Thursday, 16 November 2017

Dwelling in the Eucharist: The Architecture of Salvation

By Rosie Milne

There is a sense that we can inhabit and dwell in the presence of God. It’s something we hear in the Psalms and in the songs of today all the time, and it comes to its fullness in The Eucharist - the true presence of Jesus here on Earth - body, blood, soul, and divinity. The songs of today that speak of his presence recall this truth, while the psalms of the old testament foreshadow it:

“Your heart is my refuge
- United Pursuit, Nothing Without You

“This is my home, to be with you, this is my home”
- Jason Upton, This is My Home

“"He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
- Psalm 91:2

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
-  Psalm 18:2

“I’m learning to listen, just to rest in your nearness” 
- Will Reagan and United Pursuit, Not in a Hurry

“In your presence is where I belong.” 
- Jason Upton, In Your Presence

We speak of his presence like it’s a place, a house we can inhabit. The association of worship, the presence of God, and place is an important theme throughout Jewish history. This association is highlighted in John 4:3 when Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. She says: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus responds:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23

His response likens ‘spirit and truth’ to a place, a space in which to dwell which supersedes all Earthly realms. If Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 4:16), then this place, this locus of spirit and truth is Jesus himself.

 “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

The place where we find the fullness of Jesus’ presence on Earth is the Eucharist

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” - John 6:56

 Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a simple being in his presence, a repose in his gaze, a “resting in his nearness” (United Pursuit, Not in a Hurry). I know from personal experience, when I am really in that resting, I am home. It is not merely like home - the Eucharist is home. How can we explain that? How do we explain abiding, being at home, in the presence of a person? Can a person be a house?

 Many authors have shown the reverse, attributing human characteristics to houses. One of my favourite books is The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard (read and sigh my friends, he uses phrases like ‘expressing a poetry that was lost’ and ‘shelter for the imaginer’ or ‘nest for dreaming’). He explains how the house is poetic in that it has “body and soul” in its material and immaterial nature. Many great architects agree. In an interview Peter Zumthor responded to an interviewer asking if buildings have a form of ‘intelligence’ in that they know something about time. He tilted his head, squinted at her and frowned in a definitive but not unkind way, saying “the building has a form of soul.” 

Bachelard refers to the ideal house as the human being’s ‘first Universe’ whilst also being their first ‘corner of the world’ - it is both ‘immense’ and ‘intimate’ . Our first point of encounter with other people and with ideas, it captures and compresses the vastness of the world (immensity), but at the same time the silent spaces - (like nooks, crannies, attics, niches, cellars) - compress the depths of the soul through the solitude they solicit (intimacy). Like a great poem compresses vast ideas and emotions into a few short lines, so the poetic house makes ‘miniature a refuge of greatness ’. 

The ultimate and most profound ‘refuge of greatness’ is the Eucharist - a dwelling place which is the vastness and immeasurability of God compressed in the minuscule and everyday. If we can apply human characteristics to houses, it’s not a stretch to do the opposite and speculate an Architecture of the Eucharist. Bachelard gives two criterion for the poetic house: verticality and compression, both of which are reflected in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist as a Concentrated House

The nature of poetry is to compress. In it’s poetic nature, the house compresses the Universe through its connection to the world, and it compresses the soul in its silent spaces of solitude - the nooks we retreat to, the places we store our memories and dreams in. Many have called God the Great Author, but he is also a great Poet; at every stage of salvation he wrote a new verse to the poem that would become the epic story of salvation; when he made man, he made us in his image. Poetry is mimetic, it imitates reality. In being an image of God, we were his first verse. When he put his son on Earth, he compressed his vastness, his greatness and his immeasurable glory into a tiny baby boy. In his ministry, Jesus compressed truths into short parables. In his death, he concentrated and carried the entirety of the world’s sin on his own back, and in doing so, by his resurrection, overcame it all. And in the Eucharist, when we thought he couldn’t make himself any smaller, he performed the the greatest act of poetic compression ever known to human-kind: he compressed and cloaked the wonder of his very self in the most basic, ordinary, everyday of things - daily bread. This daily bread is love compressed. Truth intensified, and yet accessible. The Eucharist, like the house-as-home, is a concentrated being.

The poetic house has a three-fold structure: a cellar, a ground floor and an attic. 

The ground floor gives the house an everyday quality, and facilitating the social and practical side of life. The polarity of the attic and the cellar give the house what Heidegger would call a meditative quality - these spaces solicit solitude and silence, spaces that are ‘refuges for memories and dreams’. They belong to the realm of the soul, giving the house a verticality. 

