Author: Kelly Chripczuk

Communion (A Five-year-old’s Perspective)

The Communion with God is simple, so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.  . . . the Last Supper did not take place on one night in one room, and to eat God's love, we do not have to even open our mouths; we can be walking, sorrowful and confused, with a friend; or working on whatever our boat is, fishing whatever it is we fish for; or we can be running naked, alone in the dark.  The Eucharist is with us, and it is ordinary.  To me, that is its essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way that we receive the sun and sky, the moon and earth, and breathing.  
                   - Andre Dubus in Meditations from a Movable Chair
Five-year-old Isaiah loves bread almost as much as he loves his Mama, which is to say, quite a lot.  He also loves juice.  When there's no Sunday school and he's forced to endure the long church service upstairs in the pews, communion - with its tempting combination of both bread and juice - offers a bright respite in the midst of the otherwise boring service. 
Seated during prayer at the service’s beginning on Easter Sunday, he bobs and weaves his head from side to side, searching out the low table at the front of the church.  Then, he exclaims, “I see bread and juice!” 
His brother, Levi, sees it too.  “Mom,” Levi says, like someone who’s just discovered cake and ice cream is on the menu for breakfast, “We’re dippin' bread!” 
I turn to them, scandalized by their outdoor voices, and stretch my neck forward, my eyes wide, one finger pressed to my lips.  I silently tap my finger to my closed lips. 
They settle back in the hard pew to wait. 
My boys love communion and my hunch is it’s because they love to eat.  Sometimes this strikes me as sacrilegious, but, mostly, something in their enthusiasm - the way simple appetite and desire breed longing and consummation - also feels right to me.  They're happy to be part, to take part, and receive something good and nourishing. 
When the time comes, at last, I send Levi under his father’s guidance and push Isaiah along ahead of me.  I wonder again, as we exit the end of the pew, about the rightness of allowing children so young to participate in communion, but they’re so happy, so eager, I can’t see holding them back.  We move slowly toward the altar in two lines that bulge and clot the aisle as adults shepherd groups of children.  Seeing my older son behind me, I push him forward too, intending to lean over he and Isaiah both and orchestrate, regulate, their reception of grace. 
Isaiah reaches the half loaf of Italian bread first.  It sits on a plate outstretched in front of his face, level with his big brown eyes.  He reaches for it two-handed, manhandling the loaf which slides forward precariously the slanted plate and the server and I both lunge to stop the fall.  In my mind, Isaiah’s hands are everywhere (germs!) and I grab the loaf to steady it, tearing off a small piece of soft white dough while he wrestles with the dry, flaky crust.  He peels back a sturdy piece as big as his forearm and we turn to the dipping, then back to our seats.
While the rest of us have quickly dipped and swallowed our own crumbs, he sits in the pew tearing off bite after bite of flaky crust.  When his twin brother asks about the size of his serving, Isaiah replies, with deep contentment, “I didn’t try to get it so big, but it came off, so I kept it.”

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Twins, the Cross & Community

