Come Slowly, Eden

 

We seldom remember when, or where, we learned life’s truly useful lessons. Plato suggested that this is because, deep down, the soul has always known these truths, though that teaching of Plato didn’t seem familiar to me, the first time I heard it. Perhaps we simply remember the best lessons because their usefulness and universality quickly gain ground on the teacher or lesson that first imparted them.

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I do not know who taught me to say a post-communion prayer. No doubt it was a Sister Adorer of the Precious Blood, one of my parochial school teachers, though I have no memory of the lesson. It seemed obvious, and still does, that if one has just received the living God into one’s body and soul, one ought to say a few words of welcome.

All of the prayers that I memorized in primary school are with me still, so I must not have been taught a set of words to recite after Holy Communion. Perhaps whoever schooled me to pray at that moment thought my own words would best serve.

I also don’t remember when or where I first encountered this little poem from Emily Dickinson, but I do know that I immediately thought that it would make a perfect post-communion prayer, though Emily wasn’t much of a church goer and certainly didn’t write it as such. I have no idea what she meant by the poem. It seems to be about receiving more bliss than the soul can take in, so much so that one begs the giver of the grace to slow down. Here’s the poem. See what you make of it.

Come slowly, Eden!
lips unused to thee,

Bashful, sip thy jasmines,

As the fainting bee,

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars — enters,
And is lost in balms!

Saint John’s gospel employs what scholars call a "realized eschatology." Eschatology is from the Greek, meaning "the last things" In the other gospels, Jesus speaks of the Reign of God as being already in our midst but also as still coming, ready to drop, and at a time we least expect! In the writings of Saint John, however, this ambiguity disappears. Everything moves from the future into the present. Jesus simply is the Bread of Life (6:35); he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6), not in some as yet unknown future, but now, for those who receive him as such.

The Wedding at Cana is a wonderful example of Saint John’s approach. It opens the public ministry of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and we’re supposed to ponder its meaning. Clearly Saint John had a good reason for recalling what is really a rather small minded miracle, as miracles go. Christ essentially kept open the bar.

For Saint John, Jesus is God in our midst, God washing over us with grace and love and favor. He is, compared to everything that went before, like wine compared to water. "As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you" (Is 62: 5). One might say that, if life is meant to be God’s great wedding feast, where heaven is wedded to earth, than Jesus himself is bridegroom and wine, a love that intoxicates those who drink.

That’s why Emily’s poem has always seemed so perfect after communion.

Come slowly, Eden!
lips unused to thee,
Bashful, sip thy jasmines,

As the fainting bee,

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars — enters,
And is lost in balms!

Of course it’s reasonable to question Saint John. Are we really meant to believe that God is as available to us on this side of the grave as on the other? Surely heaven must be more than this?

In defense of Saint John, who certainly doesn’t need my help, remember that even the Catechism teaches that "to live in heaven is to be with Christ" (§1025). Conversely, to be united to Christ is already to have tasted eternal life. As Saint John sees it, the only thing standing between us and heaven is our sin, our sloth, our small-mindedness.

But won’t we see Christ in heaven? Hear him speak? Touch his flesh? Yes, but Saint John is convinced that we do this now when we celebrate the sacraments. Christ does speak in our scriptures. We do see him present in his people and ministers when we gather for Eucharist. We do receive him into ourselves in Holy Communion.

Saint John the Divine has run ahead of us, but he only asks that we hurry and relish what he professes. Of course, then the problem would be returning to this earthly life that we still must live. That’s why Emily’s poem seems the perfect post-communion prayer. The great lover of our souls must have patience with us. Grant us time to savor and to comprehend. Not allow heaven so to intoxicate that we cannot labor here on earth.

Come slowly, Eden!
lips unused to thee,
Bashful, sip thy jasmines,

As the fainting bee,

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars — enters,
And is lost in balms!

Isaiah 62: 1-5 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 John 2: 1-11

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Cynthia Pon
5 years 1 month ago
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing this accurate post-communion prayer.
Robert Zomer
4 years 7 months ago
Beautiful faith!! I love God, Jesus and the Holy spirit... praise the lord!!! http://www.candy-crush.eu/

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