You Are What You Eat

“You are what you eat.” (If this is true, than I am a little too much chocolate and too few vegetables for my own good.) This common expression helps explain what is at the heart of this Sunday’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In a special way this Sunday, we remember that when we eat the body of Christ in the bread and drink the blood of Christ in the wine, we take Jesus into ourselves and become like Christ. When Christians gather together with each other as the body of Christ at the Eucharist, then we become what we eat.

To think of it slightly differently, the Eucharist is the food that gives us the fuel to become Jesus’ body—to act as Jesus’ head, eyes, ears, mouth, heart, arms, and feet in the world. As we are nurtured by the bread and wine week after week, we are transformed to more closely act for Christ over the course of our lifetime. In this post-resurrection time, we can embody Christ in the world. Our consistent participation in the Eucharist makes it possible for us to live as Jesus lived, pouring out our lives for others.

1 Corinthians 12, a familiar passage for many, describes how there is one body of Christ. Yet within this one body, there are many parts, all of which have an important function to play. For the body to work well, all parts are needed and all need to work together for the benefit of all. The hand cannot say to the head, “I do not need you,” because it could not operate on its own. Similarly, the body of Christ is one, but it is made up of many people, all of whom have a particular part to play. It is important that each of us fulfills our role in the body of Christ, because this makes the body of Christ more visible in the world. Put another way, people will not encounter Christ if we do not act as Christ.

As what part of the body of Christ do you think of yourself—head, eyes, ears, mouth, heart, arms, hands, legs, feet? How do you act as this part of the body of Christ in the world?

Next Sunday “Ordinary Time” resumes. Ordinary Time is the part of the church calendar that falls between distinctive church seasons, like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. I have written in previous posts about practices of faith that are important for the season of Lent and have suggested practices that might become part of the Easter season. I would like to suggest here, on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, that we think about living in Ordinary Time as the body of Christ, focusing on being Christ’s head, eyes, ears, mouth, heart, arms, hands, legs, feet for others.

In high school, I took a psychology course where the teacher had us practice different types of listening. First, we had to listen to a classmate tell a story from her weekend without responding at all—no words, no bodily movements, no facial expressions. This was really hard! Second, we had to listen to a story about the classmate’s family, responding only with facial expressions and bodily movements, finding ways to use our bodies and faces to convey our attention and empathy. This felt a bit ridiculous, but I found I really could express a lot without using words. Third, we had to listen to a classmate tell a story about a hobby or pastime she enjoyed, and this time we could only ask questions designed to keep her talking about her story. This was hard, too, because I kept wanting to jump in to tell my conversation partner about the things I enjoy doing.

Going through this exercise really changed how I listened to people. It made me realize how much a person can convey just with their face and body. It also made me realize how hard it is to truly focus on the story of another person, without getting distracted by my own thoughts and feelings, ideas and solutions. Finally, I noticed my own habit of interrupting other people’s stories to tell my own, rather than listening to their story the whole way through.

Functioning as Christ’s ears in the world involves being truly present to people when they are sharing their stories with us. It means putting aside our own concerns long enough to hear deeply what another’s concerns are. It means putting aside our own solutions to another’s problem long enough to ask good questions that can help our friend find her own solution to her problem. It means giving other people time to finish what they are saying before we launch into our own stories. Being a good listener might seem like a simple way to be Christ’s body in the world, but in our fast-paced world, offering good listening to another can be a true gift.

This week make a commitment to being Christ’s listening ears in the world. Pay attention to the type of listener you are. See if you can improve your listening so that you are fully present to your friends and family when they are talking to you.

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