Love in the Time of Corona: Meditation, Liposuction, and the Lord’s Supper

My cat Whitman has finally come to parade rest to the right of my laptop after competing with the keyboard for the touch of my fingers and with you for my attention. I love this cat. I love both my cats. Walt Whitman whom we call “Whitman” and Ruth Bader Ginsburg whom we call “Miss Ruth” which actually doesn’t seem right now that I think about given who she’s named for. It should “Justice Ruth” or more respectfully, “Justice Ginsburg” but the cat doesn’t seem to mind and I imagine that if Justice Ginsburg, God rest her soul in powerful peace, were here tonight I don’t think she’d mind either. I think I want to go to Michaels and buy a package of those little paper doilies and cut one in a way so that we could put it on Ruth and snap her photo with what I’m hoping will look like RBG’s famous lace collars. Do they still make those doilies? The paper ones I mean. Mom always had to buy them when she was in charge of “The Lord’s Supper” at church when I was growing up. They would put the paper doily in the bottom of the brass serving bowl and then put a Jewish Matza cracker in the bowl, just one big square. Each member of the congregation who had been baptized and considered themselves to be in good standing with God would just snap off a little piece. Looking back now that seems sort of unhygienic. Since members of The Church of Christ are to under no circumstance imbibe any alcohol, the second course in the Communion was the “wine” which was actually Welch’s grape juice. Our church didn’t teach transubstantiation, the Catholic teaching that the bread and wine are transformed into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus, and I do believe I remember my mother weighing in on that one to the extent that she found what the Catholics to believe to be “gross.” I’d have to agree with her on that one. Never been much of the vampire/zombie type myself, no shade on my Catholic friends. The women at the Hatt Church of Christ where we attended would pass around the responsibility of preparing the Lord’s Supper which meant putting a little bartender’s spout in that bottle of Welch’s and filling several dozen tiny little clear plastic cups for the Communion observance which we did every Sunday. Many other rural, Southern, Protestant denominations (Baptists, Nazarenes, Methodists, et. al.) did not take Communion every Sunday. The fact that we did meant that the responsibility for making the preparations came around to my mother more often than it would have if we’d been Baptists. What this meant to me personally is that I got to eat the leftovers more often which she’d let me do but only after “pulling the door to” to the little room beside the baptistry where the supplies were kept and the preparations made. I don’t think mother thought there was anything wrong with my drinking the rest of the Welch’s or polishing off a Matza or two; she probably just didn’t want any other members of the congregation to pass by and see her skinny prepubescent firstborn gobbling down the remnants of the blood and body of Jesus even if it was just representative. 

In the Church of Christ they taught the concept of “The Age of Accountability” which simply meant a human had come to an age and understanding of the world so that if they were to die right then, they wouldn’t be “washed in the blood” and the sins they had committed up to that point in their life would be their ticket to an eternity in a punishment more horrible that the human mind can imagine. By age seven I had heard the idea pitched enough for me to consider my own young life. I certainly understood the difference between right and wrong and although I tried real hard to always make the right choice I was pretty sure I had let Jesus down at least a couple of times so when the congregation stood at the end of the sermon and began to sing, “Just As I Am” I walked down that aisle, just as I was, and took the hand of Brother Harold Walton as I took the hand of Jesus. Thereafter, I was qualified to take part in the Lord’s Supper as we called it and I no longer had to hide behind closed doors to imbibe in the delicious Welch’s and Matza snack; I could do it right out in the open. But even though our beliefs weren’t that the substance of what we were eating changed, somehow it’s meaning had. I had taken my baptism with all the sober seriousness of which a seven-year-old is capable so when those brass platters and plates were past, I meditated hard on what it was meant to represent. I had then as I do now a very vivid imagination. Pictures went through my mind of the tortures Jesus had undergone during the final hours of his life, and all because of what I would go on to do. And I felt bad. And grateful to him for doing it. I related to him too in some ways. From where I was sitting, Jesus sounding kind of like an outcast and I could relate to that. The artistic representations of Jesus, mostly from the Renaissance had White Jesus with a beard and long hair. My baptism occurred in 1973 so Jesus looked to me like this hippie dude (sandals, Krishna robes) who chilled with these twelve other hippie dudes as they went around helping people who needed help. I knew, even at seven, that was a lifestyle I could totally get behind. I really did love Jesus so when I sat there thinking about the cruelty of the people who tortured him to death, it was downright traumatizing. I was smart then like I’m smart now and when I put that little piece of Matza cracker in my mouth (the urge to gobble mouthfuls was gone) I thought about the people of Jesus’ day in positions of power in Government and Religion and I would hate them for what they did to my Jesus. And then I would remind myself that Jesus doesn’t want me to hate. 

When the brass platter with the grape juice in it came around, I’d take the tiny plastic cup (not even half the size of a bartender’s shot glass), drink its contents and replace it in one of the empty holes in the platter and think of the blood dripping out of Jesus’ body . Once I went to church with a friend and at their church they all held on to their little plastic shot glasses and downed them all together like one would at a bar. Then they place the little empties in holes in racks on back of the pew in front of them. But I’d already drunk mine when I took it out of the platter so I just felt embarrassed and smiled nervously at the people around me while they drank theirs. Then I went back to meditating on Jesus’ sacrifice and feeling the presence of God. 

