’t God take care of himself?

Now flash-forward to present. I’m in a pew with three little children. Three messy, noisy, squirmy children. Three small people often scorned by society as a pesky inconvenience (e.g., a distraction from their parents’ professional pursuits) or reviled as an utter burden (e.g., a constraint of freedom, a drain of finances, a strain on resources).

They are crumbs in the world’s eyes.

And I love that I am part of a church that cares for these crumbs. A church where children are seen and blessed. A church where children are called by name. A church where all parts of the Body of Christ are welcomed, regardless of appearance or ability.

. . .

Every Sunday at Mass I watch the Eucharistic ministers. Whenever their plate is empty and the last person in line has been fed, they look down carefully. They look all around them. They stop and stoop to pick up any crumb they see.

We do not act like this anywhere else. We do not care for the crumbs.

The dirty homeless man with the cardboard sign, the pudgy teenager with Down syndrome, the elderly woman hunched over her walker, the immigrant family speaking a strange language, the drooling adult in the wheelchair – we would rather rush by them all, avert our eyes, busy ourselves with our phones or our conversation, hurry on to anything more important.

We miss the crumbs. And He is there. 

Christ had time for crumbs. Children, women, poor, sick, lepers, outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, foreigners, strangers, thieves, criminals. People who were pushed to society’s margins, dumped to the dirty streets, shoved to the dark and desperate corners.

He had all the time in the world for them.

I want to be a part of a church that echoes this truth each time we break bread. That we don’t just celebrate what is whole and beautiful.

We care about the crumbs, too.

IMG_1374

start seeing sacraments: eucharist

Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share images around each of the 7 Catholic sacraments.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments. . .

Eucharist. Source and summit. Body and blood. Christ at the center.

I see it everywhere, this blessed-and-brokenness of the Christian faith. It’s in our daily rhythms of eating and sharing at table. It’s in our everyday actions of taking and breaking. It’s in our ordinary offerings of sacrificing in love for each other.

It’s in this bread my husband bakes for our family every week, too.

IMG_1374

Every time I nurse the baby, I think of what it means to give of your self.

IMG_1129Every time my husband harvested bowl upon bowl of vegetables from his garden, I thought about what it means to feed others.

imageEvery time we sit down at table to share another family meal, I think about what it means to gather together and give thanks.

imageEvery time we shared our harvest with friends and family, I thought about what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ for each other.

IMG_1376Every time I watch people receive communion at church, I think about what it means to open up our lives to let love in.

IMG_1063

Eucharist can be hard. We break ourselves open to love. Eucharist can be easy. We reach out our hands to be nourished.

But at home? Eucharist is every day. Feeding our family and loving in the body and sacrificing for each other and thanking God who holds it all together.

For these thy gifts, which we are (always) about to receive.

Where do you see Eucharist in your life? What does this sacrament mean to you?

what your kids taught me about God

It’s not all about my kids.

I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of mommy blogging with that one. But this truth runs deep in my tired mama bones:

It’s not about me and mine.

I can’t shake the stubborn, squirming fact that this call to motherhood – this gift I took into two shaking hands when the two lines on the test blurred clear to pregnant and I flung open the bathroom door to tell a father (because he was finally a father!) that everything had changed – this beautiful, exhausting vocation is not simply to the three children whose scuffed shoes are tumbled across our front hall rug.

It’s a call to stretch my heart into a mother’s love for all children.

To burst beyond the limits of what I want to cling to as mine, safe and small. To peer into the pain of how the world’s brokenness crushes millions of hearts like mine – mothers who carried babies and nursed babies and soothed babies and loved babies. To remember how small but mighty shifts can happen once we start seeing each other.

My three wee ones may be the lens through which I view this parenting story, but they are not the whole story. The story is about all of us.

And your children have shaped me, too.

Your kids are starting new schools, clutching those tiny cartooned backpacks or hiding nervous eyes behind teenage bangs. Your kids are braving bullies on the playground or tackling learning disabilities with this year’s IEP.

Your kids are teaching me that God fills us with courage from our earliest days.

Your kids are widening what they know of love, welcoming a new baby or foster sibling into their home. They’re fumbling into tender new friendships after a cross-country move. They’re learning what it means to mourn a grandparent who has gone beyond.

Your kids are teaching me that God’s love is inexhaustible.

Your kids are grown (if any of us can place that verb in past tense). They’re off to college with extra-long twin sheets for the dorm bed or they’re waving goodbye from the International Departures gate. They’re finally starting their first real job and going off your phone plan, or they’re having sweet, small babies of their own.

