Communion, Room 304

“Are you my sister?”
asked the white-haired
woman stretched out
in bed as I
from the harsh
light of the noisy
hallway to
her side.

Blinds drawn tight.
A pair of highback
wheelchairs parked
on hard tile
against the doors
of dark
set as out
of the way
as they
could be.

“No ma’am
I’m from
the church.
I came
to visit.”

She smiled then
returned to
some distress
I could
not see.

Moving a chair
beside her bed
I tried to

We spoke of the
sleeping woman
in the
bed next to
her own.

“Maybe she’s
my sister.”

I want
to eat.”

“I brought
communion but
that might not
be enough?
We’ll see
I guess.”

I dipped the
dry wafer in
the juice and
placed it in
her mouth.

She chewed
silently for one
moment, then

“How about we pray?”
I asked.

She touched
my hand.
“Your hands
are cold”
she said.

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“So cold. Let me
warm them.”

She took
my hands
and cradled
them in


On Observance

We are staying over the long weekend in a neighborhood that’s home to a substantial population of Orthodox Jews. In addition to the Christian celebration of Pentecost and the national holiday Memorial Day, this year the weekend also marks the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to Moses and to the gathered Jewish people at Mount Sinai.

From the beginning of the Sabbath all through the weekend, we’ve noticed groups of men in suits and yarmulkes striding, women in soft hats and long dresses pushing strollers and carriages, attentive fathers listening to stories and answering questions from their small children, and older couples, accompanied by caregivers, making their way deliberately along the sidewalk. These assorted groupings of well dressed, carefully covered men, women, and children have repeatedly made their way back and forth from home to one of the several synagogues scattered around the area.

One memorable grouping was led by a father and an older daughter swinging a younger daughter by the hands as she jumped her way to morning services. They were trailed by the mother pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The older woman’s husband walked alongside. This latter trio looked quite austere until the older man, dressed in a sharp navy suit and fedora, broke into a huge smile and complimented my dog for waiting so patiently for them to pass through a narrow passage of sidewalk.

The term ‘observant’ is applied to Jews who follow the careful prescriptions of Talmudic teachings. I heard a young Christian friend say recently that Jews had it easy because all they had to follow was the Ten Commandments. This woman was unaware of the vast scope of Jewish scholarship and prescriptive law that governs the behavior of the faithful. Observant Jews must pay attention throughout daily life and on the Sabbath to a range of guidelines that immerse them in a faithful life.

While their traditions differ from my own, I appreciate the idea of being ‘observant’. In doing this work, I’ve made reference to the sacrament of the everyday, to the acknowledgement of the sacred that permeates daily routines and encounters. We all have the potential to live lives suffused with holiness and justice and mercy . We can be observant in our daily practice of living with one another and in our connection to God.

It is not casual, but it can become habitual, our accustomed way to engaging with the world around us. We all have the potential to be observant. I thank those attentively observing Shavuot this weekend for the steady reminder.

Notes on Communion

A friend read over the draft of this site and came to me with the following query about the description from the Home page:

“You said you take communion every day around noon & (coming from a catholic place) I’m wondering what that looks like?  For us it would be a community thing, not any more a one-person thing.  How is that for you?”

These are good and important questions. My own theology and outlook on the Eucharist will probably always be evolving as I learn and live more, so I will speak to my understanding of it in this moment.

I tend to prefer the term “communion” for describing this divine meal, but it’s worth starting with the meaning of the word “Eucharist”. The Greek word from which it is translated means “thanksgiving” -and indeed thanksgiving is often foregrounded in communion liturgies. At its core then, taking communion is an act of giving thanks.

This act of giving thanks for me transcends the actual circumstances of the moment. I might be alone, but I am (always) integrally connected in my act of thanksgiving to the community of Christians all around the world. If we are indeed one body – as I believe we are, even across all of our differences – that body is not absent even when it is not visible.

The writer Phyllis Tickle puts it another way in discussing another form of liturgical practice, fixed hour prayer or the Divine Office. In the Introduction to her manual for prayer, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime, she writes “To participate in such a regimen with such an awareness is to pray, as did the Desert Fathers, from within the spiritual community of shared texts as well as within the company of innumerable other Christians, unseen but present, who have preceded one across time or who, in time, will follow one.”

I suppose then the basic answer to the question is that I do not consider myself alone in the act, even if in my particular moment in time and space, no other people are physically present with me. It remains a communal act of joining with others to give thanks and to participate in the divine mystery (and no, I do not believe Christ to be physically present in the bread and the wine, but have perfect respect for those who do so believe).

There are many other questions and topics for conversation embedded in this conversation. I’ll stop for now since I’ve addressed this specific query and know that there will be opportunities for further discussions in the future.

For a variety of reasons I have not set up a comment section on this site. However, please feel free to send me thoughts or questions from the Contact page or to add comments on the What the Heart Holds facebook page.