6/20/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy freeatlast ~
At the family reunion, we sit in the meeting room at the Comfort Inn in a small Arkansas town, about twenty-five of us in a circle. Encouraging everyone to share a scripture, prayer, or song as the spirit leads, an earnest brother adds that our family worship will culminate with the Lord’s Supper, which sits on a table in the middle of the circle, cups of grape juice carefully poured into Dixie cups and two paper plates of homemade communion bread, unleavened of course. He adds that in order for everyone to be heard, he has turned up the thermostat in the room, so the air conditioner noise won’t interfere, a terrible idea I think because the air in this room is thick and warm, and we haven’t even started.
Of course the whole idea of family church was a terrible one to me, though, one I knew would be the “highlight” of our time together as it is a tradition of my husband’s very Southern, very religious extended family. Living 800 miles away, my husband and I have been working through our de-conversion for a couple of years now, a process I can only liken to a root canal of the mind with no anesthesia, and although very excited to be with relatives, neither of us looked forward to the crucible of family church because everything for us is too fresh, too painful. Wanting to honor his mom, though, we decided we would go.
Before the trip, I talked to a fellow freethinker about the upcoming ordeal, and I mentioned how I dreaded communion more than any other aspect of the service because this most Christian of rituals now seemed to me the utmost in barbarity, and I couldn’t bear the thought of pretending to eat the body of Jesus and drink his blood. This friend, a laid back kind of guy, suggested to me that my husband and I “Just eat the damn cracker” to keep my mother-in-law from fretting about our eternal souls as she would surely notice if we declined to participate. His point was that since the ritual is meaningless to us and meaningful to her, partaking of it would keep the family peace and cost us nothing. I decided to ponder this.
Now, as we sing the old hymns in four part harmony, some of which are beautiful, and some of which are appalling (“Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to thy precious bleeding side.” Horrors!), and the communion time approaches, the hot, humid room sinks in on me. I feel like I can’t breathe, and in my discomfort, I recall the many years when I cherished family church at these gatherings, feeling the love of these good people and God envelop me like a warm bath. I realize that this warm bath was actually the primordial ooze of my early evolution, and I realize as well, that I have managed to pull myself from this swamp, and having evolved, I have lost my gills, lost the ability to swim in the muck. What used to comfort me is now drowning me. With a few comments about the suffering of Christ and our worthlessness apart from his sacrifice, another brother invites the family to come forward to eat the body and drink the blood of the Savior. I don’t move. My husband doesn’t move. We simply cannot eat the damn cracker, for the ritual we realize is far from meaningless to us; it is poisonous, and this is our mute protest, a small step for sure, but a step nonetheless. All around us, the fish swim to their feeding, but we wait, wait for the fresh air of reason that will welcome us when we leave this Twilight Zone.
After the last amen, a concerned aunt rushes over to recommend a good spiritual book for me to read, and other relatives look on with consternation as we leave. I walk outside and take a deep breath, relieved to be headed home. Someday I hope this precious family can gather, acknowledging that they don’t need call themselves worms and wretches and give thanks to a non-existent god for saving them from nothing. I hope they can eat, drink and be merry without the body and the blood of their imaginary friend.
I’m not waiting for them, though, and as for the damn cracker, I’ll pass, thank you very much.