Although the September “start-up season” is in full swing, I still find myself reflecting on memories from summer holidays, remembering Tim’s and my Danube River cruise, from Passau, Germany, through to Vienna and on to Budapest. And then, after the cruise, we spent a week in Slovenia.
I don’t want to bore you with “how-I spent-my-summer holidays,” but I remember a line from the Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas, who said, “The point of traveling is not to arrive but to return home laden with pollen you shall work up into honey the mind feeds on.” So here are some “pollen moments,” which are slowly but hopefully being worked into honey.
I love churches… not a surprise! … and there isn’t a better place than Europe to indulge this passion. I remember visiting at least 15 different churches (that’s almost one a day); Tim is long-suffering.
What I remember most are the moments of simplicity. Like dipping my fingers in the bowl of “holy water” found at the entrance of Catholic churches, and blessing myself with the sign of the cross — such a powerful reminder of the grace of Baptism, and all those moments when we have been changed, reborn, forgiven through the Spirit; a reminder that entering into a church isn’t just another tourist moment, but an opportunity to be touched by God.
I remember lighting a candle in almost every church I visited. Again, it was the small ritual, the action taken, the touching of the senses that brought me out of my guidebook and into a tangible moment of prayer. Prayers for people I love; for the community of St. Andrew’s-Wesley; for myself, that I might journey faithfully. I’m grateful we can light candles of prayer here, at St. Andrew’s-Wesley.
And I took communion, twice. I know that the Catholic Church discourages non-catholics from participating in the mass, but I also know that priests welcome those who are truly yearning for God’s grace. It was communion that helped transform the vast cathedrals of Vienna and Budapest into places of worship. I don’t know German or Hungarian, but nevertheless, I was able to recognize the deep commonality of the almost universal communion liturgy, from the opening “God be with you – And also with you!”; to the rhythms of the Lord’s Prayer; to the sharing of the Peace with neighbours, regardless of language barriers; to the moment when bread and cup are blessed; to going forward to receive, and feeling fed.
This coming Sunday we are marking World-Wide Communion Sunday, when in millions of different churches people will gather and celebrate communion, the Eucharist, mass, the Last Supper. Yes, many different ways of understanding the full meaning of this sacrament, but all of us, we will tell the story and break the bread, and move through a familiar liturgy into a moment of profound grace.
Sometimes you have to leave home to recognize how profound the most simple of gestures might be – a splash of water, the flickering of candlelight, the taste of bread. We discover anew how grace is embodied, how God waits for us in the things of this world.