Well, as you can see from this photo, the communion set I shattered last week is well on the mend. Clearly, it's not there yet. In fact, I'm not sure how much more can be repaired. Strangely,
however, the chalices, carafe and paten are more holy to me now in their apparent unwholiness than they ever were before I broke them in my negligence. You'd expect me, I bet, to go straight to
St. Paul's words about how we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so I will: "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this
extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but
not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies" (II Corinthians 4:7-11 NRSV).
I LOVE this passage, how it affirms the brutal honesty of the many and varied hits we take, but also the even deeper "life of Jesus" mystery that grants us abiding resilience and resolve. It reminds me of another verse earlier in that same letter where Paul, struggling with his own weaknesses and sin, somehow hears the Lord say to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9). I can't tell you how many times I've gotten (and keep getting) this one wrong. My default position is to think and feel that power is made perfect in strength. Which is exactly why I find Paul's words so refreshing and utterly healing.
Today's the birthday of poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren. I love his work for its "witness," what some might call the "strange witness of unbelief." Warren was at best an agnostic, but he
spoke so deeply to the human heart in a broken world. As I looked over The Poetry Foundation's extensive biography on Warren, I was reminded of how, in his book The Poetic Vision of Robert
Penn Warren, Victor Strandberg underscores the passage from innocence to maturity that lies at the center of Warren's literary vision. Strandberg sees Warren as dividing his characters into
two groups: "those who refuse passage into a polluted and compromised adult environment" (whom Strandberg refers to as the "Clean" people) and "those who accept passage into the world's stew"
(the "Dirty" people). As Warren sees it, the Clean people see themselves as separate from the corrupted world, while the Dirty people are willing to face life as is in order to grow spiritually.
In Warren's view, the Clean people can either be relatively harmless, reclusive fundamentalist types, or they can be almost psychopathic in their determination to purify the world and punish
sinners (i.e., the Dirty People). I'm one of the Dirty people, I guess. I sense God drawing me more deeply into a kind of radical acceptance of the "world's stew." Not that I seek to make things
worse, or believe that things can't be made better--but I'm convinced that I can best press forward via the acceptance of our shared brokenness.
Humpty Dumpty came to mind while trying to glue the communion set back together this week. What I wouldn't have given for "all the king's horses and all the king's men"! I thought of just how many times each day, in Christian communities all over God's good earth, and in countless other lives in other places, Christian or not, the Sacred Presence comes to folks doing their best to bear up beneath the broken day as it comes and goes, offering the invitation to renewed life, saying words that embody and echo "Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. Take, drink, this is my blood spilt for you."
Whatever this Communion is that we both serve and sever, over and over, at its center lives a Broken Heart that heals, that mends, that lifts us back up and offers us in love to a world that's glorious these spring days with robin-blue skies, greening lawns, bird chitter and squirrel chatter; yet horrid too, with a hateful hankering, as Paul put it, to crush, perplex, persecute and destroy.
I don't know if we have enough glue, or enough of a sense of jig-saw proportion or patience, to ever get this communion back together, but I celebrate the fact, all in all, that the Sacred Heart continues to beat, and to hold us all close in all those places where broken is blessed: we're well on the mend; we're well, on the mend.