the sacrifice

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Did you know that reading a physical, hard copy of a book improves your memory skills? It's true. According to this study, anyway. There are a whole host of benefits that you can get from picking up an actual, physical copy of a book, including reduced stress and improved sleep patterns, as well as helping to remember what you've read. Holding a book in your hands and turning pages helps create a kind of tactile experience, a physical sense of progress, which will help your brain to more easily recall what you have read.

There is something ... more about the physical. Do you know what I mean? I find this to be true of memories. Sometimes, a physical presence - a smell, a touch, a taste - will bring back a memory so strong that I can't believe it was previously hidden.

Today, I took Jellybean out to the shops to pick up a few things for dinner. Not normally a problem (I walk everywhere) but today it was both pouring down with rain and pretty windy. I cheerfully told Jellybean that it wasn't a problem, that I have a raincoat, that she has a raincover for her buggy that turns it into a cosy, warm little pod, that we can handle a bit of rain.

Trudging through a muddy puddle in the park on the way, unable to keep the rain out of my eyes, getting the wheels of the buggy stuck in a hole in the ground, I muttered through gritted teeth 'I can handle a bit of rain.'

And suddenly I had a sense memory of walking with my Mum. Everything seeming big and looming on a dark grey day. Trees being whipped around by the wind and leaves falling around me. The wind and rain battering us as we went, gripping onto her hand tight, thinking just a bit further and I'll be at home. Just a bit further.

It's funny, isn't it? Some small thing - rain in your eyes, wet hands gripping the handle of a pushchair, the howl of wind in your ears - will trigger off a little memory you never knew you had. And I think the same thing again. Only this time from a mother's perspective. Just a bit further and I can get her tucked into her bed. Just a bit further.



***

It is Sunday, and we are about to take communion. We have just shouted in the church as one. Yes - shouted. Not one specific thing, just whatever came to mind. No quiet mumbling of hymns for us. We all send up a collective roar to heaven. It rings in my ears, still, as I wait in my chair with a little cube of seeded bread clutched tight in my hand. Waiting for everybody to take a piece. On the pastor's word, we eat it as one.

Then the cups are passed around. Fruit juice. I stare at my little silver cup as I wait for everybody to take one. Vivid scarlet liquid trembling in the cup. I stare and stare. Suddenly noticing, for the first time, how very red it is. How much it actually resembles blood. I have a strong picture in my head. Not a memory, like before. But something triggered by the physical presence of that cup. The image of a man with ragged holes in his hands. The pastor speaks of love and sacrifice. Of love like no other. I look to our baby, sleeping on her grandmother. I look at my husband. Would I die for them? The most painful death? If it meant saving them? Yes, of course. Yes. I wonder if God gives us love so we can have a brief glimpse of His love, like a portion of it. Here is a taster. The people that love you most in the world? I love you even more. You know that love you feel for them? That love that burns so fierce in you that you can almost feel it in your bones, in your chest?



I love you even more.

Even more.

Even to pain, torture, death.

I love you even more.

The pastor tells us to drink and I drink it up, and I suddenly marvel at it, this strange and sad and yet jubilantly wonderful love, love like no other, like nothing else. All the pain and joy and wonder of it. And I look at my shining silver cup, empty, and suddenly I am empty of worry and all the things catalogued in my head, the things that keep me awake at night: bills and comparison and career and future and houses and ambitions, the things that tie me up in knots. It all comes undone. I just look at my empty cup.

I consider the cost.

***

I've never fully understood communion. I know it is important. I think of it as a ritual, something I do once a month at church. I try to think of Jesus when we walk around to get our bread and wine, but I don't always, if I'm honest. My mind wanders. But not this time.

Our pastor describes it as a feast of love. Sometimes you disconnect yourself from it, see. From that love and sacrifice.When life is full of those mundane, catalogued, knotting things I spoke about. Faith is a hard thing to grasp in your hands and there are not often physical, tangible moments to hold onto. The love of God, I believe, permeates my whole life, a fact that is woven into every second of every day. But sometimes you need that physical moment. A trigger. A sense. A memory from a family that is mine through a kind of supernatural adoption. When I took the bread and wine on Sunday, I remembered the disciples sat around the table with Jesus. How strange that moment must have been. How much love they must have felt for Him, as they sat holding their bits of bread, waiting for Him to speak. And for Him to say:

'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'

What a strange moment for them.

I wonder what they thought. How they felt. As they listened, and held their cups. Waiting to drink. Trying to understand it.

I realise the importance of communion, then. How we are called to be still and think.

And the next time I take that cup, I will think of that day, and I will become undone again.

***


I think of that study about the physical presence of books and how turning actual pages helps the brain to make connections, to remember. And I want to go and get a book and get lost in it. But more importantly, I want to feel that connection. Some books I have read bring back a memory. I can turn a page and remember where I was ten years ago when I first read it. Not all books. Just the good ones. I read the words and I can nearly feel them.

The thing is, I think I, along with a lot of people of my generation, have just become numb to a lot of stuff. We don't like to feel things. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I live in a bubble, of my family life, my activities, my hopes and dreams. I get to the end of the day and I have rarely stepped out of my comfort zone, if at all. I want to be comfortable. I want to be secure. I want to live my life and let everyone else get on with theirs.

But I don't think we're built that way. I think we're built for connection. For giving. I realise that I don't reach out often, for friends, and I think a lot of that is fear of rejection. Of being hurt. Living a life that is open to others will inevitably lead to hurt and frustration and discomfort. But that is the life I believe I am called to live.

Not necessarily a comfortable one. But a vibrant, full one. Full of relationships and connection and hard work and giving and getting in return.

I am praying to be more open. Not just with my life and time - I know that if I pray for people to meet, God will send them. He's done that before and I have close friends because of it. But also with my heart. Sometimes, you need to feel stuff. Sometimes, you need to allow yourself to be broken with the truth of it, to wallow in the baffling, astounding pain of it - of His sacrifice - of this broken world we live in - of love. Love so fierce it glows bright. I cannot be silent, we cannot be silent, as the sound of hearts overflowing reaches the ceiling.

Love so fierce it bursts like a firework, in a quiet church on a Sunday morning.

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