Eucharist: the aesthetic of disinterest in hate and embrace in love.
Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.
Pollsters report that the American public is exhausted and angry. What, I wonder, is this exhaustion and anger about? Where has it come from? Is it that we’ve had enough?
of gun violence?
of exercising and holding on to political power just because one party can?
of banning books?
of ridiculing long-held, equally cherished values?
of enforcing outdated, narrowly defined notions of gender and sexuality?
of battles over established rights, like women’s reproductive freedom?
of assaults over beliefs about life, when it starts and how it is to be cared for?
of applying 19th century laws for reasons of textual origins?
of releasing people from their personal responsibility for their own lives?
of an economy that has too much government interference?
of an economy that has too little government intervention?
of war, killing, rape, torture?
of migrants, refugees, invaders?
of white nationalists?
of blaming civilization’s problems on dead white males?
Fact is, being angry is the low hanging fruit on the tree of life. Tapping into anger by fomenting fear is like giving the branch a slight shake and the apple falls directly into one’s hand. It’s just that easy, as well as being a denial of the difficulty of living a positive life. Wouldn’t you say it’s time to have a positive attitude about life, about social living? Are you as fed up as I am over the assaults on individual persons and the value of community? And just when, do you suppose, will we stop allowing our fears to overrule our trust?
You can be as angry as you like over a 6-3 hyper-conservative Supreme Court, perhaps just as some were angry at the Earl Warren Court (at the risk of dating myself), or as dismissive as you like in your judgments about religious institutions that will catch up with the 21st century sometime in the 23rd. These views and judgments are ingredients in a sour tasting stew. It’s what happens when you sit too long at the table of anger and fear.
I would rather choose to be the subject of my own life – I bet you would choose to do the same. The Australian rocker Nick Cave has reasons to be angry and full of rage. He lost two sons who died too young, Arthur in 2015, at the age of 15, and Jethro in 2022, at the age of 31. After much raging and calling down curses Cave himself has told interviewers both in Australia and the USA, “Hatred just stopped being interesting.” How redemptive it must be for the person who rages long and hard at the world, with all its tragedy and injustices, to emerge with the understanding that it’s not fear of the world but rather fear for the world, fear for its inhabitants due to its fragility. This is the fear that motivates positive action on the part of the person with a renewed heart.
Aren’t we all fed up? Don’t you think it’s time to inhabit a positive attitude about life? Be the subjects of our own lives? And if we emerge from a disinterest in hatred what will that life look like?
In our Catholic tradition the symbol for abandoning interest in hatred is the Cross, the totem that is both Tree of Death and Tree of Life. And the sacramental symbol that puts life into that totem is the Eucharistic Liturgy. Those who express and are lost in anger, who choose to remain angry, are closed to this liturgical artistry, this artistic expression, this aesthetic of Eucharist. A gift that is given to the presider, who is attuned, is the realization that a liturgy which may seem quite mundane and uninspirational to them can also be the liturgy that shakes another at remarkable depths of insight and emotion. The only way to know this is when the shaken person tells you. This is the power of the liturgical aesthetic. Such shaking can be the way out of anger.
Making the art of liturgy, rather than being about artwork
is more freeing up each one for personal expression.
Making the art of liturgy, rather than being about ritual words
is more the untwisting of expressive lips and tongues.
Making the art of liturgy, rather than being about ancient memory
is more about the present-ing of memory’s now.
You know what is interesting, more interesting than anger, fear, and hatred? A community at prayer, now that’s interesting. What beauty, what simplicity, what praise!
Our Mary of Magdala Community has been blessed with a reflection on this making of art, or what I call here this Eucharist aesthetic. In Advent 2019, Professor Christina Gschwandtner, who asks that we call her Crina, wrote some “further reflections” for the benefit of our community, reflections on the phenomenology of Eucharist. In other words, Crina assisted us in exploring the question of just what happens at Eucharist. This is what, she reminds us, is called the phenomenology of Eucharist; its task is to explore this experience of Eucharist along with its meaning for the individual community, in this case our Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles community.
I suggest that the focus on the liturgy as aesthetic experience, as making art, fits nicely with her view on the phenomenological experience of Eucharist. This is especially the case as we hear Crina mention that all the senses must be directly engaged in our Eucharistic celebration. Eucharist is so much more than what is said and taught about it. It is the believer’s access to the divine through gathering in community, a truth that outshines any words of dogma or ritual. Eucharist, the experience of it, requires seeing and hearing as well as touching, tasting, smelling (whatever happened to incense anyway?). This is making art as an all-in liturgical event.
Crina continues, “Eucharist is all about invitation, hospitality, receptivity, and thanksgiving. Eucharist is gift, given to us; maybe our giving to each other – or even giving ourselves to each other.” Later she points to the actions we perform as the gift of Eucharist becomes embedded deeply in our lives, and just as deeply embedded in the community’s life. She goes on, “If our experience of the divine is manifested as ‘broken body’ and ‘shed blood’ what does that mean for our receptivity and for our becoming Christ, being joined to that body? . . . . . Do we really ‘receive’ this gift or must we become gift in some way?”
To become gift is to be artful in song, happily sharing tunes that shape us in Christ. Eucharist that is an artful and actual expression of community is one liturgical way to lose interest in hatred, fear, anger, and rage. Crina concludes “To be Christian is to do Eucharist. Period. To be Christian is to partake in Eucharist, to become body of Christ.”
A Prayer (JR)
Spirit who breathes through my life, will I allow you to overrule my fears? Let me join with my worldwide siblings in Christ, nearby and far-flung alike, as we touch the face of God,
to see the beauty in dying and rising,
to hear beauty in singing joyful songs,
to taste, to touch, to smell Eucharistic gifts,
food and drink for this journey of overcoming.
Compel us to be Christian, for when we are we become Christ.