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Annie Stein Headshot

In Praise of Communion aka Family Dinner

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As usual, I'm bumping about six other topics I was set to write about in order to write about what happened Sunday. I went to church. Yes, and during the Jewish High Holidays. I went to church and got enlightened about something I've known about for years, let's say over 50, without being exactly clear about or fully understanding of, until this past Sunday.

First a bit of background. I am what I proudly call a mutt in the religion department, although I just as proudly stand up to be counted as a Jew. (We need the numbers.) Raised and schooled a Catholic, (eternal gratitude to the Madams of the Sacred Heart, the female version of the Jesuits) I spent my 20s, 30s and 40s meditating and reading metaphysics and on my 50th birthday went for a dunk in the Micva pool to convert to Judaism.

That was not my original plan when I began studying Judaism. My idea at the time was that it would allow me to raise my new baby girl with knowledge of her father's religion and be able to celebrate Jewish holidays with meaning. Finding through the year of studying, that it was the culmination of much of what I'd been looking for and that in essence, it was all about family and doing service, it drew me into the fold.

Who knew?

For the last four years I've sung in a gospel choir at LA's First AME church, happily singing my heart out about Jesus. A mutt, yes, but I do embrace it all and find at the end of the day it is all the same message. Be present, love, and be kind.

Sunday, besides getting an uplifting reminder of that, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ritual observed by Catholic and Christian church goers for years; Communion. Not only did I "get it" for the first time in a way that makes total sense and is applicable to one's life, but I came home to a breakfast conversation that corroborated and intensified my new understanding. "Thank you's" go out to Rev. Jimmy of THAD'S Episcopal Church in Santa Monica California! (Thads.org)

So basic is the communion message or command, as it were, from Jesus.

Do this, break bread, have a meal, in remembrance of me. This is my body, and the priest holds up the wafer. This is my blood, and the priest holds up the cup of wine. This is my life force, folks. My teachings. The reason I'm here on earth, to help you guys understand and learn to love. It isn't easy to share and love while sitting alone in front of the TV forking down the pasta. So come together, gather around the table, commune with friends and family, share a meal, ideas, hopes and dreams, relate with one another and while you're at it, be thankful for the food you are about to eat and be mindful of my teachings to share and to love. Get to know each other so you can in fact learn to love each other. Doesn't it always start around a table? Isn't a dinner date always the prelude to a kiss?

Ok, so many of you (many, being a hope here) could be shaking your heads thinking, duh, she finally got it, slow mutt that she is. (In my defense, the basic thrust of Rev. Jimmy's telling had nothing what-so-ever to do with the piously ridged ritual, arms held high above the flowing robes, tight mouth spouting ghoulish words, of my childhood.) But wait. It gets better.
Arriving home with this new and totally simple revelation pulsing through my veins, I make a wonderful Sunday morning breakfast for my family.

Sitting around over fried eggs and turkey bacon, my 17-year-old daughter reveals that one of her friends told her that she's had sex with eight boys. This friend is also 17. Somehow this information mixes in with my new understanding in what I could only see as a confirmation. What one could call a proof-is-in-the-pudding moment, to keep the food thing going.

"Eight guys" I repeat, looking at my husband's eyes shocked out of their sockets while pretending to read the words on the newspaper page in front of him. "With eight guys?", I say again, spraying toast from my mouth, feeling a bit of egg backing back up into my mouth. "Wow" I say after clearing my throat, trying not to sound too alarmed or judgmental while at the same time praying for the grace to handle this newly shared info.

"And guess what else" my daughter continues. I didn't really feel like guessing what else at that moment. I was still waiting for grace to arrive.

"She never has family dinner. Ever. Can you believe that?" My daughter says this with an incredulous look on her face. Sadly I can, I answer in my head with no look on my face. Grace will arrive and supply a look. I doubt grace will be packing a smile.

"I told her my mom's been obsessed with family dinner for years." My daughter says this in a way that makes me feel better. Stops my decent into that place inside, where all of the sadness I feel for the world, lives. Something in her tone, it's not pride, not exactly gladness either, but something in her tone when she says this that I catch and it is good. It conveys to me that somehow, someway, through all of the nights over all of the years, she knows it is a good thing, this obsession of mine.

Look, I'm not going to go so far as to say eat together and your teenager will not be racking up sex partners like new shoes. Nor that it's easy. When my eldest daughter was a sullen 16 year old and her little sister a 9-year-old who thought all the attention in the world should go to her, I truly began to understand why my father needed a couple of scotch high balls before coming to the dinner table. If asked to describe a family meal in our house during those times (and others) my husband had two words. Nerve test.

But that 16-year-old is, today at 24, my best friend. And I absolutely heard something akin to gladness in her younger sister's tone on Sunday.

This Saturday people of the Jewish religion will be celebrating Yom Kipper, the Holiest of High Holidays and the culmination of the last ten days of intimately reflecting on all of the things they might have done better during the past year; the moments when they might have shown more kindness or generosity, perhaps. And after a day of fasting, a day of intimately being with themselves, they will gather with family and friends. Gathering around the dinner table they will break the fast and feast. Greeting the new year with plans to do it all better, and in the hope of remembering those plans, they will give thanks for the food they are about to receive and honor God in doing so.

Family dinner, folks, no matter what church or temple you go to.

Communion. Like the Good Man said. It's a good thing.