Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Communion Calisthenics

The actions of Jesus at the Last Supper form a compelling paradigm of the life of Jesus the meal celebrates. I suggest we use that paradigm as a way to “practice” or exercise the faith we profess. I call them “Communion Calesthenics.”

The four actions of Jesus are:
-receiving (taking the bread offered him by others)
-thanksgiving to God
-breaking the bread
-giving it to others

These “Communion Calesthenics” are perfomed by standing up, lifting your arms over your head with palms open to receive the bread. Then you bring your arms down and put your hands together palm-to-palm in a praying posture. Thirdly, move your arms apart in a tearing motion for the breaking of the bread. Finally, stretch your arms straight out holding the bread out to those who need it. Repeat these motions until you can do them smoothly. Say “receiving,” “thanksgiving,” “breaking,” and “giving” as you make the gestures. Increase speed in moving through these gestures as able.

What do these “communion calesthenics” mean? Glad you asked.

Receiving: practice receptivity. Prayer, spiritual reading of scripture (lectio divina), contemplation, meditation, silence, music – there are a multitude of options. Experiment and find those practices that work best for you. The important thing to is to find a daily rhythm of some sort of receptive practice that positions us before God as the Giver of all gifts. I often use Thomas Merton’s well-known prayer for this:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

At other times I use a wonderful Jesuit meditation: “A Hollowed Space to Be Filled””

“A cup must be empty before it can be filled.
It is already full, it can’t be filled again
except by emptying it out.
In order to fill anything, there must be
A hollowed-out space.
Otherwise it can’t receive.

This is especially true of God’s word.
In order to receive it, we must be hollowed-out.
We must be capable of receiving it,
emptied of the false self and its endless demands.

When Christ came, there was no room in the inn.
It was full. The inn is a symbol of the human heart.
God’s word, Christ, can take root only in a hollow.”
(William Breault, Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits, ed. by Michael Harter, SJ, 74)

Explore a bit and find the practice(s) which you can use as this part of your Communion Calesthenics.

Thanksgiving: Gratitude is the hallmark of my reformed tradition. We realize that the very first response to God is not to do something, no matter how noble or exalted, but to say “Thanks” to God. Again there are many resources and options. A good place to begin might be to use the traditional “Great Prayers of Thanksgiving” for communion services. Go to pcusa.org and search for “great prayer of Thanksgiving” and you will find a variety to look over. Other denominations doubtless have similar resources at their websites.

Scripture, of course, also offers many great passages of thanksgiving. Psalms 145-150 might be a starting point. Hymns are also a good resource. Again, the key here is to find some way to express your thanks to God and begin doing it.

Breaking: here you want to explore the model of your lives being broken open so God’s love can flow from and through you to those around. Along with the gospels, Philippians 2:5-11 is a central text for reflection:

“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“


Giving: Here you need to find something to do to give yourself to others (if you do not already have something). Normal church activities don’t count here nor do things you might otherwise be inclined to do. This service should interrupt our normal routine a bit to remind us that this is a part of our “exercise” routine. You should “make time” for this activity as you would when starting a new exercise program.

There’s my outline of Communion Calesthenics. The dynamics of this process – receiving, thanksgiving, breaking, and giving – form a biblically patterned process of growing in faith. They will also inscribe the practice and pattern of Eucharistic reality and living deeper and deeper in our hearts and minds and exercise a greater influence on the community of faith than it usually does at present. So, I invite you to join me in doing Communion Calesthenics – ready?

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