The baby is handed the communion wafer, and looks at it. When we are very young, we do know how to clutch. Baby clutches it. Examines. Priest takes it back, breaks it (as one does in part of the ritual which precedes this), and offers baby a tiny piece: “You want to try it? It’s not bad.” She opens her mouth, he sets it on her tongue. She chews it, or gums it.
“What do you expect, Dad, it tastes like sawdust,” says the priest’s kid, who is kneeling next to me.
When my Catholic grandmother was dying, a priest tried to put a wafer in her mouth, but she kept spitting it out. My grandma had never talked about church, or God, or anything. She went to mass every Sunday. I don’t really know why.
To me, being raised Protestant, by very religious parents, meant that church stuff was about 50% of our lives. I was exposed to more evangelical Christians, and learned that they not only talk about Jesus and God, but they talked about their personal relationship with Jesus. I was like, well, I don’t know how personal it is. Is Jesus being standoffish with me? I thought we had an understanding. I was into him, he was into me.
My dad went through this period (between marriages) when he would force us to eat a vegetable. We were not allowed to leave the table until we had eaten so many bites of peas or green beans. “A” for effort, but I figured out I could spit things out in a napkin, or in the bathroom.
Episcopalians give communion to babies. It’s magic, and because it’s magic, nothing can hurt it or offend it. I mean, we are reverent with it. The wafers all get eaten, are never discarded, and the wine is either kept for later, or poured into the earth. Some churches have a special drain for communion wine that goes not into the sewer, but into the ground.
Those are the absolute best.
I sat next to the priest’s kid and thought about how awful being a preacher’s kid must be. But I have no idea that this kid feels that way. I just remember that my dad being a prominent person at church, I felt like telling them to go fuck themselves, or giving them a long list of differences between my dad and God. Although this is always a tricky thing, most of us, probably, still have an idea of God that is much in line with our idea of our dads.
This priest’s kid sat and drew pictures in the bulletin. Traditional things kids do in church: practice buttoning and snapping and zipping with a “Quiet Book” made of cloth, scribble on offering envelopes, write notes back and forth, flip through the hymnal, crawl under the pew, pretend to be Sea World trainers (okay, that was just my sisters). The church I grew up in, kids were there for the whole service, if they were amenable to being kept quiet, or old enough to be expected to be quiet, for an hour. I think this is a little unusual. Many places, kids get taken off for some kid thing, so they are not there for the whole service.
Now, I was a kid, but I felt that the church I grew up in, and Lutheran churches in general, are especially good at carrying through Jesus’ interest in kids. Kids made noise in services, and kids belonged in services. Jesus was unusually positive about kids and the way they saw things, for a guy of his time. Kids, back then, were workers, or burdens, or creatures who might make you fall in love with them, and then die.
When someone makes you food, you have to take it. We can talk anthropology, about distant tribes and eating rituals, but when people make you food, here, now, you must eat it. It’s terrible if you don’t. Once a friend made me a special vegetarian thing with broccoli. I hate broccoli. But you must eat. I did.
Images from top left, clockwise: food serving vessel, 12th century BCE, China; food warmer with insert, Vienna, ca. 1730-35; food bottle, possibly German, second half 17th century; stacked food box with taro plants and chrysanthemums, 1807-1891, Japan. All from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.