I’ve felt a lot of loneliness lately. I hesitate to say this because I know a few people who might take my loneliness personally.
But I think sometimes life is lonely. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel isolated. You work at things that others don’t notice. You live far from friends. You communicate poorly. You grow older and you grow apart. Sometimes, knowledge and understanding can be a sea upon which you float farther away from comfort and ease and confidence. Life is full of seasons.
This is a story about church. This is also a story about a lot of things that aren’t church. Even if you don’t like churches, you probably experience loneliness, or belonging, or tears, or compassion—I’m glad we share those things, and I hope that my church-y reflections don’t frighten you away.
The story starts with my loneliness and my love for the sacrament of communion.
I love taking communion. I love the music. I love the words. I love the taste. Communion is worshipping with all your senses. You file out of your wooden pew, and you sing melancholy songs with chords that don’t resolve. You stand behind a woman whose small son is yanking on her arm and in front of a deacon whom you met bowling on Saturday. You walk up to a gentle human being who tears the bread, looks into your eyes, says your name, and reminds you that the body of Christ was broken for YOU.
The taste of grape juice is strong, even in small doses. On the best days, sun gravitates through the stained glass on the side of the sanctuary, creating multi-colored patches on your arms and cheeks. Small sips of grape juice will forever remind you of sunny stained glass and belonging.
And you remember. And the memory courses through the room like an arrow through each person’s heart. And you’re not alone. Everyone else might be a stranger. They might be weird. They might be unattractive. They might be precisely the sort of person you want to punch in the face when they stretch out their flat abs next to you in yoga class. But it doesn’t matter. They’re with you. It doesn’t matter who they are; it matters that they’re with you.
Communion makes me cry, almost every time. During Lent, we celebrate Communion every Sunday, but it makes no difference. Frequency does not dilute the impact of Communion on my heart and my tear ducts.
A few Sundays ago, I was having a rough week. I felt like a small person standing on an island leagues and leagues away from humanity. I felt like a small person who had built an elaborate island house through solitary, back-breaking labor that went unnoticed, like the Swiss Family Robinson without the family, and the pirates, the laughter, the silly ostrich races. I felt like my life was a “flyover” life—as in, one of those places you just “fly over” but nobody ever visits. I felt alone.
My husband and I play on our church’s praise team; it’s actually how we met (FYI we are just really, really good people—thought you should know). On this particular Sunday, our praise team was up to play a marathon set—baptism, communion AND Lent required an exhausting number of songs. I love leading worship at church, but that Sunday, I was really looking forward to communion. I felt disconnected, like a flailing limb cut off from a body. I needed someone to shoot an arrow through my heart and tether me to the weirdos in line behind me. I needed grape juice and colored glass and someone to look in my eyes and say, “Lauren, the body of Christ was broken for you.”
As we reached our final song, the communion-taker line was dwindling. The elders began to serve one another as the powerpoint slides advanced. A verse and a half remained in the song. One by one, those serving communion sat down.
Here’s the part in the story in which you learn that I am dramatic. As each elder sat down, I began to panic. I half-heartedly sang the long-ago memorized words to “In Christ Alone,” and I thought to myself, Oh no, Oh God. My heart began to slide down my ribcage. Don’t forget me, oh please, oh no no no no, not this week. While most people up there with me were probably thinking, “Should we play one more verse or cut it here?” I was thinking, NOT THIS WEEK. NOT THIS WEEK, GOD. YOU CAN’T FORGET ME THIS WEEK.
This is also the part in the story in which you learn that we have no idea how crazy or unhinged the people around us are—I tend to believe that everyone around me is slightly unhinged. I probably think that because I go through life with myself. And on that Sunday, I was tobogganing toward frantic.
Then, George walked to the front of the church. George has kind eyes and a two-foot beard. He loves to sing and always makes a point to invite us to sing in local choirs alongside him. And, on that Sunday, George remembered. He made his way to the front of the church and whispered something in the pastor’s ear. The pastor’s eyes shifted our way and he nodded. And George picked up the bread and the cup and he walked our way.
I don’t know if that seems small or silly or insignificant. But I can assure you that it was not to me. In a week when I felt forgotten and forgotten and forgotten, George did not forget me. He tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in the cup and Christ’s sacrifice rushed up from the earth to meet me and slam me in the heart. It is not a small thing to feel remembered.
The tears rolled out of my eyes as I unplugged microphones and wound cables, the sharp flavor of grape juice on my tongue. And I thought it was worth reminding you and myself that lots of people feel alone, that small things can be very big, and that we are not forgotten.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.