God defeats Death and the forces of destruction (the image of the crucifixion) not by rejecting them but by integrating them. God’s love and holiness are not destroyed or tarnished by this embrace, but it is the opposite. Evil and what is ‘not God’ is transformed by God’s embracing love. This is wonderful. When we participate in the Eucharist, this is what we are saying. Instead of the bread and wine becoming us as with normal food, we are integrated, as sinners, into the ‘Body of God’ in Christ. It is there that we are transformed and ‘’cooked’ into God’s likeness. Eucharist is not about our holiness or worthiness or desire, but about how we allow ourselves to be embraced by what we ingest.
Before I was 35 years old, I could eat what I wanted, drink what I wanted and do no formal exercise and not put on weight. I used to say that I had a ‘fast metabolism.’ Until I hit 35. Then I remember being very anxious for a while because I shot up to 80kg! Oh, what I would give to be 75 kg again! No matter what I do, I can’t get below 85 these days! As a colleague of mine said to me once, when lamenting this state of affairs, ‘Learn to love the flab!’
Now this phrase ‘learn to love the flab’ bears within it a great power of psychology. ‘The flab’ is something that I have previously considered ‘not me’. I reject it. I try my best to be rid of it. ‘I’ have no flab. The anxiety I felt when I discovered that, with age, my metabolism was changing results from these two pictures of ‘me’ struggling for space. The one I know I now am, and the one I want to be. To ‘love the flab’ means to draw into my picture of ‘myself’ the picture of myself as being heavier than the 75 kg I used to be! A new element in the picture of me must be integrated into the old picture of me. The pieces of the jigsaw must be re-arranged to accommodate the new reality, or I must live in denial of what the scales tell me is the truth: something that takes more long term energy than admitting the truth!
A similar thing happened when I injured my back. My toe went numb. I went to the physiotherapist who had been looking after my slippery disks for a long time and he said ‘I don’t think that all of the feeling I going to come back.’ Over the year or so it took for me to recover, I had some terrible moments. Could I live with myself as ‘disabled?’ Over the years since that injury I have come to ‘own’ the slight numbness in my big toe. I said ‘I don’t like it, but I can live with this.’ I have integrated a new piece of information into my sense of ‘self’.
This is what the Swiss are on about too at a social level when they talk about ‘integration’. Society is like an organism with a body. New people who come to live within a recognised set of boundaries like ‘a country’ are a source of anxiety for the people who are already there. Like my injury, the question arises for my already existing self ‘Can I live with this?’ The same is true for a society. They ask ‘Can we live with this ‘new element’. The problem lies not in the nature of the ‘new element’ itself, but in the fact of its being new. Then there must be an exchange of information on both sides of the deal. The ‘new’ element in order to decrease the anxiety of the existing body has to offer some signs that it is not dangerous. The existing body has to make room for the new element and let them know how much they are prepared to change in order to make room for the new. They also have to say where they are not prepared to change.
The process of ‘integration’ is a process of turning a ‘not me’ into ‘part of me’. Put another way, integration is about the process of turning a ‘them’ into an ‘us’.
This happens in church congregations too. We say we would love lots of children, yet act as if they are hostile germs when they come. We want them to come to make us look good, like a piece of jewellery, but we have the normal difficulty in ‘integrating’ the new element into our sense of what it means to be ‘us’.
I remember once a person in a congregation who always complained that no one would help her to do the flowers. From time to time people would offer, but after a short time they would stop. Why? Because the person who was already in place had no way of integrating a new flower helper into her world. She gave them such a hard time that they always said ‘I’m not putting up with that!’ And they stopped doing the flowers.
The funny thing is that after a while, we all laughed about it! We would say ‘Oh, there is Lucy being Lucy again! What a funny old dear she is. When someone would come in distress about how Lucy had been with them about the flowers, we would say “Yes, she’s terrible! Ha Ha. We will find a ministry for you to do. Lucy is terribly conflicted about the flowers, but we think it’s a scream! Come and have a coffee!”
At this point, even Lucy’s bad behaviour had been integrated into the body of Christ, and we could laugh about it.
This process happens a lot. At the beginning, when new people come to congregations (including clergy) their quirks and funny ways are matters for comment and dissonance and even rejection. But if they are not too bad, after a while instead of people’s saying ‘Oh, that X, aren’t they terrible’ people say ‘Oh, that is just X being X. don’t take any notice of it.’
When I first arrived I was often told “We don’t do that here.” I thought “This ‘we’ excludes ‘me’ as part of the ‘us’ ” I too had to decide what parts of the existing ‘body’ I was going to accept, and what parts of the existing body I was going to change, in consultation with the Chaplaincy council, in accord with their own request to me to come to help to renew St. John’s. The process we are in is one of creating a new ‘us’ out of two formerly separate ‘bodies’. That is why the Archdeacon spoke about a new ministry as like a marriage. In a marriage, following the pattern of Christ and the Church, two ‘bodies’ ‘marry up’ into one flesh.
Sometimes this goes awry. Since coming here I have heard about a lot of people who have left because the picture of ‘here’ has not been able to be integrated into their sense of themselves. They could not see an ‘us’ that included them and St. John’s. Sometimes this was our fault because our ‘body’ could not find room for them, sometimes it was their fault because their ‘bodies’ were so narrowly defined and rigid that nothing new or disturbing could be ‘integrated’. Wither way, the failure in these cases is a failure of the natural process of adjustment. As the saying goes ‘What is more important is not where you stand, but how you move.’
There is one last thing to be said about this process. The events of Good Friday may bee seen in this light. God defeats Death and the forces of destruction (the image of the crucifixion) not by rejecting them but by integrating them. God’s love and holiness are not destroyed or tarnished by this embrace, but it is the opposite. Evil and what is ‘not God’ is transformed by God’s embracing love. This is wonderful. When we participate in the Eucharist, this is what we are saying. Instead of the bread and wine becoming us as with normal food, we are integrated, as sinners, into the ‘Body of God’ in Christ. It is there that we are transformed and ‘’cooked’ into God’s likeness. Eucharist is not about our holiness or worthiness or desire, but about how we allow ourselves to be embraced by what we ingest. That is how ‘in these holy mysteries we come near to the uttermost depths of God.’