(The following is a meditation I shared with friends gathered today in our monastery; we were celebrating a feast that some Christian calendars call “The Body and Blood of Christ.”)
I have had a persistent thought of Einstein’s saying about a God who is “subtle but not malicious.” Einstein meant, in scientific terms, that the universe is not a total chaos: there are natural laws, and these are intelligible, although scientists have to peer deep into matter and energy, space and time, in order to find them.
Scientists realize that the non-chaotic order of the universe is hidden, just as seekers of God realize how hidden God is. God’s hiddenness or subtlety is in no way malicious, that is, God is not trying to keep us from knowing that God exists — this knowledge is accessible to every intelligent being in the universe — but God is drawing us into another way of knowing, more intimate and more personal. We can know that God exists from contemplating nature; we can know who God is from the gift of experiencing God in us and ourselves in God.
This gift of intimate knowing is always being offered but is never forced upon anyone. We can connect this with the Eucharist of bread and wine: God in Jesus Christ is offering incarnate divinity as food for us humans, but God is not forcing this food down our throats. Excuse me if this expression sounds a bit coarse. It is true: faith is a gift, by which we know that God is love; the loving gift of God’s all is Incarnation, and when this gift led to the crucifixion and death of incarnate divinity, it was given back to the world in the resurrection. The exchange of gifts — our bread and wine, Christ’s Body and Blood — is the efficacious sign of God who gives but does not force our acceptance of the gift.
The same is true for food: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Humans are a bit more complex than horses, and anyone who has ever cooked for a family or a community knows that not everyone is going to eat everything all the time. The eucharistic gifts are efficacious signs that God is feeding us, but is not force-feeding us. We all are invited to eat, but sometimes we do not eat outwardly, and that is good too.
We use bread and wine as efficacious signs of Christ’s real presence with us and for us, but they are also veils, like everything else we can see, hear, or touch in Christianity and all religions. Sacraments or doctrines or institutions are signs of presence that teach us about God hidden and incarnate, but these signs, and all signs of faith, are transitory. They will ultimately pass away, together with this universe we live in. The sign of the presence is also the sign of its own passing away.
Does this mean that the sign itself is unfriendly, that it is given and then taken away from us? No, but every sign is a challenge: to accept other signs, new signs, different signs. The Eucharist is a given in Christianity, and it is permanent, but if we think about what we do with it, we realize how subtle a sign it is. Bread is made to be eaten, wine to be drunk, and so it is with the eucharistic gifts: we take them, and they disappear within us. The same is true of the act of faith: we believe in God, and if we truly believe, God will in some way disappear in us, in our neighbor, and in creation.
We have other signs, every day, permanently connected with the signs of the Body and Blood. We are always with each other and with our neighbors far and near, persons having body and blood like Jesus and like ourselves. They and we are signs of God’s presence.
What does this mean in practice? There are many ways we can love a neighbor who perceives or does not perceive, who accepts or does not accept. All real signs of love are offered in freedom to the freedom of the other. This is the way God is with and for us; may we be so for each other. May we become eucharistic signs for each other, when love is offered and accepted, or even when we offer and do not see an immediate response. Love offered and not immediately or visibly accepted is a sign of the hidden God. If one sign, one gift, is not accepted, maybe another sign will be; love that is not forced by the lover, but is given freely and never taken away, is a sign that God is love.