the word

You know what? I haven’t written a holy-moly, super-Catholic, spirituality-on-steroids blog post in quite a while. So watch out! Incoming! Run for your life!

Something hit me in church two months ago. Then it kept hitting me, and hitting me, and hitting me. The revelation clocked me so hard only because it was so blazingly obvious, and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before — kind of like when someone pointed out that the “L” in “Staples” is actually a staple and I howled OMIGOD OMIGOD HOW COME I NEVER NOTICED IT BEFORE OMIGOD THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING. And ever since then, every time I drive past the Staples on Central Avenue I shake my head with silent little omigod, marveling at its genius and my stupidity.

So this is what hit me at Mass: the Word. If you’re Catholic, you know that moment just before the Eucharist when the congregation says: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” (That’s the new translation; until late 2011, we said: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”)

Or, to quote my own internal monologue: “Lord, I am broken and bleeding. I am soooo not worthy of the body of Christ. But THANK GOD, and I mean that literally, you already know this about me. You already know I’m a piece of. . . ummm, work. You know all my flaws, even the ones I don’t yet realize I have, because I’m a clueless nincompoop in addition to being unworthy. Yet here I am! At the table! Unworthy little me! Just say the word, and. . .  wait — what’s that? You mean, you’ve said it already? The word that makes everything right? The word that heals? The word that resolves my broken state, my error-prone nincompoopedness, just as it resolves every cracked piece of everyone who approaches the altar to receive? REALLY? ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS, GOD? You are? You’ve said the magic word? Whoooooa, so I’m healed? You’re kidding! Thanks, dude, I mean God!”

This is pretty much the narrative that runs through my brain each time I receive communion. I’ve been Catholic for more than 28 years now,  and I’m constantly struck by the beautiful illogic of God’s attitude toward communion: None of you is worthy, but all of you are healed. This is one reason I’m forever infuriated by those who would deny “sinners” the Eucharist, as though A) everyone isn’t already a total sinning mess and B) Jesus himself ever denied anyone anything. For crying out loud, he didn’t boot Judas from the Last Supper, did he? And he knew what was up with that guy.

But what hit me at Mass two months ago: The word. It’s the Word. Meaning Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” — so goes the opening of the gospel according to St. John. I never really got it (true confessions). As gospels go, John is a little too wordy and poetical for me in general; I prefer the bluntness of Mark. And the prologue always hit me like: Wot? How is Jesus a word? But I took it to mean that Jesus was part of God’s plan from the beginning — that God, in creating us, knew from the start we were flawed and decided to include a handy-dandy redeemer in on the deal. It’s like going for a drive with a dying battery; you know the car is likely to crap out en route, so you pack a portable charger before you leave.

Jesus is our jumper. God packed him to make things right. And not just for Christians — for everyone.

I think about this, now, whenever I receive communion. I dwell on the greatness of God’s love, the outrageousness of it, as I shuffle up to the table in all my inadequacy. “Lord, I am not worthy. . . but only say the Word,” I repeat, rendering the upper case in my mind. I’m always unworthy, always healed. Makes no sense at all and all the sense in the world.

Holy-moly blog post, over and out.

10 thoughts on “the word

  1. Dear special daughter– I envy you for the comfort you find in your religion and for you I am happy you have it. What is special about you is the compassion and love you have for all of us regardless of faith or lack thereof–there is no condemnation in you just a love for all

    Your atheistic/agnostic adopted father

    • Oh, Dan, thank you. I love you and am so grateful for you. My life and my kids’ lives are so much richer for your kindness, generosity and loving heart – you’re truly one of the most “Christian” people I know, no matter what you believe (or don’t)!

      • This is my favorite of your writings (it is so very much like my experience in meeting God with my own Catholic faith). and I’ve appreciated everything i’ve read of yours since unfortunately needing to find your book a year ago when we lost my beautiful, faith-filled, amazing dad to suicide.
        Thank you for writing!

      • Oh, Kate, thank you – and I apologize for taking so long to reply. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m grateful if my writing has been able to help in some small way. Bless you!

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