Spiritual Metabolism

…and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving. (1979 BCP, Episcopal Church (USA))

In the 1982 “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” document (commonly called the “Lima” document) of the World Council of Churches, it was recommended that the standard for Sunday worship in all member denominations should be the Eucharist (also known as Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper in many Protestant churches).  As an Episcopalian who had, by the time I encountered the Lima document in seminary, gotten quite used to this, I felt (with a certain arrogance), that this is the right and proper norm.  I felt a bit superior to my less-sacramentally oriented friends, and their expressed need to keep communion ‘special’ (and their complaints that it always took longer than a good, simple service of the Word).  Earlier on in my faith journey, I could not have imagined being Christian without weekly communion (at least), and the intensity of daily eucharist in the seminary setting was deeply satisfying. I truly believed that Christians were commanded to ‘do this in remembrance’ of Jesus whenever ‘two or three are gathered’, and that it was a necessary part of weekly worship, at minimum.  I became a bit of a eucharistic glutton–if it was on offer, and I could get to a service, I would have received daily.

Not so much any more.  I still think that Holy Communion should be on regular offer, and should be the principal act of Sunday worship (and if at all possible, available at some mid-week point for those who cannot attend on Sunday).  

But I’m not so sure that every Christian needs to receive communion weekly. This isn’t because I’ve gone over to the side of those who think frequent reception takes away the ‘special’ quality–not much could. But not everyone needs to be fed this way all the time, and each person should be allowed to be the judge of how often she needs the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. 

I’d call this a kind of spiritual metabolism. There are times in life–when one is very young and growing at a rapid rate, when physical food is needed in disproportionately large quantities. A person who is recovering from a serious injury may require a huge amount of calories to repair his or her body. But there are times when it may not be appropriate or helpful to over eat, and it may be harmful to do so.

Same with communion, or any other kind of spiritual nourishment. In the early phases of the life of faith, perhaps it is necessary to take in a great deal of ‘soul food’. But perhaps as one goes on, becomes more confident, builds up some internal reserves, it is not so important. And the best judge of how much–or little–is needed is the spiritual traveler herself. Not the ordained person, not the community of the church. The traveler knows her needs, and will seek sustenance as and when it is required. So long as it is available, there should be no problem.

Perhaps we need a few people who do not engage in sacramental gluttony, as I did in my early years as an Episcopalian. It may be, as we get older, healthier to be a little leaner, to partake more sparingly, and to be acquainted with a slight sense of hunger that lets us know when it is time to replenish our stores. We do not want or need a mommy to tell us it is time to eat, but we will not allow ourselves to starve.


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