As the 0930 was wrapping up, my friend passed by on her way to change the youngest's nappy, and invited me to tea at theirs afterwards. I hesitated, because I didn't know how many people would be there, how many I would know, and I'm not at my best in large gatherings (well, that's an understatement). An introvert by nature, I do best in small, intimate groups with those I love and trust. But I did want to go, and knew I'd be ok if I was sure someone I was close to was going, so I checked with my favourite 83 2/3 year-old German. She was, so I would definitely go.
So after snapping a pic of my favourite first communicant (telling her 'You don't have to be holy for me' when she posed by folding her hands prayerfully before me - she picked up her handbag and I got the little girl shot I wanted), the 11am mass, coffee and a quick dash for my friend to pick up her car, we were off.
I found myself apprehensive as we approached the house - I was expecting a load of kids (not a problem) and a load of church peops (possible problem; I get very prickly very quickly around too much religion/piety), so I prepared my defences...
...which dropped the moment I stepped into the house. Sanctuary - I had found sanctuary.
The afternoon was magic, a bubble out of place and time. I often find being with happy families exquisite agony, but this Sunday afternoon, it was simply exquisite. People weren't just on their best behaviour; there was room for everyone to be real, and therefore, at their best.
It was an afternoon for lazy conversations, intense conversations about Iraq (my animated narration to Jim gaining me an indulgently amused look from the master of the house), wandering back and playing with the kids - all 15 or so in varying combinations, and taking lots of pictures.
Pictures of children on swings, babe in arms, father-daughter moments, children being children and a mother-daughter moment that reminded me of the icons of Our Lady with the infant Jesus - behind her sunglasses, Mum wasn't looking at the camera, she was looking at her daughter with the utmost pride and love - she was pointing to her daughter, whose day it was.
Oh, and best of all, holding the baby most of the time (no competition), just watching her be: intensely focusing as only babies can on nearby plants as she reached for leaves; tugging my hair; grinning broadly at me; sleeping; just being her.
At some point, in my languorous sense of well-being, I noted an absence of something. As I listed the things I wasn't doing - looking for subtext, constantly monitoring emotional temperature, monitoring dynamics, working out ways to avoid any eruptions - I realised I could sum it up in one sentence:
I was no longer seeking - or chasing.
No seeking and chasing the smallest thread of potential affection; no fear of having love/affection cut off for the tiniest mistake; no need to preclude/contain emotional spillage; no working out and fulfilling unspoken emotional needs for a crumb of affection and a calm, if not safe, space - at least for a little while.
Not here. Here, one just needed to bask in the profligate love that flowed like a fountain from those who loved each other unreservedly and freely, encompassing anyone else in their orbit. In this love, freely given, one is held in relationship - no need to fear being cut off from love, no matter what. Problems will be taken in their stride, expectations will be stated, compromise will be negotiated, and no matter what, one will always be in relationship - withdrawal of love or approval is never even an option. Love is an ocean which holds us, not a cat toy we need to perpetually chase.
It was in this moment, with my chin on Jim's shoulder, as the communion cake was being cut, that I noted the sheer joy in the afternoon's sanctuary. He said, 'That's because this is a family knit with love. Not all families are.'
'I know,' was my heartfelt reply. I closed my eyes and offered a prayer of gratitude for this afternoon of being able to rest in a love so palpable that I could wrap it around me like a duvet, where it acted both as a shield and comfort and as something that could be shared, where a whole load of us could huddle under on the proverbial sofa connecting and keeping each other warm.
Being able to rest in love allows one to just be - and it is when we are human beings that we can be who we truly are, who G-d meant us to be, allowing us to be vessels for G-d's infinite love...
...which, in the end, is the whole point of the sacrament of communion.