One of the “perks” of easing into my thirties was developing a terrible gluten sensitivity. Like supersensitive. Like if you hate me, just sprinkle some breadcrumbs into my coffee, and I’ll be sick for a couple of days.
Unfortunately, my devotion to a gluten free diet has caused some other devotional drama. (And no, I didn’t cheat on my husband with a bread baker. Though Peeta would be pretty tempting.) This drama involves not eating the wafer during Eucharist at my Episcopal church. The last time I tried taking a bit of bread at Communion was during Lent two years ago, and I was felt awful. I somehow thought that “blessed” wheat—unlike other wheat—wouldn’t poison me.
I felt strange just outright refusing the wafer at the altar rail so my husband, Shawn, and I decided that after taking the wafer in my hand, I would sip the wine from the celebrant’s cup and then slip Shawn my wafer. So now Shawn takes not only his wafer, but my own. (One of my priests describes our solution as very “one-flesh.”)
At first I obsessed about this. By only taking one-half of the communion offerings would I then only benefit from one-half of this Christian ritual? Would one-half of myself become a little bit more corrupt each day so that (and yes, I’m an British lit professor) in one-half of my days, I would be like Thomas Hardy’s Alec d’Urberville—harboring bad thoughts about seducing dairy maids—and for the other one-half of my days, I’d be morally strong like Jane Eyre. (And yes, I know that there is an avalanche of poor theology in this line of thinking, but I’m a neurotic—not a priest.)
The thoughts about seducing dairy maids stayed at bay. (Mostly.) But I started worrying about the behavior of my children at the communion rail. Was my unorthodoxy spilling out upon them? First case: Easter service, I kneel at the communion rail next to my seven-year-old at the front of the Cathedral. Amid the swelling organ music, he looks up at me, grinning as he holds two of his Star Wars Lego men on the rail. “R2-D2 wants to take communion,” he whispers. “Put those away!” I yelp, keeping my hands folded piously. The next week, he comes out of his bedroom dressed as Darth Vader, insisting that he was going to take communion as the evil character. After a long argument, Shawn and I told him that our priests don’t give communion to Darth Vader. (Although a friend made a good point that if anyone needs Jesus, it’s Darth Vader.)
Soon my adorable strong-willed daughter got some ideas. One week, she decided that she didn’t “like the taste of the wafer” so she started sticking her nose up at it and refusing to put it in her mouth. Our male priests thought her behavior endearing, patting her head and smiling as Shawn took her wafer from her and ate it himself, before she tossed in on the floor. (For those of you good at math, he was now averaging three wafers per week.) No matter what we did, her behavior continued until one of our female priests, who doesn’t put up with such nonsense, stopped the communion line and leaned across the rail with authority: “Sweetie, you put that in your mouth.” My daughter ignored her. “Put that in your mouth!” the priest insisted. Trembling as I hid my own wafer in my palm, I prodded my five-year-old. “Eat the wafer!” I whispered as she looked from me to the priest glaring. She held her ground and a holy crisis averted as Shawn picked her up and whisked her away from the rail eating her wafer himself. Yet again.
I obsessed about this bad behavior, wondering if my gluten-free communion practice was a corrupting influence. A bit of research showed me that when it comes to communion, some think that the devil is in the details. (Heh. Heh.) Apparently, Catholic communion only “counts” if the wafer has wheat in it. Ugh. The line of thinking being that since Jesus ate gluten-infused bread, our wafers must, by all that is holy, contain gluten also. My acupuncturist, a Catholic, smugly tells me that for him it’s not actually an issue because of transubstantiation—the wafer becomes the literal body of Christ so it’s always gluten free after the blessing. Double ugh. So this is a lingering curse of the Reformation. Thank you Martin Luther.
And then my line of thinking plummeted and I started asking my husband questions like: “Perhaps I should become Catholic. I mean if I didn’t love my contraceptives so much I could be Catholic, right?” “Am I a corrupting influence on our children?” “Why can’t my digestion take one tiny bit of gluten?” “Is gluten intolerance a result of original sin?” “Do you think my thoughts have been less pure since I’ve stopped taking the wafer?” “I’m not fit to be a mother.” (Usually this is the point where he rolls his eyes and tells me to get a drink.)
Because yoga is healthier than drinking, I try it first. (Although when I come home, still aching from my lizard pose, I’m not opposed to pouring a glass of wine.)
In my yoga class, when I’m twisted like a pretzel and (let’s be honest) cursing quietly under my breath because I can’t stop shaking and bobbling, my instructor reminds us that yoga is not about being perfect, but it is a lovely mix of striving and self-acceptance. During my more enlightening yoga practices, I have thought about how I demand perfection from every area of my life whether it’s my digestion or my faith—and because of this, I miss out on the whole point of grace—that possibility of embracing undeserved clemency for myself, my stomach, and my semi-feral children.
Lent starts today on Ash Wednesday. I’ll confess, that recently when I started ticking off to Shawn all of the things I could give up: chocolate, alcohol, Facebook, The Vampire Diaries—he quipped, “Hey, I have a better idea: why don’t you stop trying to be perfect and give up anxiety?” At first I froze, chuckled. “You know me—I can’t possibly do that...oh wait…”
So here it goes: this Lent I’m officially going to (try) to take on my husband’s challenge. Wish me luck, pray for me, chant, or just laugh your ass off, because I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of bobbling.
Just for Fun:
The Reeves Family’s Annual Gluten-Free Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner
My favorite recipe is for these gluten-free vegan pancakes. I love these because they’re easy to make, hearty, and slightly sweetened with honey and apple sauce so you don’t need much syrup. I make them according to the recipe except I use almond milk for the milk and I substitute almond flavoring for vanilla.
My Bakers (and Batter Tasters!)
Time to Eat!