Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Voice of the Body--a story (finis)

That morning, the sacrament.

We've never had a day's worry with our Mary. This summer she's working in a student ministry in Sequoia National Park. During the week, she scoops ice cream in a fancy concession in a tourist trap, and on Sundays she helps out in a little park ministry that meets in the forest, logs for pews.

But Brad has always been another story. Mary professed her faith and took communion when she was fourteen, stood up in front of the church all alone and answered the questions. I remember how the preacher gave her this little hug up front once it was over, and neither Ann nor I will ever forget her smile.

Brad is already four years older than Mary was when she told the whole church that she loved Jesus. Some Sunday mornings we almost have to dress him to get him there. I'd rather not know, sometimes, how he spends his Saturday nights. When he goes to college next year, I'm sure Ann and I will spend more time praying for that boy than we have for Mary in all of her years.

Brad's never said a thing about faith to me, not one thing. We haven't forced him. He's never professed his faith. I don't think he's any kind of agnostic; he just lets it go somehow because it's part of the baggage of his parents' values---it's what he's rebelling from, I suppose, part of the world he thinks he has to leave in order to become who he will be.

I've asked the Lord to make this sullenness of his, this rebellion, this dark kind of brooding, strengthen him someday, so that in some future time his sneering, like Paul's, would make him a saint. But I haven't seen a thing yet to assure me I've been heard.

We had communion this morning. Sometimes I wish I were a Catholic so that I could say that this bread and wine is more than just a symbol, more than just grape juice and a dry cube of bread that points at a higher reality. In our church, that's all it is--a token remembrance of Christ's shed blood and broken body. You eat it and drink it to prompt a memory some don't have. At times, I wish it were the real flesh and blood.

So I'm sitting there this morning waiting for the bread and the wine, Brad right there beside me, chewing his fingernails, his knee up against the pew in front of us. But I knew it was different for him this time, because I knew that the blue face of a boy drowned for almost three days hung in his mind, a face he claimed he really hadn't seen that Friday morning in the back of the van, a face he'd seen for the first startling time that very Sunday dawn.

When the sun rises over the lake, it gilds everything with a sheen that's heavenly gold. But I knew that morning that nothing the sun could do could wipe away death from the face of a boy who could have known that taking out a canoe in surf swept up by a rough east wind was dangerous--if only he'd known, if someone who knew had told him as much. No gold lay over that face in the lakeshore dawn.

So I grabbed Brad's hand once the bread had been passed. I grabbed it and I opened those fingers stained with state park green paint. I opened it to callouses and a width that long ago surpassed my pink banker's hands, and I shoved that bread there in his palm, even though he's not supposed to partake, not having professed. I force-fed my son the body of Christ.

"Take eat, remember and believe," the preacher said, and an entire church--all except me-- raised the body to lips waiting for the relief of our own guilt, sin washed forever out to sea in the blood of Christ's death.

And Brad looked at me as a child might have, as he might have himself before he'd become the problem we'd prayed about for so long. With my thumb I pointed at my mouth.

His eyes glazed almost, not in tears but in fear.

"Take it," I said. "Go on--you know what it is."

And I grabbed his hand again and raised it, held it up to his face until he took the bread into his mouth, held it there until it turned, as the Catholic in me prayed it would--just today--into the body I know he needed so badly to find.

"Remember and believe that the body of our Lord was broken for all our sins," the preacher said.

And I pulled his hand back down from his lips and held it the way I used to, the way, years ago, he once wanted me to.

And I'm the one who cried.

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