Section 1 - Implications: A First Circle of Connections

Section 2 - A Second Circle of Connections: Contexts

Section 3 - A Third Circle of Connections: The Logos in the Cosmos

Section 4 - A Fourth Circle of Connections: From Within Creation

Section 5 - A Fifth Circle of Connections: Human Being

Section 6 - A Sixth Circle of Connections: The Trinity

Section 7 - A Seventh Circle of Connections: The Eucharistic Universe

Section 8 - Dimensions: Death

Section 9 - Dimensions: Love and Sex

Section 10 - Conclusion



Faith in a World of Connections

Anthony J. Kelly CSsR

Eucharistic Universe

Section 7

A Seventh Circle of Connections:  EUCHARIST

Eighteen hundred years ago, St Irenaeus of Lyons had to deal with Gnosticism, the heady ‘new age' spirituality of his day.  He laid down a basic rule for every age of the Church: ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the eucharist; and the eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking'.[1] Taking ‘thinking' in its broadest reach, I will be stressing the connective imagination that the eucharist inspires. A genuinely Christian spirituality needs a master-symbol to grip the imagination with a sense of our common belonging in the mystery of life in all its variety.  To the degree the imagination of faith plays on the eucharistic mystery as ‘the summit and source' of the life of the Church, it lives with an inexhaustible surplus of meaning.[2] The eucharist, therefore, affects every aspect of Christian life.[3]  It creates a seismic disturbance within the flinty world of scientific analysis. In Lukan terms, our hearts begin to burn within us (Luke 24:32), with a sense of life revealed anew. Fundamentally, the eucharistic imagination invites us to bring together what we so often keep apart: our ways of imagining God, ourselves, our relations with others, with all living things on this planet, and with the universe itself, a universe of grace, of gifts and giving.  This is a long way from ‘the poor chatty little Christianity' bemoaned by E. M. Forster of Passage to India fame.

1. The Cosmic Vision of  Maximus Confessor

As a minor gesture to the Eastern and Byzantine theology, with its embracing Christic and cosmic vision which carried over into the great medieval theologies, let me make a brief aside on one of the most remarkable theologians of the past, namely, Maximus Confessor (580-662).  While he is comparatively little known in current theology, a  whole ecological theology could be written with the resources he provides, especially in his profound theology of the sacred Liturgy.[4]  For Maximus, the human is something of cosmic crossroads of all elements of creation.  In the human a kind of natural bonding of the universe occurs.  Maximus' reflections are guided by the memorable words of St Gregory Nazianzen on the Feast of Lights (now incorporated in liturgies of East and West as ‘Epiphany' or ‘Theophany'):  ‘Natures are instituted afresh, and God becomes human' (Mirabile mysterium declaratur hodie; innovantur naturae; Deus homo factus est.[5]

The empirical and reductionistic cast of modern thought worries over the abstract character of these ‘natures', especially when it comes to human nature.  Considering all the dynamics and structures implied in what and who we are, no simple description seems possible today. Nature and person, body and soul, man and woman, individual and community, society and culture, cosmos and history, God and the universe –  these are just some of the dualities or ‘divisions', as Maximus tends to term them, employed in our unfinished self-descriptions.[6]  As was said previously, we human beings seem to be destined to make life complicated. Maximus sees this complication in a positive manner, as he writes, ‘the human person which the laboratory in which everything is concentrated and itself naturally mediates between the extremities of each division, having been drawn into everything in a good and fitting way through becoming...'.[7]

Here the emphasis is on the multi-relational character of human existence.  Maximus takes over the traditional Platonic idea found especially in the Timaeus, of the human being as a microcosm of the cosmic totality,[8] and develops it, both philosophically and biblically.  In this regard, the human appears as a dynamic field of interconnections and inter-relationships including all that is within its horizon.  As a ‘laboratory' or ‘natural bond' set in the heart of creation, the logos of human being is characterised by a process of becoming, of reaching beyond its present state, in the direction of what is other, for the sake of wholeness, unity and communion. The human being lives its logos within the universal Logos uniting all creation.[9]

