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500 lucid words on sacrament

This evening I am supposed to be writing 500 lucid words on Richard Hooker’s concept of the real presence in the Eucharist. I am not willing to do so just now.

This evening I went to the laundromat (a necessity, since mice ate something important in my washing machine) (or, since I find cleanliness preferable, whether next to godliness or not). I read the chapter on sacramental theology in my text, and tried to keep straight the doctrines of Luther and Augustine, the Donatists, of Cyprian and Zwingli and Barth.

There was a quiet man in the laundromat tonight. Sometimes he sat outside and smoked, sometimes he came in for a while; he never stayed very long. He wore reflective glasses, smelled of cigarette smoke, seemed to be by himself, didn’t quite respond when I smiled and nodded. Seated inside (not smoking), his legs moved in a constant bounce, one I associate with medication use. He was quiet, approached no one, unremarkable really.

I need to add that this is my favorite laundromat. The owner provided a day of free laundry to everyone affected by the floods we suffered in Iowa City back in June: volunteers, workers, displaced people. He did it graciously, asking no proof of eligibility, just a count of how many came.

Then, as I was sorting out fides qua creditur and fides quae creditur, the maintenance worker came, emptied wastebaskets, mopped the floor, and spoke loudly to the quiet man: Did he have business here? No, he was waiting for someone. Emphatically: Then get out. Quietly, you could have just said to leave. As the quiet man left, the worker yelled after him: “And don’t smoke in the bathroom!”. “I didn’t,” as he left.

I was distressed, angry: there is no sign forbidding loitering; the place was not crowded. He was not panhandling. I suspect he had honored the no smoking signs in the restroom as he did in the building, but when you smoke that heavily, you leave some lingering scent in an enclosed space. That was a wholly unnecessary assault. And I neither confronted the worker nor went out to speak with the quiet man. He was gone when I left, when I had worked up the courage to do so.

The sacrament of baptism, says Hooker is an “affirmation of belonging to community”. Hooker’s view of the sacrament is that the action of the mind of the recipient is the locus of the sacrament; the mere doing is not enough: “not by doing, but by doing well” (those are Hooker’s emphases). Hooker tells us to bring to the sacrament our minds and “religious affection,” our trust and belief.

There were three of us in the laundromat, and no community. To myself I protested; I brought my belief, but failed in action. There seems to be a great gulf between what I was reading and what I was witnessing, and a greater gulf in my failure to witness. I will think about it when I write my paper on liberation theology. Am I so much an academic that I cannot act? Is theology more than intellect at godly play? I will reflect on that when I write my 500 lucid words, and more when I go to church Sunday and share in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.

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