The ground floor is ‘within-timeness,’ the realm of everyday thought. It operates in the horizontal linear time of successive ‘this, then this, then this.’ It is the practical floor, with functional spaces - the kitchen, the living room, the utility areas. It’s the place of routines and the everyday tasks of life. The ground floor of the Eucharist-as-house is in God’s choice to cloak his immense glory in one of the most ordinary and everyday things possible - bread. Not even fancy artisan bread - daily bread. He chose not to only be an immense and transcendent God but to be present on Earth firstly as God-made-man, and then again to be re-presented (made present again, not imitated) every time we partake in the intimate mystery of Holy Communion.

The ground floor is also the social hub of the house. It’s where the family might share a meal or play board games together in the living room, or have a conversation in the kitchen (with wine and crisps and John Mayer playing in the background if you’re a Milne). This is another feature of the horizontality of the ground floor, which connects us to the world and the other people in it through windows and doors - without a ground floor we cannot be ‘in the world’, only above or below it. This is reflected in the Eucharist through the idea of being ‘in communion’ with God, with ourselves, with the Saints, and with our brothers and sisters in the congregation and the wider church. This is United Pursuit’s ‘full communion’ in Since Your Love come to its fullest.

Attics and cellars provide refuges for our dreams and for our memories. The cellar is ‘historicity,’ - the realm of memory. It represents our past, our foundations. It’s where we keep our ‘stuff.’ It is what we are built on. But it’s also where we invent stuff - consider the DIY enthusiast dad making a go-kart with his kids or John Mayer’s Walt Grace crafting the one-man submarine that will get him to Tokyo. For memory is not mere recitation - it is inventive. For the Jews, memory was an important concept that meant more than replaying an event in our heads- to remember was to become a member of the original event in the present now, something of particular importance for them in celebrating the feast of the passover. In this way memory facilitates becoming; the cellar as ‘historicity’ acts like an inventory of memories which we excavate from the Earth and use to invent things - memory facilitates becoming. The institution of the Eucharist at the last supper recalls the passover, it re-members it, but then Jesus does something radical - he performs an inventive transfiguration of the passover feast when he says ‘this is my body’ and then ‘do this in memory of me.’ When we partake in the liturgy of the Eucharist, we are not simply reciting what happened. We are rather making present now the reality of the original event - we become a member in the event - hence we partake in Holy ‘Communion’.

The attic is ‘temporality,’ which is the realm of becoming, the realm of dreaming. Heidegger calls it ‘being towards death,’ although it is not so morbid as it sounds. The Psalmist gets it right when they sing “to finish, I must be eternal, like you” (Psalm 139). It is a beautiful paradox, that we can never be finished in this earthly life which is finite - only when we enter into eternity - the realm without end, do we finish becoming who we are - and who we are is an image of him. We are always becoming, more or less, who we are. The attic is the place of ‘becoming’ because it is consistently a place our imaginations love to inhabit, and the imagination is never finished; the poetic image always leaves a room for the imagination. We love to dream in attics, or if we have never had an attic, we almost certainly longed for one as a child. I imagine that when Walt Grace was working on his One Man Submarine Ride he spent a lot of time climbing stairs between his attic and basement - dreaming in the one and making the dream manifest in the other. The structure of the attic helps us structure our ideas, and allows the imagination to transform the old things we carried up from the basement into new things. The attic of the Eucharist as dwelling place is transformative. We are images of Him, and when we rest in Him in the Eucharist and when we receive him in communion, we are transfigured by the transfigured one. We become a ‘truer image’ - more like him, and therefore more ourselves.

Bachelard says that words are ‘little houses’ in that they have the same three-fold nature; the etymology of a word is the cellar of memory. The everyday, taken-for-granted use is the ground floor of thought, and what the word might become is the word’s attic of dreams. Jesus is the ‘Word made flesh.’ Every time we enter into his presence in communion or spend time in adoration, we are entering into that little, immense house

“For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)

The Mass even contains this language of dwelling, although it appears reversed, in the context of us being dwellings - Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof - we enter him when he enters us. By abiding in him, he abides in us. We are consumed by what we consume, and we become what we consume, transfigured into a truer image of him whose image we were made in. That is the transformative power of the Eucharist.

Final thoughts

So much of what we encounter today is a reduction of truth, rather than a poetic compression of truth. The image is not inherently bad - we are images - but when we take it for all that there is we confine ourselves to a hall of mirrors; people are reduced to the sum of their body parts; conversations are eliminated; human dignity is eradicated. The world of pornography, for example, is a world of reductive images that strip away human dignity, both in the viewer and the viewed. It is bad mimesis, mere recitation with reduced meaning rather than a creative compression of meaning.

But to all these crises of meaning, the Eucharist is the answer. In answer to every disembodiment of meaning, every disincarnate act, Jesus responds “this is my body, given up for you.” As has oft been the case in different ways, the challenge our generation will be deciding to chase what is real, and rejecting what is not. Do we confine ourselves to the “campfires and masquerades” (Jason Upton) of the shadowlands, the cave, or do we wake up and say yes the morning light? It might seem counter-intuitive - but to take refuge in him is one of the bravest things we can do.


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