Six of us kneel at the Eucharist railing and wait. My mind is on the snuffling priest who is busy beside the altar, disinfecting and wiping his hands, breaking wafers and pouring a port-like wine into a chalice. I’m struggling for connection and remember only that the old Anglican Prayer Book calls the bread and wine, creatures.
A prayer prayed, a responsive reading, a Psalm, the Nicene creed intoned, and a homily from the gospel of John delivered, we six unsubstantial creatures now kneel, all of us, I imagine, grateful for upholstery. As it is, the signals of age are in my back and knees but I’m still the youngest here.
I kneel and wonder what is it that brings me out on a morning like this—still dark, blowing snow and brassy cold. I suppose the possibility of emotional instability exists. Or perhaps it’s the momentum of a penitent thought. Or maybe it’s the thought that Jesus, like Alexander, might show up with a sword and cut through the Gordian knot of questions, doubts, and all the unresolved matters of the soul.
And why here? This cavernous post-war cathedral is not the antithesis of allurement, but it’s in range. Well, why here is easy enough. For me it’s the lack of diversion. It’s sensory detox from life in the 21 century. It’s the bodily need for liturgy over lexicon, stillness over oratory, altar over technique. It’s not stimulation deprivation so much as sensory reorientation.
But is this still enough? What of this story? John, running off with Andrew to go and see Jesus; John the gossip, spreading news about the socially-illicit Jesus—just because he felt loved. Loved in a way that left no residual claim, that left John compelled by freedom to love as he was loved.
Maybe that’s my deal. Barely aware and often blind to being driven by the desires, affirmations, expectations and glances of the social other, I’m here in the hope of some retraining.
Today I may be afraid of catching something from the priest, but I’m counting on catching something from Another other who is not driven by the social other (to paraphrase James Alison). I’m here to open myself to a mimetic contagion of a different kind. One that is free from rivalry and antagonistic reciprocity; and free from parsing out good and evil and choosing the good us over and against evil them.
I’m here hoping, like John, to receive myself through the eyes of the Other other. The One who is entirely outside our petty competitiveness, not to mention our sacrificial violence.
We six have returned to our pews and now await the benediction—our creaturely substantiation.