Not two things you'd typically put together in a single idea, are they? But I've come to realize that the act of shaving and the Christian tradition of communion have quite a bit in common.
I start every morning with a good shave. I wake up, splash some hot water on my face, lather, and pull out my razor. For the past several months, I've also traded in my Schick Quatro for a straight razor (a Parker SR2 to be exact). It gives me a closer shave, takes a great deal more skill to use, and helps me to start my day more awake and alert.
Probably because using the razor is inherently dangerous.
I nicked myself once or twice when I first started using a straight razor. It's tricky to handle, you hold it very differently than a "traditional" razor, and if you slip, bump your arm, or turn your head you'll end up with a bloody gash where skin used to be. It's actually very easy to inflict serious injury if you're not very careful when you shave. I know I've sliced my chin once or twice and questioned whether or not I could stop the bleeding on my own.
Shaving with a straight razor helps me wake up almost instantly and helps me reflect on my level of focus as I run a potentially lethal instrument along my neck to remove some stubble. There are few things in life as effective at clearing your mind as taking your life into your own hands for a simple act of grooming. You have to wonder, am I really awake enough to be doing this? If I miss and seriously injure myself, will I be able to take care of the injury on my own? Would I be able to find help quickly enough?
It's helped me to appreciate a simple act. I used to shave as quickly as I could in the morning. I'd miss whole sections of my face and leave the house with a partial neck beard or very obvious stubble in places. Even though no one would point it out, they'd notice. It showed a certain lack of investment that I would only half-heartedly clean up my appearance. Imagine the neighborhood's response if you missed mowing sections of your yard or painting chunks of your house. Imagine how you'd feel if a cook neglected to cook certain corners of your hamburger for the sake of expediency.
Whenever we do something, we need to slow down, invest our full attention, and make sure we do it right. Then, even in the most mundane of activities, we can fully appreciate what it is we're doing and why.
This is why I shave with a straight razor. To reflect on and appreciate the simple act of grooming oneself to meet the new day head-first.
This is also why I pray before I take communion.
Communion is one of the most oft celebrated traditions of the Christian Church. It's also one of the most taken for granted ... particularly in churches where we partake every week. We say a few words about sacrifice and quickly pass around some small cups of juice and pieces of cracker before moving on to the next part of our worship service on the way to the sermon - the "important" part of church.
For many of us, weekly communion has become an empty ceremony executed through repetition for the sake of preserving tradition. Like shaving quickly as to hastily move on to the next ceremony, failing to pause and reflect on the meaning and importance of communion has left an unsightly amount of stubble on our Christian walk.
Communion is a time for us to pause and reflect on our performance as disciples of Christ. How have we demonstrated His love in our church? In our community? In the workplace? How have we shared His message with our friends? Our co-workers? Our neighbors? It's also a time for us to speak one-on-one with God and accept the glorious miracle of His grace and forgiveness, freeing us to refocus our lives on living to His example in the coming hours, days, weeks, and beyond.
Communion is a time for us to slow things down, reflect on our walk with Christ, and wake up. It allows us to face the newly dawning week with a reaffirmed sense of purpose, ready to take on the challenges thrown at us by the world and ready to lean more fully on God for support. It's not an activity to be taken lightly, or hastily, or without thought, clarity of mind, and a oneness of purpose.
Taking communion on Sunday is shaving the stubble that's grown up while we've walked in the world ... and it's best done with the right tool - a moment of reflection and a clear, razor-sharp mind joined with that of Christ.