grieving eucharist, loving jesus

Disclaimer: Feelings are feelings, it doesn’t mean that they are reality, and I want to say that up front as I talk about deep grief, I experienced throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the feeling that I had been abandoned by the Church. It’s a story of the deep grief and the loss I felt at being unable to receive the body and blood of Christ. Trying to lessen the casualties of the pandemic was of utmost importance, and that was showing love to ourselves and our neighbors which is something Christ asks us to do. That doesn’t take away the grief and loss people, including myself, experienced, and this essay is about grief and loss, even though I understood the circumstances. We all lost much and grieved much in the height of the pandemic; this is simply part of my story.

On the first Sunday of November 2014, I walked into an Episcopal Church for the very first time. I’d already suspected that this place would help me to realize what it was I was needing spiritually, as my craving for the ashes on Ash Wednesday, and for the Holy Eucharist although I had no idea of the importance of it, and the desire to live according to the Church calendar had brought me to this place to begin with.

I had also awoken in the middle of the night earlier that year, to Jesus telling me: you need to baptize your children. This concept was foreign to me as I had been taught the concept of believer’s baptism, where people don’t get baptized until they say a prayer asking Jesus into their heart. At the time Jesus said this to me, I didn’t know why he wanted me to do it, but I knew it was of utmost importance and I began to seek baptism for my children as if my life depended on it. I also researched the importance of baptism, but I figured Jesus wouldn’t have come in the middle of the night to tell me to do it if it wasn’t important.

Ash Wednesday is my church day, because that’s what started it all for me. It was several years before I walked into the doors of that church that I craved those ashes. I needed them, and I knew it. I had no idea where I was going to obtain them because I knew I couldn’t take communion in the Catholic Church and so I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome to receive ashes or not. Later on, I found out that although I couldn’t partake of the sacrament, they would gladly have given me ashes. I don’t know why the ashes were so important, my guess is that it was because it was the beginning of Lent, and Lent is my season.

Every season of the Christian life is important, but it just happened that Ash Wednesday and Lent are what brought me in the first place, so that time of the year is extra special in my mind. My desire to walk with Jesus, although I hardly knew him, was strong. Jesus has reached out to me time and time again. When he went to look for the one lost sheep, I was definitely that sheep. There was no reason why Jesus should pursue my stubborn, unholy ass, except for the fact that he loved me and that was enough. I had sought him my whole life and I suppose I walked into that church that day hoping I would find him.

The thing is, I did find Jesus there, and it was a moment of conversion for me. I still remember what I was wearing when I walked in, because I was so clearly out of place I might as well have had it tattooed on my forehead. I wore shredded jeans that were bedazzled with rhinestones, and a tank top with a skull on it, because even though I was seeking Jesus, I wanted these people to know I was tough. That they could say hi, but not get too close.

Although I was obviously out of place, a woman turned to me, acknowledged me, and helped me navigate the service. That woman was also one of my confirmation sponsors. When it came time for communion, I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure if I should or not, because I was not one of them. These people were different to me. They intimidated me. An usher saw me stand up, walk two steps, and nervously sit back down in the pew. He came up to me and said it seems like you want to go take communion, and you are welcome at the altar, how about you come with me? I’ll show you what to do. I nervously followed him, my desire for the Eucharist stronger than my desire to not feel awkward and out of place.

He knelt at the altar, and so I knelt beside him. He put cupped his hands, the right on top of the left, and put them forward to receive the bread, and so I did the same. The body of Christ, the bread of heaven, the priest said, as he looked into my eyes and put the bread into my hands. The usher put the bread into his mouth immediately, and so I put the bread in my mouth and, although I was in church, a sacred space, a jolt went through me and I said to myself oh shit, I just ate Jesus. A woman leaned over in front of me to guide a chalice to my lips, and I took a sip of wine. I had the same reaction I just drank the blood of Jesus Christ himself! This experience totally changed my life. I had found Jesus.

I walked back to my seat lost in thought, and I don’t remember the rest of the service at all. I couldn’t get over the fact that I had partaken of, and finally found, Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (King James Version, which I normally don’t use, but I had these verses memorized in the KJV and that’s the language I learned them with).

My children were baptized on Easter Sunday. I felt a huge relief wash over me, as I had gotten done what Jesus had asked me to do, before I really knew him. I had met him at several times in my life, I had grown up in a cult that professed to know Jesus, and yet, I never knew him, I just knew of him. I had always sought to truly know him. I was confirmed a little over a year after I first walked into that church, on the feast of Christ the King. The woman who had welcomed me that first day presented me for confirmation, making promises with me. She gifted me with a beautiful Book of Common Prayer which I still treasure and use.

***

A few years later, I woke up one morning and declared that the Bible was full of shit. I had dabbled around with the occult and witchcraft many times, and this time I fully embraced it all, not even pretending to be Christian. I had been going down that road for a while, reading tarot cards, using crystals, reading and studying witchcraft, obtaining items to use for altars and spells. It was all unholy, but I desired the power that I saw it could give me, and I felt connected to it all in an intimate way.

I turned my back on Jesus, who had changed my life. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of me and Jesus, because again, I was seeking, too proud and stubborn to realize that what I thought I sought, I had already found the day I received his body and blood.

