I'm not Episcopalian. Sometimes I wish I were. Or maybe Catholic–just one of these denominations that makes a really big deal about the "sacrament," the "host," communion. I enjoy every once in a while focusing on the original meaning of the metaphor—remembering Christ's sacrifice in the physical symbols of His love. That we can remember the most beautiful fact of human existence–restoration–through the elemental symbols–eating a flayed, disfigured body and drinking its spilled blood—it can easily feel to me like trying to think of eternity. It overwhelms us.
But at the heart of that metaphor, there's a deep truth: the experience of grace is shocking.
Remember the central scene in The Matrix (or what I think of as the central scene) when Neo has taken the red pill? As he's about to enter the real world, he sees his broken reflection in the mirror. And suddenly, the image repairs itself. He's intrigued, reaches out to touch it and the reflection comes off on his hand, a silvery liquid, and it starts to slide up his arm, across his body and up his neck, growing until it overtakes him and we follow as it enters through his mouth.
That's like grace. It awakens you. It overwhelms you. It replaces you.
It's been my experience that grace causes awareness of life to increase. When you witness it, you're replaced by a more deeply-aware you. You're less distracted by the monotone of the world around you. Somehow, the experience awakens you to the taste of more real life, the life underneath that remained silent before you'd been shown it. If you've seen Babbette's Feast or Big Night or Ratatoille, you understand something of grace. It seems there are a few of these moments in life where you realize that something like this is happening. You're being shown a picture of grace, and you may or may not miss the opportunity to be grateful for that new awareness, but you're struck again at how you can never seem to anticipate the surprise of it. Maybe it came even though you worried about taking the red pill, wondering if you'd be sorry. But the surprise itself almost made it worth it. The mellow sting of the wine hit your tongue where you expected only grape juice. That was grace. The blood was not cheap. It wasn't artificially flavored. And it wasn't diluted with too much tepid water as you've learned to expect.
Do you know that feeling?
Muslims understand this idea of using the body's desire for food to surprise and shock it into deeper awareness. You eat better during Ramadan, the holy fast. No one eats until sunset. And then at supper, when your stomach and your senses are already heightened from the longing, and you place that spicy soup into your mouth, and savor it anew, you realize this is about more than being fed. You wonder if anything has ever tasted so good. And how could you ever go back to Saltines and grape juice?
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
There's a reason we're hearing more about the "slow food" movement, local restaurants using local ingredients, farmers markets, suburban farming, and authors like Michael Pollan rising to prominence. Our world is starving for this deeper life. And I believe many of us suspect, if not fully realize, that food is a major vehicle to transcendent awareness and deep grace.
It's in this way, I think good writers are like food, a vehicle to awaken deeper awareness of the world and bring people to life again. That is creative writing. That is why we strive to use every tool available, to shock people's senses and take their awareness deeper. The metaphors are literally everywhere if we can only learn to see them.
Imagine being able to taste what your whole life was leading up to you tasting. With the cracking of a fresh loaf of crusty bread, one moment of elusive perfection for which taste buds were created, you may realize that for as much life as you can know, you are here, only for now, to know it.
That is grace.
May we learn the shocking grace that's given to us all, even if only through a movie, a metaphor, or a writer's poor, stolen approximations.