(A stomach bug arrived at our house last week and returned again today, wreaking havoc on my writing plans and life in general.  So, I thought it might be a good time to re-post this one from the archives, from back when the twins were just 18 months old and we lived, daily, in a sea of chaos both deep and wide.)   Looking at Stars The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son 
whose blood splattered   the hem of his mother’s robe.   - Jane Kenyon      
“You know you have blood on your shirt, right?” my husband asked.
I was getting ready to meet a friend at a restaurant after a long, exhausting day and my husband was concerned with the bloody stain on my shoulder.
“No,” I said, “I already changed my shirt once.  Did you see his clothes?”  I led him over to the laundry basket and showed him our eighteen-month-old son’s clothes, streaked and stained with splotches of red.  It had been a bloody day.
That morning I stood at the bathroom sink holding Levi who cut his finger on a can he looted from the recycling bin.  I turned his body out away from me, hoping to avoid staining my new shirt.  But while I rooted through the medicine cabinet, looking for a band aid, blood gushed out of the tiny cut. It ran in a bright red stream down the hand that held him, splashing onto my pants and shoes as he waved his little hand around.
It drop, drop, dropped to the beat of his pulse, falling onto the white counter-top like so many crimson beads off of a broken necklace.  I felt it clinging to the hairs on the back of my hand and marveled at its rich scarlet hue.
I called my four-year-old to fetch a washcloth while Levi's twin, Isaiah, wandered in anxious circles by my feet.  Finally, we all sat down at the dining room table and I doled out band aids with great liberality.  I put two or three on the finger that still gushed and two or three on other fingers and on his other hand in hopes of distracting him from pulling them off.  Then, of course, Isaiah needed some too and my assistant, the four-year-old, as well as the little girl I was babysitting.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed Isaiah had blood on him too, places where it had splashed and splattered as he stood nearby watching me tend his brother.
Looking at Isaiah’s splotched clothes, I thought, “When your brother bleeds, it gets on you.  This is what it means to be a brother.  This is what community really is.”
*   *   *   *   *
Blood is messy and vital, rich, and yet we talk of it so complacently.   Somehow, in our dainty sipping of communion cups, we manage to miss the mess and I wonder if, in missing it, we don't also miss the communion. Christ came and died on the cross, where blood drop, drop, dropped out, splattering onto those who gathered near.  This is the community that Jesus establishes, a blood-splattered, blood-drinking communion of sinners turned saints.
 *   *   *   *   *
The stomach bug hit later in the week.  It started with Levi in the middle of the night standing, crying in his crib and we went through layer after layer of sheets and pajamas, as my husband and I tag-teamed the dual tasks of comfort and cleaning.  Isaiah stood in his own crib, just a few feet away, looking-on, bleary-eyed and curious and each time we laid Levi back down to sleep and crept our way back out of the room, Isaiah laid down too.
By the next day they were both down with the bug and I sat holding them on the couch while John took the older kids to the store to stock up on saltines and Pedialyte.  I sat in the corner of the couch with Levi in my left arm and he drifted into a deep sleep, exhausted and drained.  Isaiah fussed, tossing and turning in my right arm, slipping off, then turning and begging his way back up into my lap the second his feet hit the ground.
Levi slept on through it all, so I didn’t dare move and just about the time I was getting frustrated with Isaiah he turned, suddenly, and threw-up all over me and his brother.  Levi woke, of course, as I grabbed a changing pad and laid it across my soaked chest.  But then, just like that, they both dropped off into a heavy sleep.
When my husband came home some forty minutes later, we were sitting there still, the three of us covered in Isaiah’s vomit and I thought, again, “This is what community is.  When your brother, throws up, it gets on you.”
*   *   *   *   *
I wonder sometimes about how we do community these days, all distance and convenience, all house-picked-up and table-manners-please.  Community, real community, is a cracking, bleeding thing.  It’s the voice that breaks into a sob on the phone without holding back and the “oh, thank God, you stopped by because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through this day.” Maybe we settle for something less because we’re afraid that, if anyone gets too close, we’ll vomit our messy lives all over them.  But isn't it possible, my friends, that this bloody, messy communion, this breaking open of our lives like so many loaves of of bread, is what it’s really all about?

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To Experience Resurrection (a Poem for Holy Week)

You have to return to the tomb
to experience resurrection. 
Return to the place where once 
you knew without doubt 
all hope was gone, the last 
dying gasp of breath expelled. 
Then silence, stillness 
and the great tearing open 
of sky and earth. 
The first sign of spring 
is the revelation of all 
that’s died.  Snow’s clean 
slate hides decay, 
but when the sun’s warmth rises 
its first disclosure is the depth 
of loss – the grass, 
brown and trampled, barren 
broken limbs scattered, earth 
exposed and the empty stretch 
of field filled with brown stalks 
of decomposition. 
This is the time of waiting, 
the time in which we grow 
weary and lose heart. 
You have to watch the barren 
earth, pull back brown leaves, 
lean close scanning the hidden 
places.  You have to stand beside 
the stone, Martha would tell us, 
your trembling hand pressed against 
its cold, hard surface.  You have to enter 
the dark cave, Peter whispers, not knowing 
what you’ll find.  
You have to sit through the long, 
dark night to see the first light of morning,         
to feel the sharp intake of breath 
as the sky’s closed eye, cold and gray, 
cracks open slowly, then with growing 
determination.  This is what you must do
to experience resurrection.

