Monday, March 15, 2004

one of the dearest writings about the Eucharist I've ever read

is in a novel by Thomas S. Klise, The Last Western. The protagonist, Willie Brother, has fled from the great city Houston, where a disaster had leveled his neighborhood and killed his entire family. He is found unconscious on the side of the highway by two bearded guys in a pickup truck, who took him to their dwelling place to care for him.

[from chapter eleven, pp 125-127]
Several times a day strange, bearded men would come to his room, offering food which he could not eat.
The men would examine the bottle that stood at the head of Willie's cot, replacing it sometimes with another bottle. They would examine the tube that led from the bottle to Willie's arm. Sometimes they would feel his pulse.
Now and then a man who seemed to be a doctor came to call. He would listen to Willie's heart and peer into his eyes with a penlike flashlight.
Once or twice he gave Willie an injection that put him to sleep.
Willie gazed out over the gardens and the muddy, sluggish stream, at the city of Houston.
He spoke to no one and no one spoke to him.
He felt nothing. only an emptiness.
He wondered from time to time if he were really alive.
One night he heard men singing.
He thought he must be dreaming.
But then the melody of the song came more clearly to him and it seemed somehow familiar.
He thought he would ask about it the next day.
But the next day he remembered nothing.
Two nights later he heard the singing again.
He got out of bed and started down the corridor toward the room where the singing seemed loudest.
But he was too weak to reach the door.
His knees gave way beneath him and he fainted.
A little later he had the vague memory of silent men carrying him through the corridor and placing him on his bed.
The next morning an old man with a long white beard, not one of the regular visitors, came to Willie's room.
He wore a strange tunic, made of gunnysack and other rags patched together.
He put a little card on the stand beside Willie's bed.
When the old man left, Willie reached for the card.
It said, THE SILENT SERVANTS OF THE USED ABUSED AND UTTERLY SCREWED UP ARE WITH YOU.
Willie tried to make sense of these words, but it was too much work.
He fell asleep for another week.
Then one night the singing woke him again.
He got out of bed very carefully and tried his legs while supporting himself on the edge of the bed.
When he was satisfied that he could walk, he started down the shadowy corrodor once more.
He came to a broad wooden door that looked like the door to a barn.
He tried to open it, but it was no use. He was too weak.
He was about to try it again when the door gave way and there stood a bearded man wearing a ragtag garment, motioning Willie to come forward --- a slow gentle motion that seemed to say
Welcome.
Willie entered an open courtyard where eighteen or twenty men, similarly garbed in gunnysack tunics, stood about a bare wooden table, singing.
In the center of the table stood the old white-bearded man who had given Willie the strange card.
He was holding a cup and a loaf of bread.
The man who had met Willie at the door led him to the old man at the table.
The old man broke the bread and gave a chunk of it to Willie.
"Body of Christ," he said in a cracked old voice.
"Body of Christ," said Willie, and he ate the bread.
Then the old man gave Willie the cup --- a tin cup it was, such as crippled beggars used to hold out for the pennies of the rich.
"Blood of Christ," said the old man in his cracked, wavering voice.
"Blood of Christ," said Willie, and he sipped from the cup.
It was the first food he had eaten in six weeks.

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