Sunday, August 5, 2007

Communion Sunday

Religion is an endlessly fascinating topic for me and often the disparity it creates in my mind between unquestioning belief and factual knowledge can be likened to standing out in an open field during a thunder storm. Exposed, vulnerable and ultimately resigned to getting a little bit wet.

I am a member of the congregation in a Methodist church here in New Jersey. I sing with the choir. I lead the church in prayer and praise every so often as liturgist. In the past I have conducted the children's portion of the service by imparting some simple or fun message - for instance teaching the little ones how to sign "Jesus Loves Me" or reading from a children's book. Many years ago I taught Sunday School and attended bible study sessions of my own free will.

I have taken the spiritual journey that many folks have traveled before, regardless of ideology or dogma. And although I have done all of these things and have a deeply rooted belief system that is infinitely refined and redefined, as I journey on I have my reservations. The manifestations of our religious rituals and rites seem so arbitrary.

For example, Methodists take communion the first Sunday of each month. This differs from the Catholics who receive communion every Sunday. There are also some other key differences between the two religions. Methodists see the bread and wine (grape juice) as a SYMBOL whereas my Catholic friends tell me they believe that the bread and wine transform to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Of course, there exist differences in the rules between many religions. It seems that everyone is eager to send someone else to Hell because it is our way or the highway. Some organized religions are more welcoming to outsiders than others. I was told that I am not permitted to receive communion in a Catholic church because I am not Catholic. So, I take my bit of bread and wine where I am invited to partake...and somehow feel better.

No matter how silly I may think it is that simply admitting my sins washes them away or that I question the logic behind such pronouncements, when the time comes I am happy that for a brief moment I am good to go.

It brings to mind what I read about Joseph Campbell. He was the go to guy for comparative mythology and how it influenced all of the religions of the world. He saw the logical progression of mankind's belief system from coming to understand the surrounding environment by assigning greater power to unknown forces to the development of comparable religions across the globe from Buddhism to Christianity. With all his knowledge he still considered himself to be a Catholic.

But maybe that is the point. Maybe having belief AND being able to question that belief is the journey. After all, who really can prove anything that will happen after we die? We can look to the past and base our questions in that knowledge and then let our, what... hearts?, souls?, minds?... take us where it needs to go.

I strongly believe in giving children options and exposing them to big questions early on in their lives. I have found many children's books that deal with issues of God and religion and choosing a particular one over another depends on your religious inclinations. However, to promote discussion and to foster questioning I have come to respect the following books.

What is God? by Etan Boritzer and illustrated by Robbie Marantz. This book is dedicated to the children of the world. It explores this "very big question" through an exploration of the beliefs and history behind it. Children gain exposure to various methods of worship which highlight the similarities across religions rather than the differences as well as prayer. The simplistic drawings help give children access to the heavy messages. A book worth revisiting again and again.

God Lives in Glass: Reflections of God Through the Eyes of Children by Robert J. Landy. I copied this descripton from

"Children from around the world show us God in ways that we may have forgotten!

What does God do? How do we let God in? If you met God, what would you say?

Here are the "theological" answers of young spiritual thinkers from around the world, representing more than twenty different religious traditions. In sharing how they see God, they'll help you to see God in new ways.

In a poetic language of images all their own, these children re-awaken us to the mysteries and wonders of the universe, and lead us to our own understanding of the spiritual. "


Junk Thief said...

I grew up in the United Methodist tradition as well, usually drawn to issues of social justice over personal redemption. Thus I shifted towards Unitarianism, following various Eastern and alternative spirituality and times of absolute disbelief.

Lately I've been drawn more to a more traditional structure, but then just as I am about to be pulled in find myself wanting to bolt the same way I did as a teen.

Perhaps I should read those books you noted. I think I tend to make it all far more complex then necessary.

Joy said...

Honey I LOVE this post! (But you knew I would, didn't you?) I was actually having a mini-discussion about this very topic with someone else this afternoon - wanna talk synchronicity? All this with nary a wiff of a margarita. Oh how we've grown! Dr. Joe would be so proud. ;)

la bellina mammina said...

Great post Gary.
I was born a Muslim though am not a practising one but I do say some prayers and think of GOD. My late husband was Catholic(non practising), and we have agreed that our 2 boys should be exposed to both religions while they're still young.
I think they have the best of both and when they're old enough, I'll leave it up to them.

Florecita said...

I really love this post Gary. I was raised in a catholic way, and went a catholic school, but at age 12 I asked one the priest what happened with the people in mars, are they going to hell just because they don't know our God???? I got an F for asking that!!!!!!! Today that priest and I are close friends, and the told me that I was almost right!!! hehehe... I believe that his journey is about discovering God within us... all traditions speaks about love, compassion and selfness... so as I was talking to my nephew (his 11) we all are different but we are ONE... is about seeing the Divine in the eyes of everyone...

PS: As you can't understand my posts... tomorrow a star was born, it's my birthday!!!!!

Reya Mellicker said...

...having belief AND being able to question that belief is the journey.

No faith is pure without crises of faith. I love the image of ... who is it? ... wrestling with the gigantic angel. I resonate with that, maybe because I have struggled with my own spiritual path all my adult life, switching from this to that, now trying to live with a melange of beliefs. It's an interesting process.

I love the idea of confession - that you could pour out your heart to someone, truly get it all off your chest, and - be forgiven! Wow!! That's so powerful. The idea and reality are different, too bad about that.

