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June 28 2013

'Praying at the Altar' photo (c) 2013, Charles Clegg - license:

When I was growing up, we always said grace at the dinner table. Dad cooked on the nights Mom worked late, and I hated it when we couldn’t all be there together for the meal because it didn’t quite feel like family, but on the nights when we were all gathered together– joy and peace– it felt whole.

When my little brother or I said grace, it was sometimes an original in the style of our parents; sometimes a rote “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food”; and sometimes, when we’d scarfed the gifts in front of us and forgotten grace entirely, we prayed, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for what we ate,” and we laughed at our own silliness, which was a way of grace itself. When Dad said grace, it was simple, and it laid bare his vulnerability, and he often bequeathed his turn to Mom. And when Mom said grace, her words were graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer poured out gratefulness, hope, and trust. I heard her grace, and she taught me.

My mom still teaches, and these days she does her work at a high school. She helps her Spanish class students to open up language, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to each other; and she leads them in daily prayer, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God. But when she brings her students to Holy Communion, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God and each other, she is not welcome at the table. She loves her school and they love her, but she is one sort of Christian and they are another, and their sort holds closed communion, so her sort sits out.

But Mom says grace. She kneels in the pew while her students receive, and she prays they will get fed with more than wafers and wine. She stays away from the man-made altar, and as she abides the rules that grieve her, she lifts up offerings from the ramshackle altar of her own heart. And while she is asked not to gather at the table with those who ought be and are family, she remains graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer pours out gratefulness, hope, and trust. And I hear her grace, and she teaches me.




  1. Justin

    That was beautiful.

  2. Sarah H.

    Beautiful. What an example for all of us.

  3. Julia

    Thank you, my Love. What a touching way to start my day. You have blessed me, and I am humbled and grateful.
    XOXO Mom

  4. Love this. Beautiful, and graceful – no, grace-filled.

  5. tamara, the simple words of your story have revealed deep truths that are conveyed beyond words. thank you.

  6. Dan McM

    Beautiful stuff, full of grace and truth.

    Your story reminds me of my mom. We grew up in that ‘one sort’ of church that has closed communion, and my mom prayed and prayed for all of her kids, and we all became the ‘other sort’ while she stayed with what she knew. Her great frustration was that she really wanted to share communion with her kids when she would visit us, but she chose to abide by the rules as well.

    Thank God for beautiful, gracious Moms that choose to love and show grace even when it is a frustration to them.

  7. Eric Kiszely

    Your ability to induce imagery within the mind with words continues to amaze me. Knowing the type of Christians that you and your mother are makes me feel Faith, Hope, and Love… with a whole lot of gratitude.

  8. Stephanie

    Tamara, while I love this post I have to say that the Church does not exclude others from the Eucharist. It asks that those that are not in full communion with the Church not to eat at the table. To be in full communion with the church means so many things. We as Roman Catholics believe that the Eucharist has become the body and blood of Christ, when offered by an Extraordinary Minister they say “The body of Christ” as we receive we say “Amen”. “It is true. What you said about your mom wishing they receive more than wafers and wine…. as a Catholic that is the fundamental belief that we hold differently from our protestant counterparts. We *know* that we are receiving far more than wafers and wine. I too grieve when I find myself not in full communion with the church. When I’m in a state of sin and have not attended confession, I long to join that table. It’s that longing that brings me back to my knees and in to the confessional to have that grace restored in me.

  9. Amen.

  10. Wow, what a really beautiful post. Brought tears to my eyes!

    I was raised Catholic, and the exclusive nature of communion always bothered me. My father is Jewish, and he never came to church with us. On special occasions, like Sacrements, he would come though. And seeing him stay in the pee while we went up and received always hurt my heart.

    I’ve since left Catholicism for my own practice. And I know a God who wants all of us at His table.

    Your Mom is an inspiration. Really nice post, Tamara.

  11. Truly lovely, Tamara. Your mom sounds like someone I would like a whole lot. Closed tables have always been a hard thing for me, and it’s not just Catholics who use them (although not every Catholic setting of worship keeps their table closed – it depends on a lot of things) and somehow it seems so at odds with the call and example of Jesus.

  12. Her graciousness – her choice to extend grace – makes her a participant in a deep and rich way, doesn’t it? I think sometimes we are so conscious of and incensed by being excluded that we miss the place where we can slip in, abiding by rules and respecting the beliefs of others, even if we don’t agree. It’s difficult to surrender the sense of injustice and find that place, divinely set aside for us, the place where we connect with God and can still help others to do the same. it is a place of divine making, for sure. Lovely tribute!


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