Communion: The giving and receiving of bread and wine (or wafers or crackers or grape juice, depending on the church) in remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross. The mysterious command of Christ at the Last Supper, before his death:Do this in remembrance of me.”

For a year, we lived and taught in China, my husband and I, and I was not cut out for it.

In the unfamiliarity and strangeness of it all, Loneliness came, and it was strong and destructive like a parasite. It grew unchecked, and then it was bigger than I was.

We came back to America. The church people said, “Get plugged in!” and so we did. This Bible study. That house church. I was hurling myself against all the programs, trying unsuccessfully to light that spark, to find community.

The church people said, “Feed yourself,” so I drove to Caribou every morning before work. I sat in that fake leather chair with my Bible, my pen suspended over the empty pages of my prayer journal.

But Depression doesn’t just make you sad, it makes you empty. You reach for the things you need, but you can’t absorb them.

At first you are desperate in your hunger, willing to try anything to get at that Bread of Life. But then the numb sets in, and it is a kind of giving up, a kind of starvation.

Instead of eating, I drank. Margaritas. Coffee. Wine. Coffee. Vodka. Coffee. I drank until I felt full. I was tipsy or I was jittery, always a little bit shaken, a little bit hungry. I hardly noticed my arms growing thin.

It is a whole, long, hard story, and I won’t tell it all here. I will tell you that the way back was hard. It included a lot of therapy and a prescription meant to get the synapses in my brain firing again.

But the way back also included, briefly, a church called Solomon’s Porch: a strange, beautiful little community in Minneapolis that called themselves “holistic,” called themselves “emergent.”

They met in an old church building, the pews removed, replaced with old couches turned into a wide circle. When they celebrated communion, it was with tables set like stations around the sanctuary. At one table, hearty, homemade bread. At others, twelve grain or seed bread, whole loaves waiting to be torn. Here there was grape juice in small, biodegradable cups; there, a goblet of red wine.

However you needed it, however your heart could absorb it, whatever communion tradition you resonated with, all of it was here. Available. The table set for you.

Music played and people talked softly as they got up and moved about the room, and it was communion with God and with one another happening at once, all of us gathered around the mystery of it all. Someone was ripping the bread, and we were passing it to each other. Feeding. Being fed.

And this is the heart of it all, isn’t it? When it comes down to it, the story of Jesus is this: we are hungry, and he gives himself to us like bread. He says, “Be filled.” He says, “Feed my sheep.”

This is where it all comes together: someone you don’t know hands you a piece of bread, looks straight in your eyes, and it is community and sustenance all at once.

They offer you the broken, beautiful Love of Christ, and you take it, absorb it. Find that it is enough.

32 thoughts on “Communion

  1. This is gorgeous. I hope this will be expanded in your book. “But Depression doesn’t just make you sad, it makes you empty. You reach for the things you need, but you can’t absorb them.” So painfully true. The line about feeding His sheep is a sharp reminder that in order to feed the flock, we have to first learn how to feed ourselves.

    1. Very nice Stephanie. I sat in a church service one Sunday morning with my hubby and passed a note to him that turned out to be prophetic, though I didn’t know that then. “How can we truly and honestly touch those who are hurting, depressed, homeless and broken without ever walking in their shoes and knowing their pain?” A month later he passed away unexpectedly, leaving me in all those same situations. I can honestly serve what I have “eaten” now.

      1. I’m sorry for your loss, Deb, and for the pain that inevitably comes with that. I’m amazed by your strength to turn that pain around and use it to minister to others. It’s encouraging and inspiring and strengthening all at once.

  2. Wow. You weave together beautiful images with your words. Thank you for sharing.

    My husband is from the Twin Cities. I have always been curious about Solomon’s Porch. It sounds like such an interesting and lovely way to do church. I am so glad you found the Bread and community there.

    1. It’s a very cool place. We only went there for a short time because we live in the Burbs and felt strongly about being involved in a church that was in our community. But Solomon’s Porch was exactly what I needed during that tough transitional period in my life. I’m thankful that they’re there!

  3. Beautiful story! This reminds me of where I was this past weekend. I ended a six-year relationship and felt like I was the worst human being in the world. I thought that if I dared showed my face in church, the roof would collapse on me. But it turns out the exact opposite happened. Through the confession and absolution, the sharing of the peace, and communion (can you tell I’m Lutheran?), I felt like God was saying, “It’s okay, I forgive you.”

    1. I’m so glad that you received grace and peace in the pain of it all. May you continue to experience that in the coming weeks and months.

  4. Ack! The “get plugged in” thing. That really grated on me at one particular church. I felt like I couldn’t be a friend with any of the people unless I got involved in their programs and joined the assembly line or whatever it was that they called discipleship.

    I don’t know if this is a generational thing or something that is just among a random tribe of people, but there is something that creates community when you just give people space to experience God together. It sort of takes the pressure off and lets people just find their way to God. I can’t quite even put it into words, but I think you really pointed at what I’ve been feeling in your story.

    1. Yes. I’m not a fan of “plugged-in” at all. (I have a post on that one too.) I love what you said about “creating space for people to experience God together.” Sometimes I think that we (Christians) are as uncomfortable with unfilled space as we are with unfilled silence.

  5. This is a beautiful post, Addie.

    I had the chance to teach ESL in China in 2003, and I had friends who knew me well enough to say, “Chad, I’ve seen you in foreign environments. You don’t do well. You need familiar settings to function properly.” It was true. I have OCD, and I am a homebody, and I have to have a comfortable, familiar environment or else I feel somehow estranged from things. China might have turned me inside-out once and for all.

