Every night, I ask my two-year-old son a question: What should we thank God for today? In the months we have engaged in this practice, Quinn's thanksgivings have included noodles, his friend Lily and raisins.
One night during Lent, perched on my lap in the dark of his room, Quinn returned my question with one of his own: "I eat Christ?"
I was sure I had heard him wrong. So I asked my question again. "I eat Christ." This time, a declaration. What a strange and disturbing thing for him to say, I thought. What are they teaching him in the nursery at church? I mumbled something about thanking God for Quinn, our family and our friends. I said, "Amen," and Quinn responded in kind.
A few days later, he tried again. Same question, same response.
"I eat Christ." This time, Quinn turned his palms skyward and placed his right hand over his left, in front of his heart. As if to emphasize his point, he added, "At church."
He has been watching us.
Since he was baptized at six months, Quinn has attended church nearly every Sunday. Each week we have dutifully retrieved him from the nursery in time to join us at the altar for the Eucharist. We had never bothered to explain the practice. It wasn't because we didn't think he would understand. It was because we didn't think. We were just doing what we always did.
Our priest had asked us, several times, to allow Quinn to take the elements. I had declined. I had visions of Quinn spitting out his Styrofoam-like wafer and having to scoop up the chewed-up goo and eat it myself.
The Sunday after our epiphany was different. We told Quinn he could take communion.
The sanctuary was peaceful. We rule-following Episcopalians were sitting quietly listening to the organ while ushers directed us. Quinn could not wait. He raced to the altar, palms facing up. He joyfully yelled, "I eat Christ, Mama!" He dodged our grasp and the amused members of the choir, squeezing into an empty spot on the kneeler. He stood on top of it.
"The body of Christ, the bread of heaven," a priest said.
Quinn watched as she pressed the wafer into his palm. He placed the wafer on his tongue and said, "Amen."
Each Sunday since has been the same – the same joy, the same wonder, the same sincerity, the same abandon.
Did he learn it from me, or the congregation he has been carefully watching? I wonder. We adults, particularly the adults in the lives of a preschooler, are a "no"-saying sort.