We live in the woods and most often, I am thankful to be here, behind the veil, where nature still exists in all her chaotic fruitfulness. Trees tower over us like cathedral walls and ceiling. Rustling leaves and birds flitting on all sides reflect light and color like large stained glass windows. Animals fly, scurry, perch, peck, do everything animals do, all around. Many even stoop to raise their young here. So our nest is their nest is our nest. And we take joy.
But tonight, I woke to an animal screaming. Somewhere in our woods, or maybe in other woods far away connected to ours by other woods along the way, an animal was dying. Sound can travel unnaturally far in the dead of night and the walls are never thick enough when an animal is dying.
Also there's never any doubt about what's happening. Flesh is being torn from a living body that still has its spirit within, still feels it all. An animal with claws and teeth is desperately taking the life of another life like its own life depends on it. This, of course, has happened before. The screaming doesn't last long, but it's always an eternity before it stops.
A chill went right through me. My stomach clenched a fist and instantly, I thought of my daughters. I was pulled to them across the hallway by those unseen chords that I rediscover when I fear they are in danger. I listened. No. It is not them. They are safe in their beds.
I sighed relief. Then I felt pity and prayed for the dying. Then I prayed for the one killing. One animal in agony, the other may be in ecstasy, since it may need that food, perhaps it has children to feed. But my spirit moaned, I mourned, and I cried out silently at violence and the death, "This is not how it should be!"
Christ was there. At once, it was like He was over me, next to me, inside me, saying, "My flesh is food indeed. This is my body, broken for you. Take eat. Remember." I heard all these passages spoken through my mind like a gust of wind through the trees.
I have contemplated this mystery many times. God knows it has offended me, confused me, fascinated me, but I have chewed on it and swallowed it in faith, because Christ said it. But what did He mean?
At once the words made sense somehow, but the meaning was just beyond words, just as the screaming stopped, as I listened and heard nothing else, as I imagined the other animal was swallowing now, or trudging off with a limp, still-warm body in its mouth.
Here we must eat flesh of other flesh in order to build our flesh. Death and life are so mixed up. Christ said He is the Bread. He prayed and broke and passed the loaf. He offered his body to be torn, even while his Spirit was still inside. He felt it all. And so unashamedly, He encouraged us to take and eat.
To God, I thought, "There's no dark thing you haven't endured, is there? You have redeemed all, even the very worst of nature." And I felt rather than heard Him say, "Yes."
So I took courage. Even the most terrible things done in the darkest of woods to satisfy the deepest of dark needs has been redeemed. Christ, Himself, has been there, too. He was torn for us. He gives Himself to build our bodies. He becomes a part of us at the most infinitely fundamental level. I have taken and eaten this Christ like my life depends on it.
"There is no separating me from you now. Is there?" His voice comes to me from above, next to, within, from afar, traveling to me as if through the woods connected to other woods connected to all woods. I feel rather than hear him say, "No."