I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger.
—Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing
She came up to me at the end of our women’s conference.
Soft-spoken, petite, silver hair, likely in her early sixties. For the prior two days, I’d been speaking to several hundred women gathered from a multicounty area in the Midwest. After two hard years of canceled in-person gatherings, these women were more than ready to be face-to-face, in the same space. They were hungry for connection, even more than for the glorious donut wall and chocolate fountain in the lobby. Two years’ worth of hard stories simmered under the surface, needing the comfort of community. I tried to make space for their stories. As well as for the chocolate fountain.
While I signed books and hugged new friends between sessions, this woman hovered on the fringe. It wasn’t until the end of the last session that she finally dared to step forward, introduce herself, and share her story.
“Thank you for what you shared.” She spoke softly, looking around, as if worried someone might overhear. I thanked her for her kind words, and then I waited.
“I appreciate your honesty, being able to say out loud how hard it’s been for you, and how you wondered if God had left you.” She paused. “Of course, I haven’t gone through anything as hard as you have.”
I doubted this to be true. Clearly whatever had wounded her went deep. This preamble was nothing more than her attempt to muster the courage to say in the day what had been eating her alive at night.
“My son died. He was hit by a car,” she said.
Noooooo. What a loss. My heart hurt. She wasn’t finished.
“I was the one driving.”
Silence reigned the next couple of moments, both of us carrying the weight of those words—her reliving them, my honoring the cost of them. When she spoke again, she told me it had happened decades before, but she’d rarely spoken of it. For years, not only had she been grieving the loss of her son, she’d also been blaming herself for it.
And then, like the first brightening of dawn’s eastern sky, she took a breath and went on.
“I think it’s time I started sharing my story,” she said, and then exhaled. “You shared your story, and it’s helping so many people. Maybe I can do the same.”
I will never be able to understand the “why” of some losses. Even if I spent every moment of the rest of my life trying to unravel the reasons and make sense of the senseless, I know the “whys” will remain out of reach. But this I do know: When you and I choose to enter into these sacred spaces, sharing our scars while honoring another’s, something otherworldly happens. Something holy.
It’s called communion. A table shared by the broken and bleeding. A table of death. But also a table of life.
“By becoming flesh and blood, God reached out a hand from the distance of heaven and touched humankind. Bridging the distance of holiness, he not only became someone we can touch but became the one reaching to touch us. . . . In a world that pulled away from pain, Jesus pushed in. He reached for it, experiencing pain so we would know we’re not alone in ours.” (Relentless, 2019)
The moment Jesus exited heaven and entered human skin as a squalling, flesh-and-blood baby, His incarnation made communion possible. God was now within reach, close enough to touch. But our communion with Him wouldn’t be complete until the one who healed became the one who bled. This is what Jesus tried to help the disciples understand at the Last Supper table when He broke the bread and shared the cup. He was offering them eternal communion with God Himself. But at the cost of His life. Life for death, and death for life.
Now, two thousand years later, we celebrate communion with another bread and cup. It’s an invitation to remember the unbreakable communion we now have at the cost of Jesus’ life. But it’s not just for remembering. It’s also for living.
The communion table is a shared table, Jesus showed us that. But it was never meant to end with us. Just as we’ve been the broken sitting at Jesus’ table, we can offer communion to the broken needing a seat at ours. But you needn’t wait for Sunday. Communion can happen in your neighborhood or school, at your office or front door.
Yes, at a women’s conference.
Shared brokenness and shared healing. Communion with Jesus and each other. No table required.