My Catholic friends believe the communion is symbolic. I like the magic involved in transfiguration, though. If I were Catholic, I would open my heart to the miracle. But then - I am magically minded.

I was thinking about you while walking the labyrinth on Saturday. I bet there are a bunch of them in NYC ... have you ever done this walking meditation? One thing that kept occurring to me as I walked was that it's OK to switch back and forth, to make twists and turns on the spiritual path.

The path of spirit is meandering, not just for me but for almost everyone. What a relief!!

Great post. Thank you, dah-link!

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

You know the saying "all politics is local"? So is all religion. It is all subjective, it is all personal, and, therefore, it is all arbitrary, too. Great post handsome one.

Brendan said...

Thanks for the book tips, Gary.

justawriter said...

Gary,you have a wonderful blog.Loved the post and being a teacher,I'd like to thank you for all the children's book tips.

Red7Eric said...

As a new agnostic who was raised Catholic, I've got some opinions about all of this ...

But the main question I have for you is ... what think you of the way that we teach kids religion AND simultaneously teach them to wait for Santa Claus on Christmas morning or search for eggs that were left by the Easter bunny.

I have four nieces & nephews who are being given two Christmas stories, and it just seems odd to me that their parents and grandparents expect them to grow out of one in the next few years, but to cherish the other for the rest of their lives. And I wonder ... what's the difference between the two? They both seem pretty far out there, if you think about it ... what think YOU?

d. chedwick bryant said...

my parents were OK with us going with friends on Sundays to various churches, so we were exposed to as little or as much variety as we wanted. They themselves never went to actual services.

I always enjoyed going once in a great while, but never cared to join any group and never felt any pressure to join --never felt at loose ends in any way. I enjoy touring Cathedrals etc...when traveling. My Catholic friends say communion is just symbolic, and open to all--but they live in Ireland --I have shared rituals with them and was never treated like an outsider in any way. It may be very different in the US.

I remember one rainy dark night we were driving home from visiting a relative at a hospital, and we all felt terrible, because death was near. My mother stopped at a random chapel and told us kids we could light candles if we wanted, or just sit, or meditate on things, and lighting candles like this for the first time in our lives felt right. The rain and cold and the flame from the candles, the quiet empty church. We were all silent for a long time, and then returned to the car, feeling a bit better that we had reflected on things and that we'd sent good vibes & said Thank You to a dying relative.

WAT said...

I grew up raised in the Pentecostal church. FIRE AND BRIMSTONE! OOOOOO WEEE!

Loved the preaching part and weekly pastor performance and stuff, but kinda creeped out once I heard you' be going to hell for alternative lifestyles.

So I believe in a HIGHER POWER, but I just stay away from church.

MONA said...

this is a very thought provoking post.I think religion is something very personal and cannot be & should not be categorised. Least of all by birth. I have discussed the question of what is God in my post: Running away & returning[part I] april 2007.( sorry but I have not learnt to provide a link to a post in a comment box).

Beliefs are so blind that ppl want truth to conform to them :)

Gary said...

Thank you all for sharing your experiences and thoughts on a topic that we have all obviously thought mcuh about. I wish that I could sit with each of you and talk long into the night (with a margarita perhaps - right Joy?) and delve deeper into the subject of religion and spirituality.

I had planned to respond earlier but I was away and found out too late that I did not have computer access. Oops! Oh, well. That seems to be the theme of the summer. So in the name of brevity I will just make two(further)comments...

Happy Birthday Florecita!!

Red7 -- You have an interesting point about the differing stories surrounding Christmas and Easter and since I read your comment I have given this much thought. The only way I can answer that is from experience. I never had an issue with it. I just accepted both and my belief in Santa or the Easter Bunny just fell away. Now, I look at the biblical stories in kinda the same way -- symbolic representations of larger concepts presented in a way to bring about understanding.

I do think that it is important for children to grow up believing in something so that as they grow they have more information from which to base a decision. Even choosing not to believe is a belief. And although I question organized religions I would still bring up my child in a church community, of course this would be tempered with questioning and finding one's own way. I could go on but I think I have said enough already. Thanks for asking. :)

Florecita said...

Yeap!!!!!!! I had a wonderful birthday party!!!!!! Hope it doesn't rain on sunday cause next stop is the beach!!!!!

Timothy said...

Greetings! Great post.

>" Catholics who receive communion every Sunday."

Actually, communion is available daily as the Mass is said daily. Daily communion is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi 1:11. If you were Catholic, you could attend Mass daily as millions of Catholics do each day and receive communion daily, provided you were in a state of grace and worthy to receive the body and blood of Our Lord.

>" Methodists see the bread and wine (grape juice) as a SYMBOL whereas my Catholic friends tell me they believe that the bread and wine transform to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ."

And, both groups are correct.

As the Methodist communion is a symbol, communion is "open", as it is only bread and wine.

As the Catholic Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ, communion is "closed." Catholics fully believe that God is sufficiently powerful to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and does so regularly. Its an Isaiah 55:11, Genesis 1, Matthew 26:26 thing. Also, if one reads the First Apology of Justin Martyr, one finds that the Eucharist has been "closed" since the earliest days of the Church.

Magic is not involved. Sorry, Reya. The transformation is due solely to the awesome power of the Holy Spirit alone.

If you think eating a symbol of the Lamb "somehow feels better", wait until you eat the Lamb. Remember, per Exodus 12:8-10 you have to eat the Lamb. All of it.

God bless...


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