We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
The Prayer of Humble Access. Written by Thomas Cranmer for the newly forming Anglican Church. A prayer that has been said, while kneeling, for centuries. And yet when I was a child I choked on the words. I would sit in the pew and wonder about being so unworthy that I didn’t even deserve to eat crumbs under the table where Jesus sat. Rats, I would say to myself. Even rats can eat crumbs. Why can’t I?
So I took two steps: I renamed the prayer, The Rat Prayer; and I stopped saying it in church.
I felt like a radical. I felt my silence was shocking not only the rest of the congregation, not only the priest looking down on us, but God himself.
My first openly rebellious act.
It felt good. But at the same time, it felt as though I were crushing my own insides. Not saying a prayer was robbing me of the experience of corporate worship. If only for a few moments, I was standing on the bank, watching, instead of swimming along with all the others.
I was quite young. But I was still me, through and through.
But the aggravation bothered me. The conflict was haunting.
So I decided to go to my grandmother and talk to her about it. Find out what she thought.
My grandmother, Ida, née Lofthouse, was a most typical Anglican woman. She would never miss a church service, even if she had pneumonia. She was the backbone of all the major fêtes of the church, not only making all the lobster rolls and strawberry shortcakes for the July 4th church bizarre and auction, but running the event itself. All the members of the family were required to participate in one way or another in the church service. No act was too small or unimportant that she wouldn’t take it on if she came across it, unattended.
So, I reasoned, she might be just the person to talk to about this rat-and-crumb business.
What, she said. What are you talking about now, Julia? She rarely hid her exasperation of me.
The prayer. Why do you think we can’t eat the crumbs?
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
The conversation didn’t go well.
I came away with an overwhelming confusion caused by my realization that my own grandmother, a woman who would attend daily mass if it were available to her, didn’t know what I was asking her. Didn’t know what I was referring to.
Didn’t recognize the words I quoted back to her. From a prayer. That she said at least once a week.
And it was just a few days ago now that I looked at that incident, the complete lack of communication between us on this matter, and I saw that it was in that moment that I felt that I was completely alone in the world.
It was a stunning experience for me as a child.
And it stunned me as an adult to realize that I had never been aware of the effect that conversation had on me.
For the rest of my life, when I tripped over a mumbling priest, begrudging having to address my question; or was elbowed out of a conversation in a small group at church because my statements were too large and didn’t follow the guidelines specifically given in The Study Guide (Heavens to Betsy!), I would just shrug it off and go, Yup, alone again.
It would never surprise me, this aloneness. And it didn’t make me feel bad. It was just the normal state of my world.
But, now, looking back I realize that when, from time-to-time, I come across someone who mimics my grandmother’s cluelessness about liturgy, the church, God, and whatnot, I tend to want to rip out my hair, tilt back in my chair, and just scream.
So how does one address forgiveness for something someone did when one isn’t even aware of the incident?
You have to actually remember the incident in order to address it, don’t you?
So while pondering this breaking of my internal sense of connectedness with the world, I wondered if this wasn’t exactly what forgiveness is all about.
Having to put down the separation that is created when someone, in whatever way they do it, tells you that you are alone in the world.
I am thinking that each and every act of evil is just that: the teaching that we are alone in the world.
It’s a belief that we, as humans, are most vulnerable to. In our bodies, from the minute we take a breath, we are aware of our seeming separateness. Babies cry when they feel it. In fact, we are called mature when we stop crying when we feel it.
I wonder if at the bottom of each and every act of harm that is committed, we cry because it makes us feel alone in the world.
And that would mean that forgiveness, then, is the conscious act of putting down that illusion and telling myself and the person I am forgiving, that, no, I am not alone in the world.
It means that forgiveness is the conscious (and unconscious) act of finding a connection, even with the enemy. Even with the person who hurt you. Who drove you to tears. Or to stoic silence about it all.
Even Jesus cried out when he felt it. Deeply. Profoundly. To his soul.
And then he found his connectedness. And he came back to us for a short time. And remains with us when we call upon him.
I wonder what it would be like to face an act of evil and just calmly to the perpetrator, I am not alone.
You cannot hurt me.
God: a kind of superpower that can overcome anything.
I’m with him: The true means of forgiveness.