Your kids are teaching me that God longs for each of us to grow.

Your kids are still not here. They are desperately wanted dreams, slipping just out of reach again this month. They are hopes and glimmers and the mystery of not-yet, but you still love them wildly.

Your kids are teaching me that God is the Source of Life Itself.

Your kids are teaching me because their lives are bound up with mine. And it haunts me, this Body of Christ, this woven-togetherness.

Because what happens when we re-member each other back together is that all the rigid boundaries quiver and crumble. My family. My house. My kids. My life. No. Ours.

One shared stream, and it is one holy blood that pulses in our veins.

sun

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

She never bore a baby herself, but how many pausing photos have we seen of her, wrinkled eyes smiling, sickly scrawny newborn pressed to her cheek, love touching love in the filth of Calcutta’s gutters?

Teresa understood this truth in flesh and bone, and they called her mother for it.

The children who don’t have enough rice to scrape together for a meal, whose dry tongues crack for clean water to drink, who toss and turn to sleep terrified of gunshots outside or abuse from down the hall – they tug on my heart, too. They have to.

Otherwise I have not changed. I have not let my children change me – these wriggling babies whose bodies were once held within my skin, whose hearts beat beneath mine, whose life was sustained by my own.

And they have changed me mightily. 

So I have to keep probing this uncomfortable truth. It’s not about me and mine. It’s about yours, and theirs, and all the ones I will never know face-to-face.

It has to be ours.

the magic of cousins

Their eyes light up the instant the door opens. Maybe a moment’s hesitation of shyness for the youngest, but once they recognize who’s here, the grins burst forth: cousins!

In their bright eyes and squealing smiles I see flashes of family parties from my own childhood, noses pressed up against cold winter windows waiting for a pack of cousins to tumble into the house.

Coats flung off, wet boots kicked into corners, and suddenly we’re all running in a wild pack to the basement, weaving around adults and their ice-cubed drinks and their boring conversations. Off to the land of playroom sword fights and pool table battles and plotting elaborate make-believe and begging for a sleepover by the end of the night.

IMG_5253What’s more magical than cousins?

Already I see the same spark of recognition in my children’s eyes. Whether it’s been a week or a year since they’ve seen their kin, they click almost instantly, in a different way than they connect with friends or other children. Perhaps they see something familiar in their cousins: the same eyes or chin or hair. Perhaps they understand something they share: family, grandparents, a blood line, a last name.

Whatever the reason, children simply get cousins. A genuine no-holds-barred embrace of someone special.

Growing up, we had a gaggle of cousins on both sides of our family: older ones to emulate, peers to pal around with, little ones to adore. Some lived close and some lived far, but whenever we got together the world of cousins took on a life of its own. I have no memory of what my parents or aunts or uncles did during all those Easter brunches or Christmas parties or backyard barbeques, because our motley crew was always off causing trouble and delighting in each other’s company all to ourselves.

My kids have two cousins on each side. So while they won’t have the wild wrangle of all ages cramming into Grandma’s closet for a game of sardines, their cousins have become precious pearls all their own. My oldest son is enamored with his cousins: he talks about the four of them every day, counts down to when he gets to see them next, wears their beloved hand-me-downs as if they were royal finery.

I wish I could see the world through the eyes of a child for his cousins.

We hear so much tired talk about the proverbial human family; even the Body of Christ can become a cliché if we’re not careful. But I wonder what would happen if we could see each other as the cousins we are, sharing ancestors and blood and common stories. Maybe these metaphors – the brotherhood of man and the family of believers – would become more real, incarnate and enfleshed, if we could remember how we loved the cousins we knew as kids.

They weren’t our siblings, squabbling over petty fights and parental attention. And they weren’t our friends, whose affections sometimes faded as cliques changed and schools switched. Maybe we only saw them once a year, and for an afternoon or evening at that. But we always picked up right where we left off, the distance of time and space disappearing as we created a new adventure for that time together, that kairos set apart.

Years later, as adults scattered across the country and the globe, we may rarely cross paths except on email or Facebook, the occasional update from our parents. But when a wedding or funeral pulls us together again, there are still traces of the same connection of belonging, smiling at memories of the fun we had as kids, sharing stories of unforgettable family antics.

There’s something in the magic of cousins – the recognition of what we have in common, the unique relationship we share together – that challenges me to look at other relationships in my life differently.

What might happen if I decided to see my brothers and sisters in Christ as cousins instead?