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The Day I Failed the Humanity Test

I refused a wafer dipped in wine

Sunset with dark tops of trees in foreground. Half of the sky still blue, with tiny pillow clouds strung across it. Golden clouds lower down.
The sky at Evergreen always accepts the clouds. There is no jarring note.

When I recently visited my 91-year-old mother in her nursing home I was told she was down the hallway attending the weekly Anglican church service.

This surprised me.

Mum had been a minister’s wife and spent most of her life attending a church that was Christian but outside the norm. She believed Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants were wrong, the pope was evil, weekly communion wasn’t biblical, and Christ’s return was imminent. I left her church years ago, but as far as I knew, Mum still believed what she always had.

So, what was she doing down the hallway? I knew she was experiencing cognitive decline but surely she wouldn’t willingly go to what she would normally consider a pagan church service?

I tiptoed to the doorway and looked through the window inset in the door. A care worker quickly spotted me and let me in. A young Anglican minister, wearing a white surplice and wide, green sash, pointed to a vacant chair, which happened to be beside my mother. She was in a wheelchair following a hip operation. I sat down.

I touched Mum’s arm. She looked at me. Her blue eyes widened, she smiled, and the service began. There were prayers, readings, responses, and hymns, all displayed on a screen as they were being said or sung.

The others in the room were all very old, some had dementia, and several were in wheelchairs or recliner beds. Various ones were asleep. One snored loudly and intermittently, but the two priests continued the Holy Communion service, seeming not to notice.

‘Lord God, hear our prayer,’ said one of the priests. ‘Hear our prayer,’ responded the congregation, including Mum, who had her eyes on the screen. ‘Good Lord, deliver us,’ said the other priest. ‘Amen,’ said Mum and the others.

As the service progressed, I noticed Mum knew most of the hymns, although I’d never heard them before. She sang loudly, especially ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, while I sat quietly, bemused and interested in the experience.

Then the priests prayed over a cup of wine and some wafers and walked along the rows, offering each person a wafer dipped in the wine. They had to wake some of them up so they could open their mouths to accept the wafer. It was a slow process, and by the time they arrived in front of Mum, she was asleep.

One priest tapped her head. She woke up, was momentarily surprised at the wafer hovering near her nose, and put up a hand to wave it away. But then she suddenly calmed and opened her mouth, received it, and slowly chewed. I wondered what she thought it was. A bit of morning tea?

The two priests then stood before me. It was my turn to be momentarily surprised. I didn’t expect them to offer it to visitors, but that’s what they were graciously doing.

This is when I failed the humanity test.

I put up a hand to block them and turned my head away.

The whole service had flowed up to this point. There was unity and compassion in the room. Although some of the old people may not have understood everything that was being said and done, they knew they were in a place where they were accepted, understood, and valued.

The only jarring note was contributed by me.

When I recall that moment of rejecting the wafer I sense a zig-zag rent in the atmosphere. I was refusing what the moment was offering me.

I was being offered an opportunity to acknowledge my humanity, to accept my need to be purified, for my sins to be forgiven by those I’d sinned against. It was a reminder that a Jewish spiritual teacher had sacrificed himself and that I should sacrifice myself too, by accepting what life was doing with me at that moment.

When reflecting on that incident I realised that although I’d left religion behind and had thought that I was over all that “stuff”, I was still caught up in me/them thoughts. I’d felt superior. I’d felt separate from and superior to the priests and everyone else in the room.

My sense of oneness with all things and all people had drifted out the window.

I can’t undo what I did at that moment, but I’ll never do it again.

How to Sense Oneness

When you find yourself blocking what life is offering you, you create a tear, a rent, in the fabric of what is.

You know when you’ve done it because your body stance is stiff, your thoughts are narrow, and your heart feels tight and hard. Or smug and superior.

When your body feels fluid, when your thoughts are allowing and accepting, when your heart is warm, soft, and humble within you, then Oneness is flowing through you and spilling out into the world.

With love, Marlane

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