Mediation looks a little different for me these days. I’ve known for a long time that if I will sit for even five minutes per day for three days in a row even trying to do what has been described to me as Buddhist meditation, I am immediately at least 50% “better.” By “better” I mean less likely to chase people in traffic on my motorcycle, less likely to draw blood on the inside of my mouth while listening to the news, more likely to spend more time writing. I may even be 5% less likely to self-medicate my own distress in some way. The only problem is, when I try to have a meditation practice on my own, while I may have had some success with that approach in the past, it is almost all but certain now that I will get up from wherever I am trying to meditate and physically remove myself from the experience. I will literally “run away.” I don’t want that. I want to be able to take advantage of the gifts of this gift which is absolutely free. (I guess that’s the nature of a gift.) So, before I went to New Orleans in November to have liposuction surgery on those fat bags at the bottom of my back (talk about burying the lead!) I called my friend of twenty-five years, Mary Stancavage, (she’s a Buddhist teacher) and asked her if she would be willing to sit in meditation with me for even fifteen minutes over WhatsApp and she said that she would. I wanted to go into the surgery with clarity and completely assured that I wasn’t trying to fix anything on the inside. By the time the time the day for the surgery rolled around, my (very hot) surgeon had (finally) tuned into my sense of humor. When he came in to shake my hand before the anesthesiologist was to put me under, I looked into those long-lashed eyes sparkling at me over the top of his surgical mask and said, “Don’t forget Doctor. Suck all the sadness out.” 

Mary helped me that day in my spiritual preparation for surgery. Again, I wasn’t trying to fix anything spiritually by having the doctor stick a vacuum hose with a razor blade attachment on the end of it inside my body. But I was willing to let it stand as a metaphor. I’m big on metaphor and have found ritual (of varied traditions and my own) to be useful. (I’m now acutely aware that I am telling you about my new-found meditation practice and plastic surgery at the same time. Welcome to the inside of my mind. Hope you have a good therapist. 

Mary said, “You know I lead a guided meditation every morning at 7am on Zoom. There’s no cost.” “I might just do that” I answered and instead of doing what I normally do, I showed up. I haven’t made it every day since the surgery but I’m there more days than not. I feel like I’m getting better at it which is odd to say because one of the first things Mary taught me is that you can’t do it wrong. You show up, you’ve done it right. I guess what I mean is that I’m getting better at one part of one part of it. Mary says when you find that you’re off in the past or the future, lost in the entanglements of the busy mind, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. The one part of the one part I think I’m getting a little better at is the “gentle” part. In previous attempts at meditation I could always snatch myself back into the now and even reprimand myself. “There he is again! Off thinking!” Now I just laugh at myself, say, “Yep, he’s a storyteller. There he is making up stories” and when I say that I realize the “he” is me and I’m immediately and completely back in my body. The point of the whole deal as far as I can tell after years of chasing after the answer is pretty simple: live in and experience this very moment and nothing else. Most of us spend a fair amount of time doing what Winnie the Pooh did: “Think, think, think, think.” 

Mary doesn’t talk throughout the whole half-hour. She welcomes people as they enter the Zoom room and then gives us a launching point for the days sit; some are well-known traditions like the Loving Kindness meditation. Other times she’ll just offer one thing to hold in consciousness an idea like “letting go of the stories.” We all have stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It may sound easy but that’s a helluva feat at least it is for m — between bouts of self-recrimination and self-pity about what has actually been a pretty amazing life. I mean, I suppose I might have had a spoonful or two over my allotted dose of suffering but if that was somehow something that had to happen for me to have the life I have, I’ll take it. I’ve always said that the river of our joy flows through the chasm carved by our grief. I’ve never thought until tonight about the fact if the grieve is greater, so then would be chasm. Thereby is made more room for the Joy River to flow. I mean my chasm’s plenty deep for now, please Lord. This past year for me was a living manifestation of the opening line of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” 

A day has passed since I began this blog. I’ve been to the market since then so of course now there is a large box of Matza crackers and a two-quart bottle (the smallest they had) of Welch’s grape juice. Now I can have as much I want! And as it turns out, as so often the case in life, it is more precious when it is at a premium. Perhaps scarcity does make it better. Is that the reason a Republican’s steak only tastes good to him if he knows others have none? Now I have both juice and crackers in the great abundance I thought I craved. Then  I get to remember the apparently still-unlearnt lesson, Matza in great abundance becomes bland; Welch’s in great abundance becomes saccharin.

I’ve just finished morning meditation with Mary. I’d like to tell you about my experience of the meditation today because I found it pretty profound but I’ve already sliced you off a bigger portion than I normally ask you to read. I’ll pick up there tomorrow. I want to talk to you about my future and the future of the blog. 


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