When I was growing up my family spent summers on an island in the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. Although we lived most of the year in Chicago, it always seemed to me that life by the River was our “true” life, and the Island constituted the “real world.” On the Island it seemed that even the trees and rocks were our cousins, and the River a grandmother to us all. The summer days flowed by slowly, like the current that carried us downstream to our favorite fishing holes. On the Island things were as they should be, and people were at their best.
When Eucharistic Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer speaks of “this fragile earth, our island home,” I think at once of the Delaware, and “our” Island, except we share this fragile earth with 7 billion of our human cousins, and, in place of the Delaware, we are blasting outward through an ocean of darkness. Is the space around us in any sense a grandmother? Is this earthly hunk of rock in any sense a relative? Given our self-destructive bent, how can human beings hope to restore things “as they should be”? How can we create conditions where “people are at their best”?
At every Eucharist we are invited, and even urgently called to cross the threshold of an Alternate Reality, a Universe Under Construction, a New Creation. To enter, we need not, ought not, go in search of better planets or unspoiled islands, but rather “open our eyes to see [God’s] hand at work in the world around us” (Prayer C again). The “real” world is the one we are already inhabiting, but to perceive it we have to develop our capacity to see with “sacramental eyes.”
In 1955, Hurricane Diane caused the Delaware River to rise in catastrophic flood, inundating our island and washing away the cabin which, a short time earlier, we had evacuated in a rowboat. But, for me, that drowned Island still reassembles itself at every Eucharist, and rocks and trees resume the shape of cousins, and interstellar space wraps our island home in a grandmotherly embrace, and, in that Eucharistic moment, things are as they should be, and people are at their best.