Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The Sacred Meal

The Sacred Meal cover

The Sacred Meal
by Nora Gallagher

Hardback: 145 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Book Description:
This book is part of a series exploring traditional spiritual disciplines. The Sacred Meal is about the Holy Communion. However, it's not about the historical or Biblical view of Communion since the author doesn't believe that the Bible is accurate or that the Christian religion is true. So the book is a memoir about what Communion has meant to the author.

The author wrote a lot of things that sound good or even profound, but her teachings aren't found in the Bible or in the historical understanding of Communion. When she paraphrased the Bible, she didn't do so accurately. She quoted her friends on Communion much, much more than she quoted the Bible. One time, she quoted as insightful a bishop's thought about Communion then told the story of how he, in all seriousness, gave Communion to a flock of geese (p.64). I had to wonder why the editor asked her to write about Communion. Overall, I can't recommend this book.

The following are things in the book that make me not recommend it:

The author isn't a Christian but believes a mix of religious teachings. "I, too, grew to see that the Christian story was not the only story for me" (page 72). She thinks it doesn't matter how you worship or what you believe, it only matters how you live (p. 119).

The author doesn't believe that the Bible is historically accurate or reliable (p. 110) and, at best, thinks we can only glean very generalized, symbolic teachings from it (p. 33, etc.). She thinks that Jesus was not perfect but progressively learned the perfect way to do things as he taught (p. 123) and that he changed his beliefs as he was influenced by various people he encountered (p. 62). He also was primarily focused on social justice (p. 22-24) and "resisting the power of the Roman Empire until he got himself into real trouble" (p. 18)--as in, resisting the Roman empire was why he was crucified.

Oddly, many of her examples of how Jesus "protested social injustice" happened to be areas where the Jews were following the laws given them directly by God rather than the instances where they were following traditions later added on by man. Her other examples ignore the clear reasons given in the Bible for his actions. Example: "By healing a leper, Jesus exposes the fact that lepers are isolated and abandoned. By healing a woman who had been bleeding for years, Jesus reveals she has been unfairly ostracized for something she did not cause and could do nothing about. By feeding the five thousand, Jesus shows everyone that people are hungry. By practicing nonviolence at every turn, Jesus unveils the violence that was the underpinning of the empire" (p. 22).

She also thinks that the "Kingdom of God" that Jesus taught about was merely a goal of earthly social justice and peace--an alternate earthly government or society we can bring about by our own efforts (p. 34). "We are all practicing together to become more and more the makers of the kingdom that is both under our feet and right around the corner" (p.38). And so "The practice of Communion reminds Christians of a meal and many meals shared by followers of a man who wanted them to see a new kingdom" (p. 55) and "...we can add to [the Holy Communion's] meaning and history" by working for social justice (p. 56). And "When we as a people live for that bread and cast our lot with it, we create nothing less than the kingdom for which Jesus gave his life. It is all around us, all the time, this beautiful world, just about to happen" (p. 83).

The author totally misses what event the Holy Communion celebrates/represents. "On the night of his life, Jesus said, 'Do this to remember me' (Luke 22:19 NLT). Many of us think these words...mean we're remembering Jesus when we drink of this cup and eat of this bread....I don't think Jesus was interested in everybody just remembering him. What's the point of that? That puts Jesus in the category with the various celebrities who will do anything to get into the media so we'll remember they're still alive. Instead, I think Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone who came after him to remember what they had together. What they made together. What it meant to be together. How the things he wanted them to do could not be done alone. How the things he did could not have been done without them" (pp. 23-24).

The author describes what the Holy Communion is to her as "In the act of eating the wafer..., we open ourselves, our hearts and minds, to the place where there is no time and where everything is being remade and reborn, a mystery of recreation and reconstruction" (p. 85).

According to her, sin is "What holds me back from connecting to and deepening my relationship with timelessness and love" (p. 30).

And, according to her, Jesus was not seen in human form after he was crucified (p. 135). The gospel writers were trying to convey something more metaphysical; that he became nature itself (p. 131). "Christ is everywhere. In the beans in your garden, in the waters of the lakes and rivers and mountains held sacred by the first American nations, in the rocks and the trees, and, yes, even in the fabric of the hoods that were placed over the heads of the prisoners in Abu Gharib prison in Iraq" (p. 136) and "Christ is everywhere, especially in bread and wine....By this we are to understand that God is meant to be breathed in, God is meant to be bathed in, and finally, God is meant to be eaten" (p. 136). And "If Christ is everywhere, he is in us. We are his body now, his hands and his feet. We are all the ongoing incarnation" (p. 137).

More to the topic, who should partake of Holy Communion? "Certainly, it makes sense to have some kind of relationship to the Christian story in order to take Communion" (p. 88), but "Communion is so important to me that I don't think there should be rules about who can take it and who cannot." So if you desire to take Communion, do so (p. 96).

Is the Holy Communion meant as a symbol or do the bread and wine literally become Christ's body and blood? According to the author, neither. "Holy Communion is an act of the imagination" (p. 94). Also, it is humans and their participation in the Holy Communion that make it sacred/sanctified (p. 84).

The book might be well-written in the grammatical sense, but her theology is whatever appeals to her. So I don't think she should have been the one to write on a traditional spiritual discipline even though she enjoys taking it.


Tracy Dobbins said...

I really enjoyed reading your review. I had a lot of the same complaints, but you expressed them in a detailed and well-organized manner. Good job!

Debbie of ChristFocus said...


Thank you for the compliment and for taking the time to comment. :) I'm glad you enjoyed the review.