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The Mouse Turd on the Altar

Dec. 6, 2008 — The pastor arrived early one Sunday to prepare for the first Mass/Communion/Eucharist of the day.
The faithful ladies of the Altar Guild had performed their duties in their customary fastidious fashion. The linen altar cloth hung perfectly even, straight, without a wrinkle. The gold-lined silver communion vessels were polished to smudge-less brilliance and covered with the ornate tapestry that High Church devotees use to accentuate the glory of the remembrance ritual. It was almost aseptic.
Almost. Smack in front of the pyramid of draped sacred vessels was a mouse turd.
Well, what would you like me to call it? The clergyman knew the earthy evidence of the rodent’s nocturnal visit had to go, but his mind doesn’t always work like other people. For a few seconds he just looked at it.
He wanted to take a picture but had no camera — a real lost opportunity. He considered just leaving it there; it might be interesting to discover who would see it first and what they would do about it. For a fleeting instant he toyed with the idea of placing a clean white napkin over it and making it a show-and-tell part of his sermon. Then his Clergy Job Protection Instinct cut in and he reluctantly removed the matter with a bit of bathroom tissue.
He knew the tiny grain of rodent offal was a lesson in truth more profound than any he could ever duplicate in words. The juxtaposition of the excrement and the elements of the holiest moment in worship was silently, eloquently powerful.
And important!
It said, “Life cannot be divided into secular and sacred." God knows it’s tried all the time, often by those who should know better.
A 2nd grader in a parochial school asked a nun if Jesus ever had to pee. Her response was a sharp smack on his hand with a ruler. The kid didn’t learn anything about Jesus, but he did learn there are certain things that aren’t proper to think about, and certainly not to talk about to a religious authority.
We like our religion sanitized, fumigated, kept separate from, if not ignorant of, life’s common realities, especially the less elegant ones.
So some New York City Christians were righteously outraged when a group of West Side hookers met weekly for Bible study, prayer, and Holy Communion, led by a priest who ignores snide speculation that he receives free service from his congregation of soiled doves.
How many times I have placed the consecrated bread into unspeakably filthy young outstretched hands. How can I ever forget the little boy who brought his frog to the communion rail to be blessed? I blessed it, one of the times I knew I was truly speaking for the Almighty.
Life gets so messy, so unsanitary, and the contamination carries over into the process of receiving the symbolic bread and wine. How often the priest briefly turns his/her back on the waiting communicants while with a finger he/she lifts a housefly from the wine and moves right on administering the chalice. That too is a symbolic ritual act.
Neither mouse droppings nor dead flies nor live frogs nor dirty hands nor soiled souls can desecrate the Sacrament. Sanitary is not an essential quality of sacred.
“Just as I am… I come.”

Editor's note: W. Jackson "Jack" Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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Dec. 6, 2008 -- The pastor arrived early one Sunday to prepare for the first Mass/Communion/Eucharist of the day.
The faithful ladies of the Altar Guild had performed their duties in their customary fastidious fashion. The linen altar cloth hung perfectly even, straight, without a wrinkle. The gold-lined silver communion vessels were polished to smudge-less brilliance and covered with the ornate tapestry that High Church devotees use to accentuate the glory of the remembrance ritual. It was almost aseptic.
Almost. Smack in front of the pyramid of draped sacred vessels was a mouse turd.
Well, what would you like me to call it? The clergyman knew the earthy evidence of the rodent’s nocturnal visit had to go, but his mind doesn’t always work like other people. For a few seconds he just looked at it.
He wanted to take a picture but had no camera -- a real lost opportunity. He considered just leaving it there; it might be interesting to discover who would see it first and what they would do about it. For a fleeting instant he toyed with the idea of placing a clean white napkin over it and making it a show-and-tell part of his sermon. Then his Clergy Job Protection Instinct cut in and he reluctantly removed the matter with a bit of bathroom tissue.
He knew the tiny grain of rodent offal was a lesson in truth more profound than any he could ever duplicate in words. The juxtaposition of the excrement and the elements of the holiest moment in worship was silently, eloquently powerful.
And important!
It said, “Life cannot be divided into secular and sacred." God knows it’s tried all the time, often by those who should know better.
A 2nd grader in a parochial school asked a nun if Jesus ever had to pee. Her response was a sharp smack on his hand with a ruler. The kid didn’t learn anything about Jesus, but he did learn there are certain things that aren’t proper to think about, and certainly not to talk about to a religious authority.
We like our religion sanitized, fumigated, kept separate from, if not ignorant of, life’s common realities, especially the less elegant ones.
So some New York City Christians were righteously outraged when a group of West Side hookers met weekly for Bible study, prayer, and Holy Communion, led by a priest who ignores snide speculation that he receives free service from his congregation of soiled doves.
How many times I have placed the consecrated bread into unspeakably filthy young outstretched hands. How can I ever forget the little boy who brought his frog to the communion rail to be blessed? I blessed it, one of the times I knew I was truly speaking for the Almighty.
Life gets so messy, so unsanitary, and the contamination carries over into the process of receiving the symbolic bread and wine. How often the priest briefly turns his/her back on the waiting communicants while with a finger he/she lifts a housefly from the wine and moves right on administering the chalice. That too is a symbolic ritual act.
Neither mouse droppings nor dead flies nor live frogs nor dirty hands nor soiled souls can desecrate the Sacrament. Sanitary is not an essential quality of sacred.
“Just as I am… I come.”

Editor's note: W. Jackson "Jack" Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.