Maximus stands at a critical juncture in the history of Christian thinking when the full comprehension of Chalcedonian christology was under threat. In the light of the incarnation, the human fulfils its unique role in drawing the whole created order into harmony with itself , and into union with God.[10]  In this it is an agent of the divine purpose, indeed of the Logos in which the coherence and goal of creation is found.  The human being ‘can come to be a way of fulfilment for what is divided' and be shown forth as the bearer of  ‘the great mystery of divine purpose'.  Thus, it participates in God's creative providence.[11] To be ‘the natural bond' is the role originally destined for human beings.  It  is restored and surpassed through the coming of Christ, in such a way that the universe still remains a cosmos with a human face:

Through himself, he has, in accordance with nature, united the fragments of the universal nature of all, manifesting the universal logoi that have come forth... and thus he fulfils the great purpose of God the Father, ‘to recapitulate everything both in heaven and earth in him' (Eph 1:10), in whom everything has been created (Col 1:16).  Indeed, being in himself the universal union of all, he has started with our division, and become the perfect human being, having from us, on our account, and in accordance with our nature, everything that we are and lacking nothing, ‘apart from sin' (Heb 4:15).[12]

Nonetheless, there has been a breakdown, a fall, an original sin.  For Maximus, it is not as though creation has lost its logos,[13] or that it has been intrinsically corrupted, or that it is a theatre of fallenness and imprisonment in materiality as the Gnostics and even Origen taught. Rather it is we human persons who are awry; we like sheep have gone astray.  The logos -structured universe has not failed; it is we have become deranged in our log-ic.  Instead of circling our true centre, namely the creative mystery of the cosmos, we have spiralled off into illogicality.  Instead of being a field of union connecting what is divided, we have become a cause of violent separation of what was originally peacefully united.  Our concrete existence is, therefore, marked with fragmentation, disintegration, alienation from our centre and goal, a bias deathward to corruption.  Throughout human history, human beings have propagated this mutilated sense of self, and afflict the cosmos with their derangement.  The human is living from a false consciousness, lacking its God-intended logic of love and relationship.[14]  The tragedy of this kind of fall is that human history no longer moves in its ‘divine milieu', to borrow a Teilhardian phrase.

In this predicament, the incarnation emerges in its redemptive and restorative reality.[15]  The Word becomes flesh to renew our nature.  Maximus writes,

[human being] has abused the natural power of uniting what is divided... so as to separate what is united, therefore ‘natures have been instituted afresh' in a paradoxical way beyond nature ... God becomes a human being in order to save lost humanity.[16]

As he reflects on the Church, he sees it as the Body of Christ celebrating the eucharistic liturgy:

As the centre of straight lines that radiate from him, he does not allow, because of his unique, simple and single cause and power, that the principles of beings become disjoined at the periphery, but rather he circumscribes their extension in a circle and brings back to himself the distinctive elements of which he himself brought into existence.  The purpose of this is that the creations and products of the one God be in no way strangers and enemies to one another by having no reason or centre for which they might show each other any friendly or peaceful sentiment or identity, and not run the risk of having their being separated from God and dissolve into non-being.

Thus, the holy Church of God is an image of God because it realises the same union of the faithful with God…  God realises this union among the natures of things without confusing them, but in lessening and bringing together their distinction in a relationship and union with himself as cause, principle and end.[17]

From these briefest of indications, it is possible to get some sense of the cosmic and liturgical Christic vision that animated Maximus the Confessor.  His sense of the universe and his understanding of the Church he so conspicuously served are so different from our own perceptions.  Yet his respect for the logos of each created entity and for the role of humanity in building a cosmic peace are so marked, that an ecologically-minded theology must find rich resources in his achievement.  For the moment, we can do little but note the possibilities, while proceeding to diagnose our own contemporary situation. 

