When God Is Like an Italian Grandmother | Sojourners

When God Is Like an Italian Grandmother

I still recall that moment when I first heard the words of the liturgy:

“The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

I had never considered the Lord’s Supper as feeding on Christ. Growing up in a charismatic, non-denominational church and then embracing my faith as an adult at a Presbyterian church, I found this to be a foreign (and admittedly strange) concept that didn’t fully take root in me until after I began attending an Anglican church on Capitol Hill.

As I grappled with unemployment those first months in D.C., feeding on Christ in my heart by faith became more real to me: I didn’t have a seat at the proverbial table, but here was a table prepared for me, full of all the goodness and joy and love and peace and grace I could imagine, because it was Christ who was on offer.

It was also an unexpected taste of home in a strange city. I come from a big, half-Italian family where sitting at a table and feasting was something we did well. Even casual family gatherings involve a table heavy-laden with sausage and peppers, various salads, a shrimp ring, etc. My family’s philosophy — passed down by my grandmother — is that no one should feel like there isn’t more than enough to eat. It’s far better to send people home with leftovers than to not have enough.

This week marks three years since my grandmother, Pauline, passed away. She left behind a large family who adored her, scores of spiritual “children” whose lives she’d touched, and a wonderful, childlike faith. That faith, embraced by a four-year-old daughter of Sicilian immigrants in New York City, has now been passed down to her great-grandchildren.

As I reflect on her long and well-lived life, it’s impossible to disconnect it from her faith. My grandmother would point people to God in everything she said and did. And one thing she did all the time — and extremely well — was feed us.

It was impossible to wander down for a visit to the basement apartment she had in our house in Queens without her feeding you. She was a regular babysitter for my sister and me and we’d spend long hours working on puzzles and snacking. Since my parents were pastors, they’d often stay late at church while my aunt would drive my sister and our grandmother and me home to enjoy our Sunday pasta and homemade sauce. And as we got older, my sister and I would join her for a weekly, stove-brewed espresso in demitasse cups with homemade biscotti as she told her stories about her life.

But really, we weren’t hanging out with my grandmother for her delicious caponatina or sfingi (or fried dough or eggplant or…). We wanted to be with her, taking in all that my grandmother was. She never held back anything — not her food (you couldn’t clear your plate without her giving you more and saying “mangia, mangia”), not her prayers, not herself. My decision to move to D.C. in 2012 was partially motivated because I wanted to live closer to her — because she was that wonderful.

Now whenever I hear the liturgy, the reminder to feed on Christ in my heart by faith feels like God saying “mangia, mangia,” making sure I have as much as I want. God holds nothing back from what’s good and always has a seat ready for me.

I have no idea what my grandmother encountered when she passed from this life, but I’m sure it surpassed her wildest guesses. As for me, I look forward to the reminder each week that there’s going to be another table and one great supper at the end of all things where we will rejoice in what God has done. Until then and even so, “mangia, mangia.”