If you come to a parish church in England after the service, what you will see is a (small) crowd of elderly people, middle-aged people and young families, balancing biscuits and cups of coffee in one hand as we do crowd control on the children with the other, and making slightly awkward conversation about the weather, holidays, cricket scores, the news, the progress of flowers and vegetables. We don’t necessarily have very much in common with each other, by all the usual standards. We’re embarrassed, probably. (After all, this is England.) And yet that’s not all that is going on. We’re also celebrating the love-feast. Our hearts are in our eyes as we look at each other. We are engaged in the impossible experiment of trying to see each other the way God sees us. That is, as if we were all precious beyond price, for reasons quite independent of any of the usual cues for attraction we apes jump to recognise: status, charisma, beauty, confidence, wealth, wisdom, authority.
It’s an impersonal kind of loving, looked at one way, since it doesn’t ask what we ourselves want or like. Looked at another way, it’s very, very personal indeed, because its focus is all on the other, all on what they’re actually like, not as we can hope to know it, but as a loving sustainer could, who reads them illusionlessly from within, and delights in them anyway. It’s a kind of vision you fall out of again very fast, even with discipline, even with your best try at selfless attention, but something is retained, something in the trick of it is catching and gets laid down as habit. Some ground is gained, somehow. And it’s a mode of pleasure, too. There they are – there we are – to be enjoyed, in a way that overlaps with the way you can enjoy the people in a novel, whether or not they fall comfortably within what you thought, before you started reading, were the natural bounds of your sympathies, your preferences, your interests. Grace makes us better readers of each other. We don’t know, each of us, what the others needed forgiving for, and we never will, but we know they were forgiven, as we were, and for whole moments we manage to see with calm, kind ease. Though we are many, we say, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.