Wednesday, July 2, 2014

edible grace for the maudlin

Or: How Bulimia Taught Me to Love the Sacraments

 Confession is where you leave your brokenness, and receive grace instead.
I walked into the sunlit October room, my heart beating as fast as a washing machine's spinning drum.
As if to stop the pulse beating underneath the skin, I encircled my hand around my wrist, forming a tight manacle out of my own fingers.
Spilling out of my mouth, the words mimicked the all-too familiar vomit that had left a bitter taste in my mouth far too often.
I could feel my words pile up in a morose heap on the floor in front of me, just as the vomit had swirled around the shower drain.
In vomiting, the bulimic is attempting to purge something out of her body, to say to the food she has just swallowed: this will not become me. She interrupts the process of digestion before it can transform the way she looks, before it can transform her identity. In a desperate attempt to purge her body, she horribly wounds her identity. The lie she has swallowed, and has not yet managed to purge herself of, is that her weight, her body, the walls of cellulite on her thighs have a say in who she is. How can she love others when she struggles to love herself? 
When her attention on herself is focused on the exteriors: on her stomach (how flat is it today?), on her arms (how much are they jiggling now?), or her wrists (can my fingers encircle my wrists? How swollen are they today?), she gives these nonessentials too much weight. She mistakes the accidents for the substance.
This lie eats away at her more than any bag of chocolate devoured late at night. It distorts her vision and her stomach. Food is her nemesis--the enemy she cannot live without, the opponent that she needs to stay alive. It is a toxic symbiosis.

But there, on that floor, the words of the lie stared up at me. Once purged through that vomit of words, the lie slowly began to unwind from the identity. The priest raised his hands, and spoke the words of absolution, and I felt my hands began to let go of the threads of that lie. For, in that moment, I had shifted my gaze from the exterior to the interior. I began to see the substance and not the accidents. My identity had broken loose from the scales that blinded it and weighed it down. With the help of that sunlit room of reconciliation, the substance of my soul began the slow process of healing that commences in each confessional.
Confession is where we leave lies, and receive grace in return. It's a trade that is so obviously unfair, we doubt its reality. When we give the mechanic our car, he fixes our broken parts, but charges us a price. But the price to fix our brokenness has already been paid, and we are charged with nothing but the invitation to come receive.
When someone lifts a load off your shoulders, you are in a bit of a stupor. You wait for the load to come crashing down again, its full weight pulling you down with it.
But grace works differently. It strips you of your rough burdens and baggage, and laughs gently as you stand upright, a free person, basking in your freedom. Grace feels like the first sweet breeze on a humid day, it feels like a warm shaft of sunlight cutting through a cold, snowy day, it feels like lifting your arms up into the rain, it feels like forgiveness.
You'd never expect grace, you know? 
It's just like people. 
You can never expect what people will do; it is impossible to anticipate what a human will do next.
But the more you know and love a human, the more their surprises become a hallmark of who they are; the particular ways in which they daily deviate from your anticipations and expectations become signed and sealed with their own peculiar mark.
The surprises of grace become a familiar wonder to those who acquaint themselves with her mystery.
You could never take the workings of grace for granted. If she got up and left, the world would continue, we fool ourselves into thinking. 
Because our human imaginations are so limited, we can envision a world that does not spin on the axis of grace. 
We think that nature can somehow survive without her other half: grace. And we see the ways of nature without grace. They are the bent parts all around us and inside us. The way of nature is not to exchange a lie for a truth, but rather a lie for a lie and a truth for a truth.
Grace breaks through the cycle of nature. 
In fact, grace breaks through all cycles: the cycle of sin, of seasons, of addiction, of boredom, of violence. 
Grace shatters these scripts we have written for ourselves, with something new, truly new.
If we open up just a tiny space, grace leaps in to crack open the dull, rote molds we have formed for our stories.
We insist on writing our story with our own pens, scratchy and blotchy even though they may be.
But if we would only put down our small and insignificant pens, Grace will crush them and continue our story with something greater and grander than we would let ourself believe.
The story is not erased, the sad and lonely parts will end and culminate in a harmony of words whose beauty is all the keener for the sadness it has transfigured.
These are not words that can placate sorrow while we are trapped in it, but perhaps, once we have reached the other side of the pain, we realize that the winter we have come through has led us to a new and ancient spring.
Confession is like the first crocus that blooms in the snow--a sign that perhaps the winter is not eternal, and it is certainly not omnipotent.
It is where we finally say: I'd rather have grace than this lie, than this broken and twisted piece of myself
And, to our surprise, we are given it.

1 comment:

  1. Sweet Renée, I could have written this post word-for-word at your age. This is not to say I would have been as eloquent! Rather, that I can relate to your “guilt” and your shame and what's more, could have added a whole host of sins far worse.

    Have you ever made an Ignatian retreat? The graces are very, very strong.

    Love to you on this summer day, my dear! Wish I would have gotten a hug after Mass on the 4th. ♥