From Grape Juice to Red Wine
“I stumbled forward to the altar rail, knelt on a worn pillow, held my hands out, and received the food and drink of God. Until that moment, I never knew that I had been spiritually starving for years.” -Diana Butler Bass, “Strength for the Journey”.
“From Grape Juice to Red Wine” will tell the stories of evangelicals who have found themselves – for one reason or another – on a journey toward the liturgical church.
Baptist to Anglican. Nondenominational to Episcopal. Pentecostal to Catholic.
…Or Orthodox. Lutheran. Methodist. Mainline Presbyterian.
It is my story, and it might be yours.
For the last year or so, I’ve stumbled in the direction of historic Christian tradition. In the midst of working through my spiritual wounds, curiosity for The Episcopal Church has turned to to insatiable lust – and I wonder if this is the faith shift I’ve been building toward for years without knowing.
I don’t know. I’m not even sure I’m yet able to put this migration into words. But this series will tease out some of those fuzzy thoughts, inklings, half-sketched ideas. This story is alive, and flowing in the direction of liturgy – it is the raw, uncertain, unpolished process of change.
You’ll hear stories from me, and from others on a similar path, every Friday, until I think we’ve told enough stories.
I am honored to kick things off with a guest post from Stephanie Gates of A Wide Mercy. Stephanie marinated in what she wanted to share with you on this topic for several weeks. This is what she chose. Savor her words. They are gourmet.
I don’t know how to write this post.
Carly asked me to share about my experience in a liturgical church after leaving a destructive theology, and I am stumped. Spiritual hurt – and healing – runs so deep, I can hardly find words to pin to it. My soul shriveled and cracked, half-baked and dying, when it was exposed to the oppressive heat of harmful theology. Liturgical worship runs now like water into the driest, deadest parts, bringing tiny sprigs of green life into ideas and emotions I thought would never be revived. Healing flows in a trickle. Most of the time, it is imperceptible. Drop by drop, week by week. Slowly, gently, naturally. I don’t have to chase it, seek it, or demand it. Instead, healing searches for me. It flows naturally, but it does not flow quickly.
I glimpse it occasionally, in a new thought, an unexpected peace, a natural acceptance of an idea that would have frightened me a year ago. Most recently, I spotted it in my daughter’s first experience of the Eucharist.
“Fencing the table,” many denominations calls it. Ministers stand in front of the Communion elements and explain, as gently as possible, who’s in and who’s out. Don’t take Communion if …. Different denominations fill in those blanks with their own caveats. Where I came from, Communion was denied to children. In that world, knowledge trumped everything else. Understand, then experience. Children had to demonstrate awareness of their sin and repentance before they could partake. Otherwise, they were drinking judgment on themselves.
The Anglican church has a completely different idea.
In the liturgical traditions, experience leads us to understanding. Depth comes through repetition. The more you live out the great drama of the Christian faith played out weekly in the liturgy, the more you will absorb it. Here, every baptized person is invited to join in the Eucharist – every toddler whose head was sprinkled as a newborn, every adult who hasn’t set foot in a church in a dozen years. All are welcome. Come. Experience Communion with Christ through the Eucharist. In time, you may even understand it.
The idea is beautiful and welcoming, but a little frightening. What if they were wrong? What if – as my former leaders said – I was bringing judgment on my children? My husband and I encouraged our oldest two children to receive, but truthfully we were still hedging our bets. We could say to ourselves they did understand, so they were safe. We had not completely shed the idea that study alone could be trusted, that only our minds could recognize God. Though we rejected the damage created by that way of thinking, we were slow to embrace a liturgical – experiential – way of life. We let our oldest two partake and planted ourselves comfortably on the fence.
Then, last Sunday, my three-year-old daughter raised her hands to receive.
She is a fun loving, tender-hearted little girl, the kind of child who demands little and smiles by default. For the past few Sundays, she has wandered to the front of the line, stood beside our priest and watched the rest of the congregation file in front of him. She isn’t bothering anyone, so I haven’t tried to stop her. Thankfully, neither has my priest. She just stands silently until it is my turn, when she receives her blessing and follows me back to our seat.
But last Sunday she observed several older children hold our their hands to receive. Then her brothers, one by one, stepped to the front of the line. Suddenly my daughter stepped directly in front of the line, and lifted her tiny hands in request. My priest quickly glanced through the line until he caught my eye. What did I want him to do?
As I looked at my little girl’s outstretched arms, one thought rang clearly in my head: Who am I to deny her Christ?
Our hearts naturally long for Him. Even as small children we wonder out loud about God, and we have a deep desire to connect with Him. Who am I to deny my daughter? To say she must first understand before she can be united with Christ? Who am I to dictate what her experience should be?
And a little more healing flowed into another dry corner of my soul.
I nodded quickly. My priest grinned, then bowed low. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” she whispered to my toddler. She grinned back, pleased. She crossed over to the cup, as she had watched so many others do, and the woman also bent down. “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” she said. My little girl dipped her bread proudly and chewed it. She never stopped smiling. Neither did I.
As I watched my daughter, another green twig peeked out of the ground. New life flowed into a part of my heart that was once dry and afraid. I can look at her now and say, come in, little one. All are welcome here.
Stephanie Gates is a writer, wife and mother of four. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, her blog is for you.