Christ is the eternal amalgam of matter and spirit as one. They hold and reveal one another. Wherever the human and the divine coexist, we have the Christ. Wherever the material and the spiritual coincide, we have the Christ. That includes the material world, the natural world, the animal world (including humans), and moves all the way to the elemental world, symbolized by bread and wine. The Eucharist just offers Christians the message in very condensed form so we can struggle with it in a specific and concrete way. We cannot think about such a universal truth logically; we can only slowly digest it! It is the spiritual version of healthy eating and nutrition.
Only gradually does the truth become believable. Finally, the Body of Christ is not out there or over there; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. The goal is then to move beyond yourself and recognize that what’s true in you is true in all others too. This was supposed to spark a political and social revolution. But Christians wasted centuries arguing about whether it could even be true and how it might be true. The orthodox insistence on “Real Presence” is merely taking the Mystery of Incarnation to its natural, full, and very good conclusion. Here I am quite happy to be traditionally Catholic. “There is only Christ, he is everything, and he is in everything,” Paul shouts (see Colossians 3:11). This is not pantheism; it is the much more subtle and subversive panentheism, or God in all things. (The only trouble with our Catholic belief in “transubstantiation” is that this explanation smacked of pantheism, whereas panentheism would have been much easier to defend and understand.)
You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe, although that sure helps and seems to accelerate the enjoyment. Incarnation is first of all announcing an objective truth. If we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create a deep contentment and inherent dignity in those who trust it. It gives us all significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work—no exceptions. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs from the beginning. And it has always been pure, undeserved gift. The utter gratuity of it all is what we cannot comprehend!
Participating in Christ allows me to know that I don’t matter at all, and yet I matter intensely—at the same time! That’s the ultimate therapeutic healing. I’m just a little grain of sand in this giant, giant universe. I’m going to pass from this form in a little while, just like everyone else will. But I’m also a child of God and part of the eternal Body of Christ. I’m connected radically, inherently, intrinsically to the Center and to everything else. I call this “ontological holiness” as opposed to the moral holiness most of us were taught and inside of which no one really succeeds.
We spent much of our history arguing about the “how” and the “if” and who could do what Catholics called the “transubstantiation” of the bread and wine instead of simply learning how to be present. We made the Eucharist into a magic act to be believed instead of a personal transformation to be experienced. We changed bread more than people, it seems to me. We emphasized the priest as the “transformer” instead of the people as the transformed. We made “Real Presence” into a doctrine (which has its very good meaning!), but we seldom taught people how to be really present (which is contemplation). When you are really present, you will experience the Real Presence for yourself.
We must move our knowing to the bodily, cellular, participative, and unitive level. Then we keep eating and drinking the Mystery until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat!” Henceforth we can trust and allow what has been true since the first moment of our existence: We are the very Body of Christ.
In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world of universal human dignity was grounded in our objective and universal Christ identity. This was surely threatening to those with various forms of power (whose feeling of importance lies in being “higher” than others). Yet this Gospel was utterly attractive and hopeful to the 95% who were “lower” in status. It assured universal and equal dignity, made present through the Eucharist in the early church where all were equals. Sociologists think this was why Christianity spread so quickly.
We did not intend to convert to Orthodoxy; we simply wanted to be in a place where we could be confident the real presence of Christ was in the Eucharist
.. Archbishop Dmitri, born Robert Royster in Teague, Texas, was the opposite of everything I had come to expect in a bishop. He was humble and kind and gentle. He loved his people, and his people loved him. I remember thinking how good it would be to be led by such a man.