My words fall with bits of broken body.
The loaf in my hands was consecrated to the sacrament inside the chapel,
“the body of Christ, broken for you”.
Eviscerated by 34 people before me, the carcass is now mine with instructions to return it to the earth it came from, and broken bodies are dominating my awareness right now.
Tearing scraps of bread, dropping them along the treeline, praying as I go,
“Please, God, save them.”
Friend Number One is a mom with four kids, a wife, a former colleague. Hugely likable, extroverted, and full of ideas, she brought enthusiasm and excitement and life to our office. We connected in our shared interest in out-of-the-box approaches to the work of the church. Cancer is trying to kill her and she’s fighting for her life.
Friend Number Two and I go way, way back. I watched her for years as she wrestled to make sense of some confusing family issues, and ultimately found herself called into ministry. Her husband is one of my favorite people. A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, she had a seizure. First one ever. A scan shows something “interesting” in her head. More tests to come.
These two women are more than just people who have been friendly toward me - they’ve both made real contributions to who I am today. Our lives are full of people who will offer compliments after we’ve done something good, but the people who look deeper into us and see a latent passion and nudge us forward into it, are much more rare. They’re more than friends - they’re encouragers. As life goes on and we spend more time looking back, they are the people we cherish most.
When I first started writing, Friend Number One was my only reader and she made me promise to not stop. Now, this weekly ritual is part of who I am. Friend Number Two - I’ve known her since childhood - has been a great model of how to explore my spiritual side, and she continues to encourage me to be bold in the journey.
It was seven weeks ago that I learned Friend Number One’s cancer was back and at least once every day since then, I’ve been overcome with either sadness or rage at the likely outcome for her and her family.
It was two weeks ago that Friend Number Two had her seizure. She seems fine, now, but answers are still forthcoming, and I’m scared for her.
I couldn’t love either of these women more if they were my own sisters, and the thought of them suffering is more than I can bear. With a more mature faith, I might be content to celebrate the immensely positive impact that they have already had on my life without worrying about the future, but maturity is not a strength of mine.
I always look forward to this time at the Christian retreat when it is my turn to dispose of the communion elements. It’s a holy moment for me, taking the fruit of the vine and the fruit of the earth for a walk in the woods and reuniting them with the soil. A spiritual circle is being drawn, and I feel connected - a small piece of something big.
In the spirit of the sacrament, my prayers should be penitent and humble and grateful. But as I walk and drop the bread, I’m not as meek in the presence of God as I should be, and dammit, I wanna know what He’s planning to do about my friends’ situations. If the answer is “nothing” then I’m going to have a tough time working in ministry for a while.
If God’s answer to my appeal to "save them" is to point to Jesus and say “I already did”...
I guess that’s a foundational piece of the Christian faith, but honestly, it doesn’t make it any easier for me to watch the human suffering.
If the answer to my appeal to save them is a miracle cure, then my prayer would be answered exactly as I wished. A miracle is not unreasonable to ask for, is it?
After nearly nine years (!) working in the church, I’ve learned some answers for when bad things happen to good people, but I’ll be candid here, those answers are a lot more satisfying when the bad things are happening to people I'm not this close to.
I realize I’m walking perilously close to a spiritual cliff and I’m trying to not drop the bread over the edge. While I’m asking God to fix problems that I don’t believe God caused, I’m stopping short - just short - of judging Him on my senses of fairness and justice as I wonder why two good people are in these positions. For someone who claims to accept God’s sovereignty, I’m right on the edge of insubordination.
Every few hours my thoughts turn to Friends Number One and Two and the fear and the sadness and the anger engulf me and I feel utterly powerless and I don’t yet accept that my idea of “save them” may not be the same as God’s, and that just makes me madder.
Now I’m out of bread. Today the loaf wasn’t big enough for me to pray my way back to a place of peace.
The good news, though, is that tomorrow there will be another loaf and I can try again. The only other option is to give up entirely, and that really isn't an option at all.