2. Nature and Culture

The great emancipations of the modern age have had to pay a particularly heavy price.  In the struggle against what was perceived as oppressive tradition, an archaic order or biological limitation, the promised liberation left so much behind. The modern emancipated individual is uprooted from any sense of nature, for ‘nature' meant only limitation and threat. The current threat of ecological disintegration chimes with the artificiality of a technological culture.  To that degree, human consciousness does not feel itself to be a part of nature, but set awkwardly apart from nature.  Individual freedom became detached from any sense of a sacred nurturing universe.  The Enlightenment, therefore, had its costs.  To the degree human culture was willing to pay up, the range of universal connectedness was lost in the exchange. Mircea Eliade remarks,

As for the Christianity of the industrial societies and especially the Christianity of intellectuals, it has long since lost the cosmic values it still possessed in the Middle Ages. The cosmic liturgy, the mystery of nature's participation in the christological drama, have become inaccessible to Christians living in a modern city... at most we recognise that we are responsible to God and also to history – but the world is no longer felt as the work of God.[18]

What Eliade does not consider is the possibility of Christian faith being an ever-renewable resource – through the eucharist, above all.  In a more ‘enlightened' Enlightenment, Christian tradition can be retrieved.  But this time the Christian vision will be less rationalistic and individual, and more attuned to our immersion in nature and to our cosmic connectedness.  A cosmic connection was, indeed, part of the deep sensibility of Christian tradition – as any familiarity with the Greek Fathers, such as Maximus Confessor, or with the great medieval doctors, St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure, clearly shows.  But the modern problem is otherwise.

In a timely article, Cambridge theologian, Simon Oliver, connects nature and culture with in a eucharistic framework.[19]  Relying on the research of Bruno Latour,[20] he argues that the dualistic distinction between nature and culture – typically employed in ecological discussions – is beginning to break down.  A fresh kind of ‘hybrid' thinking is in evidence.  The modern situation arose out an uneasy collaboration between two entirely separate versions of reality.  ‘Nature', the domain of ‘objective' science, dealt with the non-human. ‘Culture', the sphere of the ‘subjective' humanities, dealt with the human.  Yet in the background  of such distinctions there operated a practice of ‘translation' attempted to create ‘hybrid' forms of thought, especially when the complexity of reality becomes unclassifiable as far as any neat divisions go.  Such is notably the case in the ecological context. The ostensibly clear categories of conventional analysis are proving increasingly unstable.  Examples that come to mind are the phenomenon of global warming, the human genome project, the epistemology of quantum mechanics, the anthropic principle in cosmology, or the natural (human?) phenomena of death, and even love.  Take a specific question: Are genetically modified crops – under the control of multinational agricultural companies – to be regarded as a natural or cultural modification?

Furthermore, when the question of God has been bracketed out of both natural and cultural considerations, and when any sense of an integrating philosophical method dwindles into irrelevance, the only unitary horizon is restricted to either a purely natural or a cultural perspective in a reductively secularistic mode.  No all-inclusive sense of creation and its Creator is available.  Lacking this theological perspective, extreme positions emerge: human consciousness is increasingly mechanised to exist only in some cyborg-like form.[21] In reaction, it becomes so radically ‘green', and so exalts unspoilt ‘nature' that the human and the cultural appear disruptive and parasitical.

Confronted with such alternatives, the enlightened liberal individualism that contributed to the situation in the first place seems to have come to the end of its resources.  Technology, on the other hand, cannot go beyond a dualistic vision.  If nature and culture remain at odds, any response will be arbitrary, and eventually totalitarian.  All the more important, then, to reflect on the compact, sacramental reality of the eucharist.  Its meaning is as broad as it is deep: it holds the meaning of nature and culture together in relation to Creator God and the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ.  Oliver makes emphasises his point,

...theology enables us to overcome the separation of nature and culture and the division's current collapse.  Rather than resort to the ‘liturgy' of the experimental laboratory or technological production line, [it seeks] an account of the natural and the cultural as a participation in the supernaturalising event of the Eucharist and the divine culture of the liturgy of the Church.  Natural and cultural phenomena will not be seen within a world of mere objects and subjects, but as fundamentally creatures of God which exist and exceed themselves by virtue of their participation in.... divine being.  It is within this central Eucharistic act of the Church that phenomena are recast through teleology and that we see the vision of a future salvation [freed?] from the ceaseless mimicry of fallen creation.[22]

Hence, by declining to mimic now this, now that, aspect of the current cultural disarray, theology is challenged to find instead a new place to stand.  The most appropriate site is the eucharist itself.  In this sacrament, both nature and culture are in the process of being re-imagined in conformity to the ultimate life-form incarnate in Christ, there to find their unity and direction.