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Burp (verb) syn. bolt, rout, ruck

Burp verb  
1. noisily release air from the stomach through the mouth; belch. 
2. a noise made by air released from the stomach; a belch. 
Synonyms: bolt, rout, ruck 
Earliest known use: 1929 
My eight-year-old son has discovered the art of burping.  I don’t know where he stores them in his wiry frame, but he’s mastered a long, loud release of wind that rumbles through the air like freight train rattling down the tracks.  I’m pretty sure he learned the skill – practices it, daily – with the other third grade boys in the back seats of the school bus. 
For the most part, I dismiss his frequent eruptions.  I figure, it’s part of having a boy and, while I don’t want to be talked at or hear the alphabet song sung in burp (a skill he’s also working on), I’ve decided to save my outrage for other more offensive aerial explosions that I’m sure are soon to become a hobby as well. 
The burps, though, light a fuse in my otherwise rarely lit husband.  He says the mere sound of it is like nails on a chalkboard.  I find this both surprising – he is a former boy, after all – and amusing.  My husband is so seldom angry while I’m so frequently irritated, it does my heart good to see him lose his parental cool from time to time. 
We both agree on one thing, though, no burping at the dinner table.  Otherwise, in the living room, the van, I tell my husband he’s just going to have to let it go.  He gives me a pained expression in reply. 
I have a habit, sometimes, of repeating things.   Every couple of months or so, I turn to my husband in the middle of the mundane and announce in a voice filled with surprise, “Apples make me burp.”  Usually, I say this after burping, as though I myself am just discovering the funny little quirk.
“I know,” he says, “you told me that.” 
“Oh,” I say. 
One night, sitting on the couch watching TV, my husband burped.  “Ba-ba-ba-bup,” he said, opening and shutting his mouth as the air passed, breaking it into a multi syllabic expression. 
I looked at him.  “What was that?” I asked. 
“A burp,” he said.  “It’s what you do.” 
“What?!  I don’t do that!” I said, incredulous. 
“Yes, you do,” he said, surprised by my denial.  “You do it all the time.” 
“No, I don’t,” I replied, scrunching my forehead as though searching through a mental catalog of past burps.  “I never do that.” 
He couldn’t believe my denial and I couldn’t believe his accusation, so we returned to watching TV as the long-married are want to do during an argument, especially if they want to stay long-married.  Later though, who could say how long – a day? a week? – I happened to burp with my husband nearby.
“Ba-ba-ba-bup!” I said.  Shocked, I looked him in the eye and laughed.  “Oh, my gosh!  You’re right, I do do that!” 
I’ll never forget learning to burp a baby, watching the lactation consultant sit my tiny, hours old daughter on her knee.  She cupped her hand just under the baby’s jaw bone, tilting her fragile body forward precariously, pounding with her other hand on the soft, rounded back.  Holding my daughter that way, whacking her back, felt completely counter intuitive, but I quickly learned that, aside from slinging her onto my shoulder with my bone pressed just so against her diaphragm, it was the best way to get a burp.
There are few things as satisfying as mastering the art of burping a baby and knowing, with that hearty gush of air, that you’ve saved your baby pain and yourself hours of broken sleep. 
I started out this morning wanting to write about fish burps.  Fish burps, I now know, are a common side effect of fish oil supplements.  Review after review on Amazon had customers who switched from one product to another explaining, “I couldn’t take the burps anymore!”  The highest complement for fish oil online seemed less to do with its effectiveness than with the consumer’s relief, “No fish burps!” 
I don’t like fish and I was hoping maybe the general sense of alarm over fish burps was nothing more than hysteria.  But then I got my first fish burp last week.  It was round and full, a small explosion of fishiness that rolled up into my mouth, silently.  I was shocked, surprised.  I thought to myself, “Fish burp!”  Then I texted my husband, who loves fish and who I assumed would be more than a little envious.
“I had my first fish burp,” I wrote. 
“How was it?” he replied. 
“Fishy,” I wrote. 
It occurs to me that, unlike the word ‘hiccup,’ which can be used to describe an unexpected interruption, the word ‘burp’ has no positive use aside from its frowned-upon bodily function.  This, I think, is too bad.  Is there no potential for positive association with the humble burp?
Author Ann Lamott has a well-loved quote in which she describes laughter as "carbonated holiness."  It's a lovely idea, but we all know what carbonation leads to - an accumulation of air in the stomach that must somehow be released.  Maybe, then we could push Lamott's metaphor to the extreme and suggest that burps themselves are unexpected explosions of holiness.  Maybe.
The truth is, I didn't know what to write about this morning, except I kept thinking about (and enjoying) those round, full fish burps and the thought of those burps - the thought of writing about them - felt like a lump of air building pressure right in the center of my writer's digestive system.  It soon became clear I wasn't going to have room to get much else done if I didn't make way, somehow, for that content to escape.  So, I wrote almost 1000 words on burps and found I had much more to say than I thought I did and perhaps this post itself is a bit of a 'noise made by air released.'  I suspect, like every good burp, it's hit you in one way or another - igniting offense, laughter or a simple reflective pause.  And, now that I think about it, that's what holy things always tend to do.

