The small sips that are saving my life.

The small sips that are saving my life.

Last week I shared a list of the things that are saving my life right now, deep in this winter season.

It was only a partial list, but I was still dismayed to realize a full week after the post published that I’d left off one of the most important things. Even worse: I forgot this same thing last year, too.

Maybe that’s just as well, because this list entry requires some explanation.

For the past few years, my family has attended an Episcopal church. Every Sunday morning, my family of six slips into a pew near the back, usually a few minutes after the service has actually started.

In the Episcopal church the able-bodied of the congregation approach the rail for communion. Every week we walk forward and kneel and hold out our hands for the priest to give each of us a skinny little wafer—the bread. And then a fellow member of the congregation approaches, holding out a big silver cup of wine.

There are a couple of choices here. You can eat the bread and drink from the cup, or—if you don’t want to drink from the communal cup—you can dip your little wafer into the wine and eat that.

My kids hate the taste of the communion wine, and they are always exceedingly careful to dip the wafer into the cup the absolute minimum amount, barely grazing the surface of the wine.

I am a germophobe. The idea of drinking from a communal cup grosses me out. I get unhealthily anxious about these kinds of things, especially in February. Every year I battle creeping paranoia about flu season.

And yet every week, I drink from the cup. Even though it’s February, even though we sit in the back and are among the last to come forward. Even when the teens fill in for the regular chalice bearers and are obviously forgetting to wipe down the rim between sips. (Shudder.)

In the church, communion is heavy with symbolism: bread and wine, body and blood, approaching the table, together.

But for me, there’s an extra layer of meaning in putting my actual lips on that actual cup, and it has everything to do with battling back my burgeoning anxiety. Every week I’m reminding myself, once again, to not be afraid. To not hide (literally or metaphorically), even though it’s February, even though it’s flu season.

It’s just a sip of wine, but it’s my small way of being brave, of showing up, of kicking my winter anxiety out of the driver’s seat, again.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

For many, it’s a time of giving things up. But for me, today, I’m thinking about the things that shouldn’t be taken away: the rituals I rely on—and rightfully so—that keep me sane, in this season and after.

If you’re comfortable sharing something you rely on—big OR small—please tell us in comments.

P.S. Give me one week without, and 7 things keeping me sane this season.

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65 comments

  1. Kim says:

    My kids used to clench their lips so tightly on the edge of the chalice that not a single drop of communion wine would enter their mouths! I always feel that the moment the priest absolves all the sins is light a weight lifting off my shoulders!

  2. Mary B. says:

    Wow. What a breath-takingly beautiful reflection! It was such a delight to read!

    Like you, I depend heavily on ritual and meaning to keep me anchored. The older I get, the more acutely aware I become of the uncertainties of life–nothing is guaranteed, not even tomorrow. So I find myself leaning more and more heavily on the practice of my Faith…I look forward to the beautiful and unchanging ritual of the Mass, I love seeking reconciliation in the confessional and hearing the ancient words of absolution. I order my life around the liturgical seasons–and I love that I know when each one will begin/end, and practicing fasting/feasting/sacrificing/blessing that goes along with each.

    This is what both challenges and strengthens me. Wishing you a very holy and fruitful Lent!

  3. Wendy says:

    Such an interesting post and conversation! I was raised Episcopalian and never thought about the germ issue at all. My nephew was diagnosed with Celiac disease was back in 1989, when “gluten free” was NOT any sort of buzzword. He had to use special GF communion wafers, and my sister used to get some horrifyingly rude comments from people about it–including her mother-in-law, who insisted he couldn’t get sick from the body of Christ.
    And I hope nobody will take this as disrespectful to the tone of this post, but last month I bought myself TWO bras that actually fit, and for the first time in a decade, I can wear a bra without spending all day long hauling the straps back up. It is just amazing to lose one of life’s constant annoyances.

  4. Emmie says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post and for sharing your vunerability with readers. I too hesitate when partaking in the Communion challice, but feel better knowing that the wine must have a certain amount of alcohol which kills the germs! My step of faith allows me to believe that no harm will come to me if I partake (and I also hope that the truly ill, such as those with a ripe cold, refrain from partaking!). That’s what helps get me through. As a child I wouldn’t ever take a lick of someone else’s lollipop or ice cream. It wad SO socially difficult for me.

    • ~Amy F.~ says:

      In my church, one of the elders mixes regular wine with the communion wine during flu season. The extra alcohol kills any germs that might end up on the cup. I’ve always been grateful for that small precaution!

  5. Emily McKenna says:

    I’m so glad you shared this. I’ve only taken communion once from a communal cup and I thought about the sharing of germs. I comforted my fears by reminding myself that this gift was from God, who does not want to harm me. And, it also helped me to remember that alcohol kills germs. 🙂

    Things that keep me sane this time of year are reading a good book, of course and skyping with my out of state and out of country daughters. I miss them so much and look forward to seeing their face, hearing their voice, and knowing what’s going on in their lives.

  6. Elizabeth Sullivan says:

    I love this! I am just now getting around to reading some old email and came across this. I can see from the other comments that this has touched a nerve. I didn’t grow up with communion. But having taught at a Catholic school, I can say that I have grown to love it and honestly miss it. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

  7. Picked this from your favorites and it’s lovely and brave. I belong to a Baptist church, and we don’t (IMO) take communion often enough. I was shocked at Christmas Eve when we used a new method. In our church, we always pass the plate with wafers, take and eat as a congregation. Then we do the juice–no wine in the Baptist church (people keep it at home) 🙂 This time, however, we passed the plate once because we were taking a pre-packaged juice/cracker combo that you peel the wrapping off. So very sanitary. And I lost all connection to what we should be doing with communion, to the sharing and breaking of bread and wine together as one body in Christ. And maybe I should be brave enough to actually write about it…

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