3. The Eucharistic Imagination

Against this background, let us briefly sketch some features of the eucharistic imagination—in their broad relevance to the ecological issue. 

First, there is what we can call the ‘Christening' of the universe.  Catholic theology applies the hallowed term, ‘transubstantiation', to the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Lord's body and blood.  But a larger cosmic perspective is implied when the mystery of the eucharist is set within a cosmic process of transformation.[23] The physical, the chemical, the biological structures of our universe have culminated, through a succession of transformations, in human consciousness.  In our minds and hearts the universe has become aware of itself as an expanse of wonder.  Contemplating such a universe and existing as part of it, we live and breathe, aware that no one of us is the centre or origin of all this great happening.  We are ecstatic beings, thankful for the sheer gift of our existence.  We become a question to ourselves: Are we to live on this earth through which we have been given so much, yet to have no responsibility to be part of the giving – as life-givers, love-givers, care-givers?  If the universe is creation, what does its Creator intend for us?  What are we to do with ourselves as the stream of life lifts us up, carries on, and confronts us with the fact that we were not here, nor will be here, forever?  The span of human history (two hundred thousand years?) and the eight decades or so of any given life, are only the merest instant in the fifteen thousand million years that have gone into the making of our world.  And yet, as been so well said, ‘We are nature's big chance to become spirited'.[24]

In an imagination fired by the eucharist, the spiritual scope and shape of humanity is uniquely expressed.  It presupposes all the material and biological transformations that peak in the emergence of human consciousness.  It carries forward the momentous leap in human history that occurred in Israel's special covenant with the One God.  Then, Mary's Spirit-inspired ‘Let it be with me according to your word' (Luke 1: 38) embodies the genetic potential of creation.  She gives her consent, under the action of the Spirit, to become pregnant with the Christ, the final life-form of creation.  As the Christmas antiphon sings, ‘Let the earth be open to bud forth the saviour'.  This woman of Israel brings forth the Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into life on this planet.  His love unto the end on the Cross and the transformation that occurs in his Resurrection draws creation into the field of trinitarian life: ‘May they be one, as we are one' (John 17:22).  The longing of the human spirit opens to an horizon filled with the self-giving love of the divine mystery itself.  ‘Nature's big chance to become spirited' is met with action of God's own Spirit, forming the Church, and, potentially, the world into the Body of Christ.

Eucharistic faith envisages human existence in the world as an indwelling in an all-inclusive mystery.  It invites believers to see their world charged with communication as a great field of relationships, reaching to everything and everyone.  Though we human beings have been busy through our short history in sundering our relationships to one another, to creation and to God himself,  the Divine Word has been writing our collective name in the dust of the earth we share.  For ‘in Christ' – according to the Pauline vision – ‘all things hold together' (Col 1: 17), and are gathered up in him (Eph 1:10).  Though the ‘image of the invisible God', he is ‘the firstborn of all creation' (Col 1: 15).  All things are made ‘in him', and are destined to be ‘for him' (v. 16).  The mystery of Christ is for the universe the all-unifying attractor, the direction inscribed into its origin, the goal drawing it onward, and the force holding it together.  All reality, be it the physical world, all forms of life, the distinctive life of human consciousness, its cultural creations, and its transformation in the Spirit, is embodied in the pleroma of the Risen One.  As the heart and centre of a transformed creation, he is the life and the light of the world (John 1:3-4).

As the Spirit animates transformed humanity, Christian faith blossoms into its sacramental imagination: symbols, gestures, words, relationships and biological processes of our world come to be appreciated in different sacramental contexts as ‘visible signs of invisible grace' (Augustine).  These reach their most intense and comprehensive form in the eucharist.  The risen Lord takes fragments of creation, the elements of our earthly reality which nature and history have combined to produce, to transform them into something more, yet in anticipation of a new totality: ‘This is my body; this is my blood...'.  The Jesus' self-embodiying identification with the matter of our world is continued through history as the eucharist is celebrated: ‘Do this in memory of me'.  By receiving the eucharistic gift of his body and blood, we are in fact claiming this world as our own in the way that Christ has done.  In this way, we become immeasurably larger selves in a world of divine incarnation.  Such an understanding neither implies nor commends some vague form of pantheism, but is the recognition of the reality of the Incarnation itself.  In a Christian sense, it enables believers to contemplate the world as the ‘body of God'.[25]  By assuming our humanity, the divine Word necessarily makes his own the world and universe to which that humanity is essentially related.

In this way, the eucharist insists that Christian faith bring together what philosophy and the spirituality tend always to keep apart.   To the sacramental imagination, God is so much God, so infinite and creative in goodness, that the divine presence reaches into the innermost depths of matter.  The physical world has an irreplaceable part in the communication of the most divine of gifts.  The material world is so much deeply and fully created by God, so possessed and held in being by the Creator, that it is the medium through which the divine mystery reaches out to us. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

The eucharist, therefore, is a celebration of both the holiness and wholeness of creation.  It is holy in that the earthy elements that sustain our lives and communication have such a central place in the eucharistic gift.  Unless creation were radically from God, it could not figure so largely God's relationship to us.  Moreover, the eucharistic imagination embraces the wholeness of creation.  Matter, life and the human spirit are connected in the one God-created cosmos.  The fruits of nature and the work of human creativity are integrated in a cosmic sense of how God communicates himself to us in Christ.  Nature and history commune and interpenetrate.  In this regard, the produce of the earth is instanced in the wheat and grapes. The productions of human creativity are exemplified in that the grain and grapes are made into bread and wine.  The expressiveness of human culture appears in the manner in which such food and drink are used in the convivial communication of our meals and festive celebrations.  More radically, the eucharistic meal embodies Christ's self-gift.  In its turn, Christ's self-giving incarnates the love of the Father himself: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life' (John 3:16).

The eucharist embodies all these gifts and all these forms of giving, to draw the Christian imagination into a universe of grace and giving.  From nature's giving we have the grain and the grapes.  From the giving of human work and skill, we have the gifts of bread and wine.  From the giving of family and friends flow the gifts of good meals and festive celebrations.  From Jesus' self-giving at the Last Supper, the disciples were given his body and blood, as the food and drink nourishing their union with him.  And working in and through all these gifts and modes of giving is the gift of the Father who so loved the world.  When the Church celebrates the eucharist, all these gifts come together, with a distinctive contribution from each.

An example of this imagination is at work in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer where it invokes the Father as the luminous source of the universe:

Source of life and goodness, you have created all things
that they may abound with every blessing
and rejoice in the radiance of your light.[26]

This prayer, while expressing a sense of all creation as a divine revelation, highlights our human task in relation to the world.  Because we are made in God's image, we realise that image by caring for what God has created:

Father most holy, we proclaim your greatness:
all your works show forth your wisdom and love.
You formed man and woman in your own likeness
and entrusted the whole world to their care,
so that in serving you alone, their Creator,
they might be stewards of all creation.[27]

In this hope-filled task, faith looks to a final transformation of the universe:

There, together with all creation,
set free from the corruption of sin and death,
we shall sing your glory,
through Christ our Lord,
through whom you bless the world with all that is good.[28]

This all-embracing eucharistic imagination suggests a kind of ecological vocation for human beings within creation.  The highest moment of communion with God is at the same time the most intense moment of our communion with the earth.  For ‘the fruits of the earth and the works of human hands' are not magically vaporised by the action of the Spirit.  They come into their own as bearers of the ultimate human mystery.  Put most simply, in the idiom of John's Gospel, the bread and wine become ‘true food and true drink' (John 6:55).  ‘Transubstantiated' in this way, the sacramental reality anticipates the cosmic transformation that is afoot, not as something that leaves the created cosmos behind, but as promising its healing and transformation. 

This embracing vision is one of the important ingredients that Christian faith can offer to the ecological awareness of our day.  Something more than a purely scientific calculation is needed.  The ever-renewable resources of faith, hope and love work to inspire the self-dispossession involved in conserving the non-renewal resources and the threatened ecology of our planet.  The eucharistic imagination goes beyond a naive ecological nostalgia for an idealised past, unspoiled and largely unpopulated.  Likewise, it counters the doctrinaire evolutionism which tends to empty the significance of the present into an impersonal and incalculable future, as though the past and the present have value only in terms of what it they evolving into.  The eucharistic imagination offers a more generous perspective.  It envisions the God-given future actually occurring within our earthly and historical time.  The meaning of our present existence is not deferred to a future indifferent to what we now are.  Our earth, our flesh and blood, do matter.  We are not being emptied of what we are.  For we are fed with the Bread of Heaven and filled with the energies of the Spirit in the flesh and blood, in the food and drink of our present existence.  To this hopeful vision, the Body of Christ becomes the milieu of our existence, in which nothing is left out, nothing left behind.

4. Thanksgiving

Through the eucharistic imagination, a distinctive ecological vision and commitment take shape.  The literal meaning of eucharistia is ‘thanksgiving'.  In the comprehensive meaning of such thanksgiving, we show gratitude for all the kinds of givings and gifts that nourish our existence.  The ‘one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all' (Eph 4:6)  acts by gathering up all things in Christ, the ‘things of heaven and things of earth' (Eph 1:10). Whether our gaze is upward to God, or downward to the earth, we are confronted with the many dimensions of God's giving.  We are indeed ‘up to our necks in debt'.[29]  Divine providence has guided the great cosmic processes over billions of years to create the conditions in which planet earth could be a biosphere, a place of  life.  The same providence has worked through the evolutionary dynamics that have made us what we are – ‘earthlings', human beings, co-existing with a million other forms of life in the delicate ecology of this planet.  In this continuing chain of giving and receiving, we live not only with but from and off from one another.  Capping the long history of gifts, the creative providence of God's has led to the Incarnation of the Word, ‘for us and for our salvation'.  How are we to act in this economy of giving and grace? 

The eucharistic command of the Lord, ‘Do this in memory of me', arises from the imagination of one who gave himself unreservedly and wholly for the sake of the many and the all.  By entering into the spirit of Jesus' self-giving, we begin to have a heart for all God's creation.  We cannot refuse to leave out of our concerns any aspect of the good creation that the Creator has loved into being.  By entering into Christ's imagination and becoming members of his body, we are in fact putting our souls back into our bodies.  For we become re-embodied in him who is related to everything and everyone.  In and through him, we co-exist with all creation.  We begin to live in a new time-frame determined by the patient, creative goodness of God who is working to draw all things to their fulfilment.  We start to have time, beyond the pressures and compulsions of instant demand, to appreciate the wholeness of God's creation.  We begin to own, as truly our own, what we had previously disowned or bypassed – above all, our living solidarity with the world of nature. 

The eucharistic imagination thus stimulates new ecological perspectives.  Everything has its part in God's creation.  Everything has been owned by the divine Word in the incarnation.  Everything is involved in the great transformation already begun in his resurrection.  We are bound together in a giving universe, at the heart of which is the self-giving love of God.  We are living and dying into an ever larger selfhood to be realised in a network of relationships pervading the whole of the universe.  It even reaches into the trinitarian relationships that constitute the very being of God. 

The eucharist, then, inspires an embrace of the great, generative reality of the cosmos and the ecological reality of our planetary biosphere in a more generous hospitality.  We begin to belong to both in a larger spiritual space.  For all this has its place in the Father's ‘house of many dwelling places' (Cf.  John 14:2).  To obey Jesus' command, ‘Do this in memory of me', implies, then, a re-membering of all that has been dismembered in the sterile imagination of our culture.  Loving our neighbour means loving the whole cosmic and planetary neighbourhood in which we exist. Here and now, we are enabled not only to be jubilant participants in the feast, but also, through all the giving and service that life and love demand, we are destined to be part of the meal, to contribute the energies of our lives to the great banquet of the new creation: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit' (John 12:24). With Jesus, we fall as grains of wheat into the holy ground to die, in order not to remain alone (John 12:24).  Beatrice Bruteau gives striking expression to the planetary consequences of a eucharistic imagination in contact with the ecological concerns of our day:

the Earth as the Eucharistic Planet, a Good Gift planet, which is structured in mutual feeding, as intimate self-sharing.  It is a great Process, a circulation of living energies, in which the Real Presence of the Absolute is discerned.[30]

From one point of view, eucharistic imagination envisions the world ‘otherwise' because it contemplates it in its most radical bearing.  The sacrament of Christ's body and blood nourishes our minds and hearts into such a sense of wholeness, and cures the imagination from the illness of cosmic solipsism.  The need for this salubrious nourishment  is surprisingly expressed in the words of Einstein:

A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘universe', a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion  is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.[31]

The relational existence nourished by the eucharist promises a sense of reality at odds with any self-enclosed individualistic vision.  Jesus prays, ‘... that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be in us... I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one' (John 17:21-22).  Our unity in God derives from the way the Father and the Son are united in the one divine life: the divine persons are not independent entities somehow managing to come together.  Divine life is an eternal flow of one into the other, in relationships of mutual self-giving – the perichoresis of Trinitarian theology. Bruteau notes the reciprocal indwelling that characterises all reality: ‘Instead of taking as the norm of Reality those things which are outside one another, he [Jesus] takes as a standard and paradigm those who are in one another'.[32] This deeply Johannine statement challenges the community of faith to imagine its inter-relationships in terms of mutual indwelling modelled on the union existing between the Father and the Son.  We are – by enabling the other to be.  And the life-giving nourishment we give is not less than the gift of ourselves.  We are in one another for the life of each other.  By being from the other, for the other, and so, in the other, our earthly-human lives participate in God's own trinitarian love-life, while at the same time being embodied in the earth itself. 

The eucharistic imagination holds within it a deep ecological sensibility.  Our ways of relating to everyone and everything in God's creation occur within graced field of shared life and communion.  The first movement of Christian existence is to give thanks (eucharistia) for the wonder of the love that has called us to be part of a commonwealth of life.  In terms of a Heideggerian wordplay, this kind of  thanking deeply conditions the thinking  necessary to address the urgent ecological problems of our day.  Wendell Berry, in obvious dependence of eucharistic symbolism, observes,

To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skilfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily and destructively, it is desecration. In such a desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual,  moral loneliness, and others to want.[33]

Through its celebration of the eucharist, the Church can be an inspirational force for those who have come to appreciate planet-earth as Gaia, a wondrous, varied, delicate living system. In this regard, Christians are representatives of

... humanity becoming more fully integrated with the being of Gaia, more fully at one with the presence of God.  It is a deepening into the sacramental nature of everyday life, an awakening of consciousness that can celebrate divinity within the ordinary, and, in this celebration, bring to life a sacred civilization.[34]

Christian faith, hope and love moves through time; and Christians always walk on holy ground.  The challenge to bring to life a ‘sacred civilisation' is being felt today with special urgency.


As the source and goal of the whole life of the Church, the eucharist relates us to Christ, connects us with one another, and re-embodies us within the life of planet Earth. The sacrament is celebrated within a field of transcendent, communal, planetary and cosmic belonging.  Our universe is being drawn into the trinitarian life, toward that ultimate point at which ‘God will be all in all' (1 Cor 15:28).

Some might feel that religious symbolism is one thing, while the conflicts and strategies of practical ecological concerns are quite another.  I can only suggest that the movement toward a richer and more inclusive life begins with a new way of imagining the world we live in. Great symbols orientate us within the wholeness of things, and give both the passion and patience to grapple with it.  Touched by the need of such passion and such patience, we have focused on the eucharist as a primary symbol within the life of Christian faith as it confronts the problems of our time.  In every dimension of Christian responsibility, the eucharist expresses the poetry of faith, working as it must within a universe of grace.  Its imagination radically re-shapes our experience, to make the unseen and unspoken glow with significance, even if the struggle to have words for such matters remains, and so much remains to be done.

[1]  Adv. Haereses 4, 18, 5: PG 7/1, 1028.

[2] ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy' #10, in Austin Flannery, O. P., ed., Vatican Council II: Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (Northport NY: Costello, 1996).

[3] For the larger perspective, see the accounts of ‘interconnections' in the preceding chapters.

[4] See Maximus Confessor.  Selected Writings.  George C. Berthold, trans. (London: SPCK, 1985), especially ‘The Church's Mystagogy', 181-226.

[5] Sermon 39.13 (PG 36: 348D).

[6] See Andrew Louth, Maximus The Confessor (London: Routledge, 1996), 72-74, in reference to Maximus' ‘Difficulty 41', translated and presented 155-162. See also ‘Difficulty 10', 1153A-B, Louth, 124-125.

[7] Louth, Maximus…, Difficulty 41,1305B, p. 157

[8] Louth, Maximus.., 63-64.

[9] Louth, Maximus, ‘Difficulty 10':1165B-C, 131-132.

[10] Louth, Maximus…, 73.

[11] Louth, Maximus…, ‘Difficulty 10':1189A-B, 144.

[12] Louth, Maximus…, ‘Difficulty 41':1309A,  159.

[13] Louth, Maximus…, ‘Difficulty 10': 1189A-D, 144-145.

[14] See Louth, Maximus…, 74.

[15] Louth, Maximus…, ‘Difficulty 10':1136C-D-1137A,  113-114.

[16] Louth, Maximus…, ‘Difficulty 41': 1308C-D, 158-159.

[17] Berthold, ‘The Church's Mystagogy', 187-188.

[18] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane. The Nature of Religion, Willard R. Trask, trans. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World,1959) 179.

[19] Simon Oliver, ‘The Eucharist Before Nature and Culture', Modern Theology 15/3, July 1999, 331-353.

[20] Bruno Latour, Catherine Porter, trans.,  We Have Never Been Modern (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991).

[21] See Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Free Association Books, 1991).

[22] Oliver, ‘The Eucharist Before Nature and Culture', 331.

[23] For a wide-ranging and, I think, seminal work, see Gustave Martelet, The Risen Christ and the Eucharist World, trans. René Hague (New York: Crossroad, 1976).

[24] A happy phrase borrowed from David S.Toolan, SJ, ‘ “Nature is a Heraclitean Fire”.  Reflections on Cosmology in an Ecological Age', Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits 23/5, November 1991, 36.

[25] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord. A Theological Aesthetics. I: Seeing the Form, trans. E. Leiva-Merikakis, eds. J. Fessio and J. Riches (Edinburgh: T.& T Clark, 1988) 679.

[26] Preface, Eucharistic Prayer IV.

[27] Eucharistic Prayer IV, opening words.

[28] Eucharistic Prayer IV, conclusion.

[29] David S. Toolan SJ, ‘ “Nature is an Heraclitean Fire” …', 43.

[30] B. Bruteau, `Eucharistic Ecology and Ecological Spirituality', Cross Currents, Winter 1990, 501.

[31] Albert Einstein, quoted in Michael Nagler, America Without Violence (Covelo, CA. :Island Press,1982) 11.

[32] B. Bruteau, ‘Eucharistic Ecology....', 502.

[33] Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land (San Franciso: North Point Press, 1981) 281.

[34] David Spangler, Emergence: The Rebirth of the Sacred (New York: Dell, 1986)  81