Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Body Broken

From chapter 4 of The Body Broken – answering God’s call to love one another, by Robert Benson, published by Waterbrook Press 2003

The next afternoon we three Protestants [at the Retreat] went off to say our prayers and to take the Eucharist. The dozen or so Catholics who were also attending the workshop went off to do the same.

We were a little more than halfway through the liturgy, at the part at which the Prayer of Humble Access is said, when I began to hear murmuring voices from somewhere. "We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, o merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness," we were saying. "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table."

I thought to myself that I sure wished whoever was outside in the hallway would not presume to talk so loudly while others were taking the Eucharist. The voices were not so loud that I could hear what the speakers were saying, but they were loud enough to be distracting. As the murmurings began to become annoying, I found it harder and harder to be as pious and reverent as I felt that I ought to be. Here I was being holy, and some noisy crowd was in the hallway catching up on the news.

In the liturgical practice of the Eucharist, there is a moment in which someone or everyone together offers an Alleluia. The ritual varies from place to place, and in some places the congregation will sing a chorus of a song as the bread and the wine and the Table are being prepared.

It turned out that the murmuring was actually the sound of the Catholics in the church on the other side of the altar. At about the same time that they began to sing their Alleluia, we were just about ready to sing ours over on our side. My friends and I looked at one another and just grinned, and the murmuring went from annoying to holy. Then the singer in our group – the other two of us are not really singers at all – recognised the Catholics’ tune and began to sing the same song in a kind of round or response with the people on the other side of the altar.

To be sure, it was a sweet moment for us all, even though we could not see one another. It was a moment in which one could believe that what binds us together and what we hold in common is more powerful than what keeps us apart.

The overlapping of Alleluias only happened the one day that week. After that, both groups, probably to keep from disturbing each other, did not sing their Alleluias anymore. Instead, each spoke them quietly and kept them to themselves. Perhaps had we done it all week, the walls between us might have begun tumbling down. Such a thing happened in Jericho once; it might have happened in Cincinnati if we had tried.
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