    I prepare communion for my church, and it often drives me bonkers. Filling tiny cups with juice, only for the excess to be downed by overly enthusiastic 8-year-olds after the service is over is enough to make me look for a glass of wine to toss back. But last Sunday, when serving communion I looked at each person I served, and realized how much more there was to them than just what I saw on the surface. I enjoyed thinking, “I know you, and you’re part of my church family.” It is indeed pretty special.

    And the ability to meditate on things like this – to cherish them inwardly – gives us strength, richness, and sustenance for darker days in the future. Thanks for this, Addie.

    1. Thanks, Chad. Yes, I don’t entirely regret the time I spent in China, but I was unprepared for how hard it would be. We went there to teach English, but I had no Chinese at all, and it just ended up being a lot for me.

      Your communion story is very cool. Sounds like there could be an essay there. 🙂

  6. One of the most dangerous things in fundamentalism is the incessant noise that being a missionary is the highest calling of all, that everybody should be willing to give up everything to go to Zimbabwe, and that not being comfortable with leaving home is a sure fire guarantee that you’re supposed to. I have become very frustrated with many things about “missions” even though I don’t say that to sound like I don’t support missionaries.

    You don’t describe this as a missionary involvement, so I don’t presume that it was, but there is huge pressure in fundamentalism for Christians to prove their devotion to God by agreeing to 5 years in a far, far away land. Most of the time 20somethings are desperate to find the approval of the grizzled old Bible thumping preacher and will do WHATEVER he says is “God’s perfect will”, because, after all, anything less is to doom yourself to a life of misery and your children to the curse of being normal people.

    I call it bullcrap. Let God call the missionaries. He called Paul.

    1. Yes, Bernard, I also have some issues with the “missionary” stuff (which I’ll probably tackle at some point in a post or two.) This year in China wasn’t that…it was a teaching thing, a requirement for my husband’s International Business degree.

      I don’t really think that we were “called” to China in the way missionaries talk of it, but it was part of our journey. A hard part, but still, part.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s hard to “admit” depression in the church…because so many people will say, “How can you be depressed? you have Jesus!” I too, had a season of darkness, and still struggle with the after-effects of an abusive marriage, which included spiritual abuse…my view of Jesus was skewed by the spiritual leader in my home. Thankfully, I am in the healing process, knowing that Jesus is Lord, not any man (or woman) and I am a survivor thanks to the Love of God (and some meds).

    1. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your own struggle, Jill. It frustrates me when people talk as if Jesus and Depression (or sadness or loneliness) cannot coexist. Or aren’t meant to. It’s a dangerous line of thought because then when you do experience those things, there’s this underlying idea that it’s because you aren’t holy enough, don’t have enough faith. Like if you were just a little better of a Christian, this wouldn’t be happening.

      A faith community should be a place where it is safe to share your own struggle. It should be the place where people lift you like the paralyzed man in the parable and lower you through the ceiling to Christ.

  8. here is a vote for communion that involves more bread-tearing and sharing. i like the idea of sitting around a table (with Jesus) and letting that relationship transform me. sometimes i have a hard time connecting a tiny little wafer and miniature shot glass to body and blood, broken and poured.

  9. I love the imagery of communion here. Not only the various options so people are free to commune with God in the way they are accustomed/comfortable but also the reminder of communion as sustenance. Absolutely beautiful reflection, Addie.

    1. I loved that too–the options. The freedom of it. I’d never been to a communion service like that before and haven’t been since, but there’s something to this idea of giving people God in the way they need him. Honoring each other’s differences and finding a way to provide for that.

  10. Hi Addie–

    I just found your blog via one of your published online writings. I grew up evangelical, so your language and imagery here speak to me, make me miss the parts of church I find I no longer make enough time for. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

    So appreciate your honesty. Good luck to you!

    1. So glad you found me, Emily. I think that’s been my challenge too–I grew up evangelical and there’s a lot there that I feel like we’d gotten wrong…but there is also beauty and truth. I guess that’s sort of the path my writing has taken me on…sorting through it all, trying to hold onto the stuff that’s important and let go of what’s not.

  11. beautiful….community as you needed it, when you needed it…. what a wonderful thing that is….

    and I second Ed “get plugged in” just doesn’t sit right…

  12. As I look back I wonder if the “best communion” I may have ever experienced was as a 12 year old in white pants (yep, it was the 70s), sitting in the church balcony, when a homeless guy, you know, an “outsider,” grabbed a whole handful of unleavened crackers. My only other memory is the big purple stain on my pants, shared among Jr. Hi boys.

    1. I’m in love with that image of the homeless man grabbing a whole handful of crackers. I think there’s an entire essay there.

  13. The first time I took communion was a week before my confirmation.

    No one ever said God would be angry if I took communion too early; it was just implied. And I sat there in the pew, at a summer-evening Bible study my grandma forced me to go to, and the new pastor held a plate of styrofoam wafers in front of my face and invited me to take one.

    Grandma was appalled. “She hasn’t been confirmed yet.”

    He looked me straight in the eyes. “Do you belong to the family of God? Then you can have it.”

    I had no idea that his permission would start to slowly peel away everything I believed about God and breaking the rules and making Him mad. I love that communion is not about perfection but about community, even though we don’t always treat it that way: “They offer you the broken, beautiful Love of Christ, and you take it, absorb it. Find that it is enough.” This is lovely, Addie.

    1. That’s an amazing story, Shar. I’m so thankful for people like that who cut through the politics of it and the rules and get to the striking heart of God.

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