Friday, October 4, 2013

Let's talk about food: The body of Christ at the nursing home

[Pieter Breugel the Elder,
Portrait of an Old Woman, 1563]

Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength.
--Book of Common Prayer, from Eucharistic Prayer C

I would like to finish this series of posts with a story about what the Eucharist meant to me during a difficult time about 20 years ago.

My mother had suffered a series of small strokes. She had Alzheimer's Disease as well, and she was seriously depressed. I had moved her into a nursing home near my house so I could visit her frequently.

At that time I was going to Mass almost daily. I needed the solace of the quiet half hour every morning. When my parish offered to train people who wanted to become ministers of communion (parishioners who help distribute the bread and wine), I signed up.

Holding up the consecrated bread and saying "The body of Christ" was easy, as was handing the cup to each person in line so they could drink from it. But some parishioners prefer to have the bread placed directly in their mouths, and that's trickier. The idea is to put it gently on their tongue without getting bitten.

We practiced with one another, the pretend communicant opening her mouth and, ideally, sticking out her tongue; the pretend minister of communion laying the host on it. When we got the hang of it, our training session concluded, and I drove directly to the nursing home to visit my mother.

It was dinnertime at Sandalwood. Mother was in a wheelchair at her table, unable to feed herself, able to swallow only with difficulty. I was not good at getting her to eat, but no attendant was available. So I sat down next to her and picked up a spoon.

I dipped the spoon in the strained spinach and held it up for her to see. She opened her mouth. I put the spinach on her tongue.

I almost said, "The body of Christ."

As I think back on that moment, I see layers upon layers of symbolic meaning. I'm not going to list them or explain them. I'll just say that as I fed spinach to my mother, I suddenly understood a lot more about what I'd been doing in church just 30 minutes earlier.

This is the last in a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I led or will lead conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I posted about food every weekday between September 13 and October 4. The first post in the series is here.


Anonymous said...

LaVonne, why is it that some "get it" and others don't? Thank you for sharing that precious moment with your mom with us. Looking forward to what you'll be offering up for us to taste in your next "lively Dust". Blessings.

LaVonne Neff said...

I think people "get it" in different ways and in different doses. I confess: I rarely get it at all. But now and then a flash illumines the path for a moment. Credo ut intelligam.