Practicing Personal Communion


(system) #1

What “has your heart” spiritually? What spiritual experience would you really like to be able to share in a way that makes both you and your listener glad that you did? If you’ve shared in this way, you know what a joyous thing it is to tell what God has done for you[1] in well chosen words-- words so well chosen that they draw your listener beyond you and your words into a spiritual experience that far surpasses words.

While you consider what has your heart[2] spiritually and how you have already told or might yet tell about it, I’ll say that communion is one thing that has my heart. I pray for well chosen words to share with you about this!

About ten years ago I was walking along the Columbia River with a friend. The walking trail along the river, my friend, the beautiful day and relaxing time—I knew it couldn't get much better than that. Yet it did get better because of something my friend said as we walked. While simply sharing about things that mattered most to her, she said she didn’t see any reason why we couldn't have communion on our own.

I had never thought of having communion on my own. Her matter-of-fact, no-agenda sharing was a seed planted on prepared soil at just the right time. For several years I had been coming to a fuller awareness of the essential combination of Word and Sacrament (or sacred rite).[3] I was also discovering how terribly wrong the Word-based Christians think the liturgical (Sacrament-based) Christians are; and how terribly undernourished and deprived (if not dead wrong) the liturgical Christians think the Word-based Christians are! Today, more than ever, I find this split supremely painful. What a tragedy that the Body of Christ has gotten so broken![4]

On our river walk that day, my friend gave me a way to personally combine Word and Sacrament without compromising conviction. A few years later I realized I needed a communion server. Why it took so long to realize, I don’t know. Why I needed a special server I’m not quite sure, but I can guess it has to do with art being one way we express our hearts and things that are of spiritual significance to us. Using craft store clay that dries on it own, I designed a little server. It dried into something that was barely a start. It was both too intricate and too rough.

Some time later it occurred to me that another friend might help me. My friend is an artist and teacher and I knew she created wonderful artistic expressions from clay. I went to see her when the bearded wheat in a field adjoining her studio was at the perfect stage for impressing in clay (something that hadn’t occurred to me until I saw her). Her suggestions were exactly what I needed. That day I knew what the revised design would be, and I began a new prototype. What I didn’t know yet was how much is involved in shaping, smoothing, drying, painting, glazing and firing clay. My amazing friend stayed with me through more than a year of learning (her schedule and mine meant we couldn’t get together very often). Now I have four different communion servers which share a similar design (see the one pictured with this article). Just completing the communion servers has meant a great deal to me.

Sabbath May 22, 2010, I experienced personal communion for the first time. Obedience, longing, love, presence and more converged! It was a graced and blessed communion that went far beyond words.

I don’t cause or achieve such spiritually significant times as I experienced May 22 and again on June 19. But they are gifts to be desired with all my heart. The questions I must ask and keep asking, are “How do I foster that desire?” and “How do I become more receptive to the gift?” I’ll share some responses to those questions.

Prepare

There are many things that prepared me over the years to receive personal communion. I wasn’t aware how some things were preparing me for this experience until after they already happened, like when I took the river walk with my friend. So I was being prepared. But I also chose to do some intentional preparation by (1) making the communion server, (2) planning a worship experience that incorporated the essential preparation of confession, and (3) focusing my central desire and prayer during communion, which was “May they (the Bread and Wine) be in me what You intend. I trust You to accomplish in me what I have no power to do or explain.”

Obey

Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” I needed to personally come to terms with Jesus saying this to me. I wasn’t ignoring all the scripture that surrounds these words nor was I denying the centuries of struggle by others who have come to terms with these same words of Jesus. In fact, as I write I'm realizing that the centuries of complexity and intensity associated with these words of Jesus may have significantly influenced the simplicity of my own approach. I just needed to do it for myself. And I need to keep doing it.

Acknowledge the Community

The Word of God and the sacraments (or sacred rites) of God are for all believers. They are for the community, and the community is healthiest when its individual members are healthiest. A member who participates in personal communion is prepared to participate all the more meaningfully in corporate communion. Personal communion is a complement to, not a substitute for, corporate communion.

How the Word of God is understood and applied is also a community matter. The community (the Seventh-day Adventist community and the entire Christian community) includes Spirit-guided scholars and it includes Spirit-guided non-scholars. Significant insights into God’s Word may come from any member of the community. In order to fully hear and understand God’s Word, especially about something as crucial as communion, we need to keep hearing each other. When I am committed to mutual respect and trust, and when I enter into it, I become more receptive to God’s gift.

Trust God

Who makes communion be what Jesus meant it to be? Who makes the Bread and Wine be in me what Jesus intends them to be? God does. In order to receive the gift, I need to keep trusting God—directly, simply, and completely.

Being open to God’s gift of indwelling life[5] includes fostering my heart’s desire for this gift. There is something enormously wonderful about the desire for God. It gets satisfied and then immediately intensified. It’s a most amazing, renewable desire. There is no chance of frequent communion becoming meaningless ritual when my heart’s desire is continually satisfied and intensified by the One who abides in me, and I in him, through the Bread and Wine.

Wanting to know and love God more and more and wanting to help others do the same drew Diane Forsyth to pursue degrees in theology, religion and spiritual life development, and into employment as a college religion teacher, pastor and hospital chaplain. The same desire has prompted Charistis ministry (www.charistis.org), which meets a need within and beyond the Seventh-day Adventist Church for depth in personal and corporate communion with God. The title of her most recent book is Opening into Worship.

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[1] Luke 8:38-40.

[2] Heart is used here to mean the center of a person’s whole being, the place where every aspect or faculty of being human finds fullest acceptance, expression and wholeness. Thoughts, feelings, and many other aspects of being human center in the heart.

[3] Seventh-day Adventists prefer to say “sacred rite” instead of sacrament, “which in a technical theological sense is often understood as implying that the rite itself confers grace.” (See Don F. Neufeld, ed., Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Revised Edition, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976.)

[4] Acknowledging the pain of this brokenness does not mean that I think ecumenical blurring of distinctions is the answer.

[5] John 6:54-56.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2640