The Rev. Whitney Zimmerman
Besides it being so beautifully crafted and profoundly compelling, The SSJE Rule is a gracious mirror by which I can assess the reality of my spiritual life. So often I approach it with confusion and illusion, only to see not just me, but God’s longing for me. Nowhere is this truer than in the Rule’s frequent reference to eucharistic living: an entire way of being made possible with a loaf and a cup and a life of divine love. Eucharistic living involves all aspects of our work, hospitality, community and worship. It is the central act of our lives, beginning, of course with the actual meal. As a priest, I have the honor of presiding over it several times a week, feeding hundreds with tangible holiness. Yet among all these meals, there is one that truly fills me.
Every Tuesday morning, for the last four years, once we have coffee perking, volunteers settled, and our voicemails activated, our staff gathers to celebrate the Eucharist. The whole affair is intentionally informal with someone grabbing any small table from a hallway, another drawing a circle of chairs, and my pulling a tea candle from a box. We meet in a tiny chapel, respectfully eschewing the beautifully appointed marble, silk and mahogany worship space of our gorgeous church. Every time it is different. Every time we build a new altar, break our own bread and pour our own port; thereby intentionally offering our own lives to be that “living sacrifice” in the ancient prayer. It is intensely intimate, with unplanned spans of quiet and unscripted reams of prayer. Within the freeing bounds of the Eucharistic prayers we laugh, we cry, we worry and we grow. And by the urging of the Rule to keep our worship, prayer and Eucharistic celebrations fresh, this band of 12 has become, for all of us, the holy of holies, where we, the feeders of the church, retreat to be fed.
On any given Sunday, our large, southern church and its associated buildings seethe with humanity in perpetual motion. With several choirs, children propped on every pew and cushion and hundreds of wonderfully devoted people, our brightly lit worship space can feel like O’Hare on Thanksgiving eve. It is, as the rector says, joyful chaos. But it is chaos nonetheless. The worship moves at a decidedly un-monastic clip and the space, at times, seems to crackle in its preparedness to break into its next move; be it the prayers, the offering, or the recessional. And, when I have failed to attend Tuesday’s gathering of holiness, the chaos can preside over me, as opposed to me over it. Rather than a rhythm, it becomes a race.
Sure, I can fake it. It is my job after all. I can deign calm even as my mind flits like a honey-high butterfly. I can lace my words with inflection and intonation even as my eyes are darting about, cueing a LEM or searching a hymn text. I can win the race even as I pretend to be oblivious to it all. And I can also starve in the midst of a banquet, but I don’t want to do that either. None of us do. This is the irony of our faith; the more we live into it…the more demands are put upon us…the more easily we lose sight of what it was we were living into in the first place….
And so, every Tuesday, I pass through the great hall, genuflect the towering hand-carved table dedicated to our Lord to take my place at a card table, so that I might be fed. So that I might live the bread I eat and the wine I drink.