We left Oneonta early on the Sunday morning of September 16th, the car full of freshly picked apples picked by our children from the Sheesley’s yard, and drove back to New York City. We needed to be back for what we thought to be a special time of mourning for our church, The Village Church. We found out that a few of our members had indeed escaped alive from the towers. A few, like us, had been displaced. None was lost.
On that Sunday, C.J. was to be confirmed to be a full member of our church and to take his first communion. It was to be his first public expression of faith. He had been meeting with our pastor throughout the summer toward this day. We wanted to invite family members and friends to join us. We were planning to have a party for him. Now, the best we could hope for was to get to the service on time. I asked him, as I negotiated the hills of the Catskill Mountains, if he still wanted to go through with it. “Dad, I can’t wait. I want to take communion today.”
After my fellow elders and our pastor prayed for him to officially recognize him as a full communing member, he expressed his exuberance with a victory gesture I had seen him give after scoring a goal in soccer. Then, at Communion, he came up to me as I broke the bread to him, his hands cupped, and the voice of shalom filled my heart again.
“This is Christ’s body, bread of heaven,” I said to C.J. If God can turn ordinary bread into a sacrament, God can turn anything into a sacrament. There is power of resurrection in this piece of bread going into the hands of a child. These hands, covered in asbestos dust last Tuesday, would be redeemed. God would take the very dust of death and turn it into life, twisted metal into a memorial of hope, and even the broken city of New York into the City of God.
Andras Visky, a Romanian playwright and scholar who was once imprisoned for his faith, told me that “without Communion, there will be no community. Without Communion, there will be no communication at all.” Every time we break the Lord’s bread and the wine, we affirm a foundation of Christ which was shaken but not moved, broken but not destroyed. He is the “strong tower” we run to, and find true refuge in, even as our own towers collapse all around us. This refuge, this communication, this community was what Sen-no-Rikyu desired in his struggle to express humanity in a war-torn time.
With this Eucharistic foundation, we do not need to “postpone” art because art flows, for us, right out of that Table, from the very heart of our universe. If we center ourselves there, then we can go as far as the end of hell and still return home. We can even dare to have the innocence of a child in a world filled with fear and darkness. Jesus’ command not to fear flows out of that Table as our promise towards true Shalom. At the table the great sheep still resides, inviting us to enter the Beautiful through His suffering. No restraint is needed for expression of hope in that morning light.
Author’s note: edited versions of this essay originally appeared in Image Journal, as well as in Refractions: a journey of art, faith and culture. This essay also was selected for Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image (edited by Gregory Wolfe).