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Ignored, Dismissed, Insulted

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV 
(I preached on this passage yesterday in church and continued learning about the passage during and after our service.)
A man approached me after church while I was tucking my sermon notes back into a folder. 
“There were three words you used that really struck me," he said,  "Can you remind me what they were?” 
I looked at him, a solid man, my height and balding, a good ten years older, perhaps.  He was one of the few in the congregation I didn’t know well and while I spoke he had alternated between lowering his head, eyes fix on a spot on the carpet in front of him, and looking at me with grave concern.  It was easy for the anxious, insecure preacher in me to imagine him disagreeing with the entirety of the sermon or, more simply, disapproving of a woman in the pulpit. 
“You said three things that happened to the woman,” he said, “real succinct.” 
Lowering his reading glasses from where they were perched on top of his head, he peered over my shoulder while I rifled through my notes looking for the line I guessed he had in mind.  Finding it in my bare bones notes I pointed and he nodded and read aloud, “Ignored, dismissed, and insulted.  That’s really all there is, isn’t it?” 
At first I thought he was referring to my sparse notes, then I realized he meant that the woman in the passage pretty much experienced the sum of what we humans can do to each other. 
“Thanks,” he said, raising his reading glasses again and shaking his head as he walked away. 
I started the sermon portion of the service by reading the passage three times, pausing for a brief silence between each reading.  “Try listening with your eyes closed,” I said.  “All you have to do is pay attention.” 
After the reading, I invited the congregation to share their impressions of the passage – what did they notice, who did they relate to, and what were they curious about?  Every time I start a sermon this way, the congregation identifies almost every single one of the relevant issues in the text, often outlining the relevant points of my sermon for me with hardly any effort at all.  I guess maybe that speaks to the power of crowd-sourcing, but I also take it as a sign that people are much more capable of reading the bible than they think and that every good reading of a passage begins with a lot of questions and a little confusion. 
During our discussion, one man in the back mentioned how struck he was by Jesus’ response to the situation – that Jesus seemed to allow the situation to unfold in front of him and waited before making a definitive judgment. 
This is one of the things I would identify as a positive later in the sermon too – Jesus listened to the woman despite seeming to be pretty clear about wanting nothing to do with her.  Because Jesus listens, the Canaanite woman is able to insert a new perspective into the conversation, one that makes room for Jesus to recognize and respond to her faith. 
I thought about all of this as my husband drove us home with the kids squabbling in the back of the van and my head pounding from sinus pressure.  “Ignored, dismissed, insulted.”  I thought about the Canaanite woman’s vision, the way she shifted the conversation away from the position of those at or beneath the table to the meal itself which was so abundant it couldn’t help but overflow beyond the table’s borders. 
Riding home I thought about the people in our world who possess a greater vision, those who are willing to push against status quo and shift the level of conversation into a wider more productive space.  These people are, most often, outsiders, people who for one reason or another have been relegated to the outskirts of society.  But their exclusion, painful as it is, often comes with the gift of perspective – positioned on the outside looking in, they often see beyond what is to the possibilities of what might be.  Lacking the benefits of insider status, outsiders like the Canaanite woman are often willing to risk more in order to attain a more inclusive vision and they’re not the only ones to benefit from it. 
People like that are often ignored, often dismissed, often insulted.  But I wonder what it would be like if we were to be a bit more like Jesus; if we were to pause a little more and listen more often to an outsider perspective, if we were to refrain from ignoring, dismissing and insulting. 
When Jesus listens to the Canaanite woman he discovers ‘great faith’ in a place where no one would have thought to look.  I hope I can learn to listen more to people with outside perspectives and I also hope I’ll continue to push beyond the risks to share what vision I’ve been given.  At times like this, when people are so divided and arguing over a place at the table, we need a broader vision more than ever. 

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