Both my parents have held leadership positions in the varied churches we have attended over the years. In one of the many commonplaces of the evangelical testimony, I could easily say that I was indeed trained to be in church “every time the doors were open.”
In my adolescent years, that meant Sunday School, Morning Church, Sunday afternoon choir practice, Evening Church, Youth Group, and Wednesday night Bible Study.
When I went to college, I realized what I think many of my Christian peers began to realize at the same time: it takes quite a bit of effort against the inertia of life to make it to church on Sundays. And for a very long time, I wandered in and out of the occasional church the same way I wander into restaurants. Today I feel like Mexican. Next week maybe it will be Chinese.
It wasn’t until I fell in love with the liturgical services at an Episcopal Church in Boston that I began to be a “regular” attendee again. Since then, I have stayed more or less faithful, the vicissitudes of mood and inclination notwithstanding.
Two weeks ago, the chaplain at our school led us in an opening faculty Eucharist for the new school year. The passage she took for her homily was from 1 Kings 19, the chapter in which Elijah flees to the desert after his great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Hounded by Ahab and Jezebel, exhausted, he asks God to take his life. Instead of doing so, God sends an angel to feed him:
All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Now, teaching is as good an analogy for the desert experience as it is for the miraculous validation at Mount Carmel. Some days feel like the simultaneous experience of both. Every day, 93 fourteen year-olds come into my classroom expecting me to be organized, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, prepared, present, engaged, in control. Every day, I am both good and bad at this. Every day, I come home spent. I come home hungry.
I am not one of those delicate gals who regularly forget to eat. I tend to place a pretty high premium on eating and my body type could perhaps best be described as “sturdy.” However, I don’t always eat well.
It’s not that I don’t know about good food or even that I don’t know how to make good food. I do. Just that with the tyranny of immediate need—grading, bills, e-mail correspondence, class prep—hanging over me like the perpetual sword of Damocles, I tend most days to eat that which is quickest and easiest to get. Lately, it’s Balance bars for breakfast and Lean Cuisines for dinner.
Thus it is that the day spins all around me, and I eat that which is not food, again and again and again.
This morning I did not feel like going to church. I have too much to do. And if I was to spend all day prepping for school, it would not feel like enough. But I forced myself to go, somewhat unwillingly. And church was for me what it is so much more often than not—food. Good, solid food.
Our priest meditated on what it is to live in reality, what it is to live between the victory at Carmel and the desert at Horeb, what it is to share your sacred final food with Peter on the one side and Judas on the other. I sang alto to the familiar organ lilt of the melodies I’ve known my entire life. I knelt at the altar, legs crossed behind me, palms outstretched.
Stop. Take. Eat.
The journey is too much for you.
And so the ablution of Sunday still sets the rhythm of my hungry week. And fed again for a time, I get up and walk.
Image produced above is by Greg Westfall, licensed by Creative Commons.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.