Book review: The Sacred Meal

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about spiritual pilgrimage from Thomas Nelson’s Ancient Practices series. Thanks to Nelson’s blogger review program (which they’ve dubbed “Booksneeze”, a cringe-worthy name if ever there was one), I had the opportunity to read another title in the series. This time, it was Nora Gallagher’s The Sacred Meal, focusing on the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.

Gallagher, a lay minister in the Episcopal church as well as a noted author, brings her powers of observation in her very personal exploration of one of the core identifying practices of the church. Those from low church backgrounds, those who believe that communion is strictly memorial, will likely find some of the discussion in this book a little baffling. She is writing from her Episcopal/Anglican experience – the liturgy and practices around the weekly Table are miles away from the “first Sunday of the month” addendum found in many evangelical congregations. She also places a heavy emphasis on the effect the Eucharist has on those who share it together, which is another foreign concept to many evangelicals:

Instead of thinking of that Communion as a ghoulish eating of human flesh, think of those who gather at Communion as the body of Jesus. We are the body given for each other. This is my body, he said. Look around you. 

When we all show up and do our parts, we are the sacrament, the body of Christ. Do this to remember me. Do this to remember who you were with me. Do this to remember who you are. 

A practice is meant to connect you with what is deeply alive, to stir in you the same kind of aliveness that the disciples of Jesus must have felt around him…A practice is not about finding exactly the right set of rules that will make you ‘good’ but is instead meant to establish a habit of connection to the world that is both tenuous and surprising, outside of time and in it.   

Gallagher’s eleven chapters have a free-wheeling, off-the-cuff tone, but the mark of a good writer is that the impromptu, blog-like vibe of her words is actually a mark of her skill. Gallagher is a very good writer. Just when her words threaten to wander, she brings readers back to her thesis – that the practice of communion has been essential in shaping her faith journey, and it can be just as defining for each one of us.

I didn’t always agree with Gallagher’s ideas (she assigns a higher value to the mystery of our humanity coming together around the Table than I do, for instance), but the book isn’t meant to be a work of theological precision as much as it is an exploration of her deeply personal reflections of the practice:  “Mostly, you find my story, which is the only story I can truthfully tell. My practice of taking Communion goes on; sometimes it is for me a perfectly ordinary event; sometimes it’s as if the floor dropped out from underneath my feet. I show up, again and again, a miracle in itself.” The Sacred Meal is an invitation to do the same – interact with Gallagher’s words and our experience of both Word and Sacrament so we are more more in touch with the reality that we are indeed hungry, thirsty people. 
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