Feasting on the word

Dear friends,

When I was 10, my family went to visit my maternal grandparents one weekend. This in itself was relatively unremarkable—they lived 100 miles away and we’d visit every couple of months or so. We’d spent the weekend at “the Barn,” this magical house in rural Kentucky they’d had built the year I was born. It looked like a barn, had no actual rooms in it (aside from the bathrooms and a laundry room), and a wonderful two-sided fireplace that rose up the middle of the house. There were only gravel roads in the neighborhood, on which we’d go for walks with my grandmother to collect fossils and pick blackberries on hot and humid Kentucky summer days. This was an October weekend, with all of the glory that fall brings. We got back home after a wonderful weekend visiting them to find a message on the answering machine. My beloved grandmother had died from a heart attack in the 1.5 hours it took us to drive from their house to ours.

In that moment of grief and devastation I remember thinking that we needed to call our priest, Fr. Sonny, and that we needed to have Communion. I honestly don’t remember making any logical connection in that thought process. However, we were very active members of our local Episcopal Church and in a moment when nothing made sense any more, my 10 year old self knew that ritual would provide us with grounding. I know the priest came, but have no recollection of our family Eucharist itself. Just that moment of terrible, aching grief and need for that gathering around the table.

I’ve thought of that moment many times over the past year. Like so many others, the last 12+ months have been ones of fear, frustration, anger, exhaustion, hope, creativity, isolation, longing, and a host of other emotions. And in the midst of all of this, what I long for is the ability to gather with you all and break bread together—in the Eucharist and afterwards—to find some grounding with one another when everything around us seems to be falling apart. This has not been possible though. I’ve not been to any sort of in person worship service since March 8, 2020, and I have no idea when I’ll be able to go to one again. I know I am not alone in this. Online worship services have shown the incredible creativity, resilience, and care of our church leaders, lay and ordained, and I give thanks to God for the many ways I have been able to worship in these strange times. Still, the longing remains.

Yet in the midst of that longing, I have found myself being grounded in the Word in ways I never had been before. It’s not always been willingly or happily—often it’s a begrudging acceptance that yet again I will say Morning Prayer instead of receiving the Eucharist. Despite all of this, though, God has shown up in the Word and given me a new-found appreciation for the ways the Anglican liturgy draws on that Word and immerses us in it day after day, week after week, month after month. I’ve come to love more deeply the worship that formed the core of the Anglican tradition for centuries. And our weekly Gospel Based Discipleship tutorial groups have fed my soul week in and week out, in this time when there’s no community breakfast to feed my body. This year has brought all new meaning to Jesus’s response when he was tempted with bread, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In the absence of that Eucharistic bread, the Word has been even more needed and nourishing.

I deeply hope that this Eucharistic fast will soon be over, though I’ve learned to constantly re-define “soon!” I long for the day when I’m once again chasing one of my kids up the aisle trying to get them to play just a little bit more quietly in the midst of the sermon. I can’t wait to wake up extra early on a Friday to make sure I get to the college in time for Eucharist and breakfast. And I hope that, even when we are able to gather again, that I don’t forget the nourishment provided for us in the Scriptures, and the ways God shows up even (especially) when the world is turned upside down.

Faithfully yours,

This message was written by the Rev. Dr. Hilary Bogert-Winkler, Director of Pastoral Studies, for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.

An image used to illustrate this post is by Swroche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.