Lesson 43: Conversation as Discernment

My observation that Christian conversation and especially that which takes place around the communion table might be the most helpful way to discern God’s Word drew a number of responses. All of them expressed hope for this kind of creative conversation, but also disappointment that it is not happening.

Myron observed, “Most of the “conversation” is not conversation at all but shrill polemics that advance the dialog not one bit but seems to fix people even more firmly in their unyielding positions. Now, if the institutional church could break through that cacophonous battle, maybe something could be accomplished. It’s not just evolution and creationism that we can’t have a decent dialog about; abortion, guns, health care, war…I begin to despair.”

Bob also expressed doubts. “I am dubious about the extent to which we can go back to the simple idea of gathering around Jesus’ table and sharing our thoughts. I find this to be one of the lovely images from the early church that we can’t recapture on a large scale. I would love to be wrong”.

Obvious this is not going to happen with our present understanding of Communion as a magic meal conducted by a magician priest or with our current practice that mimics fast food meals. And it might never be practical in large congregations unless they enable the dynamic Word encountered at the table to inspire conversation in the narthex and small groups. However, I think we can begin by seeing the Communion as the archetype of all meals. We experience Christ’s presence around his table, confident because he promises to be there and come to see him present at all our meals. The sacrament reveals that all meals are sacred, fills the everyday with meaning. Of course, this should be happening in Christian small groups whether a priest is present or not.

Two experiences have played a major role in my understanding. The first is how very young children responded to my lead-in question during First Communion classes. When I asked what they did at dinner, fully expecting they would talk about eating, they almost without fail responded, “We talk”. As I heard this year after year, I began to appreciate what eating together is all about. We not only share our food so all have enough; we also share ourselves. We speak of what we have done and what we plan to do and elicit the response of those whom we love.

The second was a discussion with Ivan Illich who observed we really do not know what Jesus meant when he said, “This is my body”, because we can not observe his body language. Illich suggested he might have extended his arms to indicate that those gathered around the table were his body, affirming the early Christian understanding that the Church is the Body of Christ. His hope was that we could recapture the spirit of Jesus’ meal by emphasizing the role of friendship in our day and seeing friends as companions who share their bread with one another sitting at a round table.

It seems to me emphasizing these aspects of the sacrament will enable us to come closer to the Servant Church about which Lupe and I spoke last week and the Church as Family about which Rita and speak constantly.

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