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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Daniel

Discerning the Body: A Call to Prayer

From Inhabited by Grace: The Way of Incarnate Love Available Online. Order Today.

"For the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls." ~Evelyn Underhill

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the people that if they do not discern the body of Christ, they eat and drink judgment instead of life.

"Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation."[1]

It is hard to imagine anyone in our churches bringing food to a potluck and, while everyone is getting their food from the common table, place it on their own table for themselves and invite only their closest friends to eat their food with them. Yet this is the scene that Paul describes. The Corinthians were gathering for a shared meal as the body of Christ; however, they retained all the societal class divisions, refusing to pass the food around for all to partake. They only broke bread with people of their own class. Even the worst of sinners would not attempt this today. Nevertheless, the ease with which we separate ourselves based on politics, gender, race, and religion is often appalling. It may not involve food and it may not even involve class, but we nonetheless become our own judge when we turn our gaze upon the problem at hand instead of the Christ in each. When Paul says that the Corinthians are not ready for solid food, he is suggesting that if they can’t even recognize the food they buy in the market as something to be shared, how are they ever going to perceive Christ in the Eucharist? How are they ever going to love their neighbors as themselves? How could anyone possibly expect to receive God if they cannot even receive the stranger?

The sacramental body of Christ is inseparable from how we relate to each other. If we gather as a church and are segregated by income, class, education, race, gender, or any other worldly division it is safe to say that we are not discerning the body of Christ. Paul suggests that when we fix our gaze only upon those who are like us, our gaze is not on Christ. We only see bread; we do not see heaven. Jesus puts it this way: “If you only love and care for those who love and care for you you’re no better than any other sinner.”[2] To see Christ in the Eucharistic feast is to see Christ in each other, and if we do not see Christ in each other we will hardly recognize the Eucharist to be heavenly food. And yet this dynamic remains an obstacle for many of our churches.

This struggle to see more than is at first present to the eyes is not an individual struggle. It is symptomatic of much broader cultural influences. What has increasingly come to govern human sensibilities in the modern world is the notion of autonomy. Ironically, this runs parallel with the increasing connectedness we are experiencing relative to communication technologies and platforms. It is also interesting to note that the more our tools mediate our relationships the less empathic we become, even toward family and friends.[3] Arguably, these “connectors” are disconnecting us more and more; nevertheless, it is increasingly difficult to claim autonomy. Yet as René Girard has noted, “People do not want to be told that they are not autonomous. . . .”[4] We like to think that we are the choosers of our own destinies—that we make our world. But what if our sensibilities, and therefore everything we perceive or imagine to be true, are conditioned largely by imperceptible forces working on us from the outside? And what if these same forces are continually throwing us into being, altering our relationships, educating our temperaments, and disciplining our relationship with God? The reason, says René Girard, that people do not want to hear that they are not autonomous is because they do not want to believe that “others are acting through them.”[5]

[1] 1 Cor. 11:28-34, italics mine.

[2] Luke 6:31-36.

[3] McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 111-115, 439.

[4] Rene Girard, Battling to the End (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 72.

[5] Ibid.

Inhabited by Grace: The Way of Incarnate Love, by William Daniel

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