I threw myself into anything unholy I could find to mess with and learn about and do. But Jesus knew I was lost again and so he came to find me. Like Eve in the garden, I had gotten to the point where I realized I was naked and ashamed and so I tried to hide from Jesus. The thing I learned was that I can’t hide from Jesus and not be found. One Sunday morning, while three of my children were visiting their father, Jesus spoke again: get up and take your ass to church, you’re hungry and you know it. Jesus often comes and speaks to me out of the blue, it’s possibly the best way to get my attention.I got myself and my son dressed, and drove to the church, but the service was over by the time I got there. They were having a potluck after the service, however, and so I got to talk to my people.

The very next day, I sat in front of the priest and made my confession, privately repenting of what I had done, and walked out of the church knowing that I was forgiven. I had moved during all of this, and so the church was too far away for me to keep attending, but I found a new parish that same week, and met with the priest. She welcomed me with open arms just like I have known Episcopalians to do. I walked into the new church that Sunday morning, and received the precious body and blood of Christ again. There were tears in my eyes because I didn’t realize how badly I had needed it, and, for the second time, the Eucharist brought me to God.

I had repented privately and been absolved, but to me, public sin also meant public repentance, and so I took my vows to the Church publicly again, which is called being re-affirmed. I had broken my promises not just to God, but also the vows I had made to the Church, and this reconciled me with the Church.

***

There are a few people who know what the Eucharist means to me. Most people do not, and it’s not that they don’t care, or that they don’t need it themselves, the just don’t understand it as it relates to me, and that’s okay. We all have our own ways of finding Jesus, what’s important is that we find him. My journey is not anybody else’s journey, and while we all need the Eucharist, my experiences with Jesus are mine.

Things started shutting down because of COVID on my 35th birthday. Yeah, I know, happy fucking birthday to me. I already hated my birthday, and it seems that shit always goes down on my birthday. It was still early in the season of Lent when without any real notice at all, churches were closed and access to the Eucharist completely cut off. I was devastated more than anyone knew, because I had just begun a period of deep spiritual darkness, and I had started recovery, and, in one of those times where I needed the Eucharist the most, I wasn’t able to receive it.

I felt abandoned by the Church, as people’s physical health was deemed the most important, and mental health and spiritual health were being totally ignored. It was important to keep people alive, but my feelings hadn’t yet caught up and I cried, I threw fits, I grieved. Some churches were having services online and I was invited to watch, and I was baffled as to why nobody seemed to understand why I couldn’t just watch the priest consecrate and receive the Eucharist with the one or two people allowed to assist, when I couldn’t’ receive.

I was grieving, I was in a very dark place, and seeing it online made it feel like the Church was saying “fuck you” and flaunting that certain chosen people got to receive and I wasn’t one of them because I wasn’t important enough. Like I said before, feelings are feelings and can often lead me astray, but grief and loss are real, and not rational. I grieved each week as people kept telling me to watch online and not understanding why I explained why I couldn’t, and that made me feel even more deeply that they just wanted to throw in my face that they were important enough to receive but I was not. I felt like I meant absolutely nothing to the Church.

I cried often, especially on Sundays, and although I don’t believe in using violence to solve problems, there were many times I felt violent inside and wanted to slap anyone who told me to get over it and just watch the service online. Nobody cared if I had access to the sacrament or not, and it was usually those who were able to participate with the services and who did get the privilege of receiving that annoyed me the most when they told me to watch online. They got access to it, so they had no clue what I was going through, the heaviness and grief that I felt while I fought my own spiritual darkness.

A friend of mine tried to reason with me and tell me to watch and partake in spiritual communion, which he and others believed in, but I did not. I felt disrespected, like my grief meant nothing to anyone else, and I felt like he and others were simply refusing to understand where I was coming from. I behaved badly toward my friend and cursed him out over it, even though he had offered to bring the sacrament to me when he was able. Thankfully for me, I know some very forgiving people, and even though I treated him badly, even though I was an asshole, even though, in my claim to not believing in solving problems with violence, had been verbally violent towards him.

Nothing justifies my behaving that way, not even my intense grief and sorrow, which was in no way my friend’s fault. He was just trying to help, as were others, and the way things were seemed to be working okay for everyone but me. I saw people all over social media declaring that nobody needed the Eucharist that badly and that we were going to find new ways to engage with Jesus. I engage with Jesus in many ways but still need the Eucharist as well. Most people just didn’t get it. A few did, and they sat with me in my grief, even when I was ugly. I am thankful that they did. They were also the people helping me out of the darkness.

The spiritual darkness continued, as did my sorrow. Knowing that others were able to receive when I could not hurt so intensely, I’ve still not fully worked through the fact that people to whom it meant less to were able to receive while those of us who cared so deeply and needed it so much were left out. I persisted through my darkness, and despite not having access to what I needed, I kept plodding along, little by little, with a few special people holding me up and sitting with me in my grief and walking me through the darkness.

I’m thankful to those who sat beside me, I’m thankful for the things I learned during that time, most of all learning how to pray, working very intensely on healing, but the healing part was harder with not having access to the Eucharist. Recently, I learned that many of they mystic saints who had very close relationships with Jesus also had periods of time where they had a spiritually dark time with no access to the Eucharist, and they came out of it closer to Jesus. While I’m no saint, I can relate to their grief and am thankful that they got closer to Jesus in the end. May it be the same for me.

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: