When Jamie Snell found herself drawn to the Catholic tradition after 20 years of Protestantism, she discovered how beautifully diverse and vast the Kingdom of God is. At first, it felt like a betrayal of all she’d come to know but soon realized it was what she had been searching for all these years. Her journey of faith is one that we can all learn from because we all inevitably find ourselves knocking at the different doors of God’s community. Some of us will continue to seek but some will simply give up. Jamie’s resilience in seeking God led her to find spiritual depth where she once thought there was none. May we all seek God with such hunger!
I first met Jamie when I was on staff at a local church in Portland, OR. I have never met a family more generous with their time, money, and words. Jamie has been a true encourager for me and a dear friend. It is a blessing to welcome Jamie to the table today...
guest post by Jamie Snell
One day a beautiful envelope arrived with my name on it and a royal wax seal. Hand written in golden-red ink on thick cotton paper, it smelled like frankincense. It read:
You are invited to The Thanksgiving Feast
No one has ever served a feast this sumptuous, on a table more exquisite, to more worthy guests. The bread and wine served will consist of priceless ingredients grown, crafted, and served by the Host himself. The nourishment of this feast procures eternal life for all who eat it.
If you accept, please come to the church when you receive this letter.
You must leave everything behind.
I believed it. I told all my family and friends about it. They called me crazy; they said it’s a hateful myth. I still believed it. Turning the ethereal words over in my mind, I wondered how marvelous it’s author must be.
His face, his food, his guests will be worth this journey…
I quickly Ieft everything I knew and headed to church, which I knew nothing about except that it was one of the buildings on a peculiar street in the city. I could not wait to get there and eat!
I arrived at a street lined with miles of wooden church buildings of all shapes and sizes. At the very end, I could see a hulking, intimidating stone structure. I knew that someone on this street had sent me the invitation and I was eager to find them. I also had no other choice.
I picked the first church that caught my eye. It was small, tidy, and unadorned. A pleasant, reserved woman welcomed me in and showed me to a chair in the dining room. The room had no table, just guests in neutral clothing sitting on wood chairs. A scholarly looking man stood up in front of everyone.
“Welcome. Please open your invitations and follow as I read the text out loud.” Everyone did so, silent with reverence. He then lectured the guests for a couple of hours about the importance of the invitation. After that, we were dismissed. At the door, I asked him, “When I read my invitation, I thought it was a Feast. I’m pretty confused. Is there actual food?” He smiled. “Oh no, the text of the invitation is symbolic only. We don’t actually have a Feast, that would be a superstitious error. The invitation is all we need. In fact, our lives depend on understanding the depth of the invitation. “
I left feeling vaguely ashamed of my hunger pains, and walked towards a church next door which was considerably larger in size and covered in decoration.
The door to the second church was opened by a well dressed woman with a clipboard under her arm. She had a warm smile and stopped to listen to me.
“I’m looking for the Thanksgiving Feast!” I said, over my growling stomach.
She beamed, “Yes! We’re so glad to have you join us!”
She led me through dozens of rooms full of people, busy with activity and conversation about the invitation and the Feast. Musicians worked on songs, actors rehearsed plays, painters painted- all about the host or the feast. In another, writers edited stacks of books about the Feast. Orators held captive audiences with great speeches about the Feast. We climbed up staircase after staircase. She said, “It seems pretty daunting but you will find your way, especially once you get connected. Here’s a little book to help you understand what we’re doing. Any questions?”
“Yes, I’m wondering when we will be eating the Feast.”
“Oh, we don’t have that kind of feast here. We used to, but we all agreed it was time to do something more relevant. But I have heard there’s a church at the end of the street which has a feast, but it’s mostly for older people, and not many go there. Are you okay? You seem sad. “
“I’m hungry and I feel so stupid. I thought I was invited to an actual Feast.”
“I know it feels hard to navigate all this, especially when you just got your invitation. If you’d like to talk to someone about it, we have a great group of counselors here who can help you work through your feelings. It can really help.” She helped me find the counseling room, gave me a hug and hurried off. When I saw there was a two week waiting list, I left.
The third church door was opened by a serious man who gazed straight into my naked soul. I clutched my invitation. He said, “I know why you’re here”.
He directed me to a sparsely decorated room, where a group of quiet people sat in a circle. They looked like siblings. The man prayed and announced the Feast would begin. Plastic cups of water were given to each person. Each person closed their eyes and sang; some yelled and others mumbled. It was chaotic. Then they dumped their cups of water on the floor.
This was not what the invitation described. I asked the woman next to me why there was no bread or wine or food of any kind. She tried to reassure me. ”It seems strange at first, until you learn the true meaning. But it’s great that you’re here, because we’re the only church that teaches the truth about the meaning of the invitation.”
“Is the prophet the one who wrote the invitation?”
“No, the old church did. It used to be good, but now it’s very evil. Shortly after the invitation was made its meaning was lost. The evil old church then led the world astray. Thankfully, our prophet revealed it’s original meaning. We now celebrate it in the true way, the purest way possible”.
I was so uncomfortable and there was no food. I excused myself and went to the next church with my rumbling stomach.
The fourth church had a note taped to the front door: ‘We went home to make our own Thanksgiving Feast. We love the invitation, but all these churches are corrupt places full of mean fools. Good luck!’
The fifth church door was opened by a joyful young man and I was invited right in. The place was an industrial warehouse full of tables, chairs and mostly young people. In the center was a table full of groceries.
“Help yourself to any of these ingredients and make whatever you like. We’re all unique cooks and we all like different things. You can walk around and find inspiration from others!”
I frowned. “I’m a terrible cook, I’m very hungry and if I knew I was going to have to cook for myself, I would have just stayed home. I thought the host was going to feed me.”
“Well, yes, he feeds us in a special way through the invitation, but not with actual food. He doesn’t actually care what we eat or how we eat it. He’s just glad we responded to the invitation and he wants to see what we’ll come up with!”
Trying to hide my irritation, I asked “Do you know who printed this invitation?”
“We know it came from somewhere at the end of the street. I’m not really sure. But we all really love the invitation. I’m really sorry.”
I despaired as I walked out the door. I then tripped and fell in the mud, tearing my pants.
I can’t believe I thought the invitation was real. But how can I turn back? What a disaster.
The sixth church looked perfect. It was beautifully painted. A neatly groomed butler answered, studied my travel-worn appearance, and led me to the bathroom to clean myself up for dinner. I attempted to do this with soap and paper towels, with little success. My hair was greasy. I folded my arms in a way that hid my muddy shirt.
I was escorted to a luxurious dining table full of intelligent people talking about themselves and congratulating one another. No one noticed me but I didn’t care; this was clearly going to be an amazing meal! I patiently listened to the erudite toast given by the host. The tuxedoed waiters finally served each of us. Finally!
I took the first bite. I spit it out. It was made of paper. The elegant guests were actually eating paper. I couldn’t believe it. I left in bitter disappointment. Exhausted, dirty, a pit of hunger inside me, thinking the invitation is not real after all.
I was standing in front of the evil old church, staring up at it’s intimidating face. Why not go in? Nothing to lose.
I knocked weakly on the massive door.
A luminously beautiful woman answered the door and looked at me with pity. I cried. She smiled and took my hands in hers. “I know what pain is, too. Come and eat the feast with us. There is place at the table just for you”. I entered and was enveloped by the vast stone walls which smelled like frankincense.
As she led me through corridors to the magnificent dining room, I noticed everything and everyone appeared simultaneously ancient and new, in perfect tension.
On the way, we passed a mailroom piled with stacks of invitations, printed and sealed by luminescent workers so bright I couldn’t bear to look.
The table was endless in either direction; set with various pieces, some exquisite, some humble. The multitude of guests, in every race, from every age, spoke distinct languages and the same language. Some of them were singing, some silent, some weeping, some discussing the greatness of the host. Some of the guest’s clothes were disheveled and dirty, but were transforming before my eyes into clean, beautiful clothes. The tablecloth had been stained, but as I looked the stains morphed into beautiful embroidery. I took my place and was greeted all around by people who were at once strangers and dear friends.
I am not worthy to be at this Feast, I self-consciously thought to myself.
My face fell in despair. A man beside me, with a young old smile, said, “Do not worry. You are not worthy but he is willing to make you clean”.
“How long has this been going on?’ I asked.
“The Feast began about two thousand years ago, but is held always anew for us, so that we can be unified. Here he is now!”
The room fell silent as the host appeared, his face so interesting no one could stop gazing at it. He held up bread in one hand and wine in the other. At the same moment, servants appeared at the table. At the host’s words, perfectly in sync, they presented us all with the bread and wine. The servants were men, with faces, clothing, and expressions as varied as the guests.
We all ate and drank and were satisfied, all together.
The guests who had been at the table much longer than me all exclaimed how wonderful the bread and wine are, as if they’d never tired of eating it.
The invitation was indeed true and the feast as excellent as promised. I was finally at peace.
A little note from Colette
Hey friends, I am so glad that you have joined us for the Ordinary Time series! This series will give us the opportunity to hear from a variety of voices, from different backgrounds, holding their own strong convictions around faith all the while calling us to the same thing: perseverance. I give my guests freedom to express their faith freely and any specific convictions they may hold. This is bigger table theology working itself out on this blog. We may not all agree concerning specific areas of scripture but one thing I know we can, Jesus is Lord!
I am honored to sit at the huge table of God with each of these women and learn from them. I hope you will continue to join me!