Paperwork and Eucharist

Every week the residents of Magdalene fill out “Weekly Sheets.” These two-page packets are used to document the meetings they attend, to notify staff of upcoming appointments, and to request weekend passes. Every week, after appointments have been entered into the group calendar and passes have been reviewed, I file them. I organize them alphabetically and chronologically in a system I created in the first couple weeks of my work here. I also often file various paperwork and documentation into each of the residents’ individual files labelled with their names and entry dates. It isn’t the most glamorous or exciting of tasks, but as the weeks have gone by I’ve begun to feel the significance of organizing and attending to these individual narratives. In the practice of filing and organizing these documents that mark the past experiences of the residents and their progress as they move forward in their recovery, there is a great deal of beauty and weight. Completing these tasks has become somewhat of a ritual in my week.

As my site mentor Shelia has explained to me, accurate file-keeping is critical to tracking the progress of the women of Magdalene in their recovery. Another regular part of my internship has been observing staffings – individual meetings between a resident and staff to address issues and complications as they arise. As Shelia says, having accurate and complete files that document a particular resident’s past is critical to making in-the-moment decisions about how to move forward. Part of the significance in the seemingly tedious task of filing is in this confluence of past, present, and future. Consulting a resident’s meticulously organized file can allow staff to consult the past, comprehend the present, and plan for the future.

Filing Cabinet

William T. Cavanaugh’s work Torture and Eucharist concerns the particular context of Chile under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. He asserts that the Eucharistic liturgy can function as resistance against state-sanctioned violence in the form of torture, which he sees as an “anti-liturgy” (206). He goes on to write that “Eucharist is the liturgical realization of Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of his followers.” In Cavanaugh’s work, this simultaneous experience of past, present, and future is referred to as Eucharistic time that exists outside of historical, linear time in the liturgy of the Eucharist. He writes that when the sacrament of the Eucharist is performed and experienced, “past and future simultaneously converge, and the whole Christ, the eschatological church of all times and places, is present” (234). While the sharing of Christ’s body and blood is, on some level, deeply incomparable with hole-punching and filing papers, there is something of the “simultaneity of past and future in the present” that occurs in the moments that these files become necessary for decisions regarding care for the women at Magdalene (222).

In my practice of organizing and filing in the Magdalene office, I’ve found something in the imposition of order on the chaotic and traumatic histories of the residents that feels somehow liturgical. Rather than reducing the residents to a series of documents, this humble and conscientious filing functions in defiance to the chaos and turmoil of the traumatic histories the women of Magdalene have survived. Cavanaugh writes that Eucharistic liturgy resists the fact that “modern torture is predicated on invisibility, that is, the invisibility of the secret police apparatus and the disappearance of bodies” by making “the true body of Christ visible.” In a similar way, these files are resistant to trauma as predicated on chaos and disorder by intentionally organizing and giving form to documentation of deeply personal narratives.

There is something sacred and liturgical in the handling, organizing, and reorganizing of these files as assemblages of past, present, and future and as physical manifestations of a refusal to submit to chaos. This week in particular, as I’ve assembled the proper tabs in their proper order in empty folders for the two new women who have been welcomed into the community, and placed them–waiting to be filled with history, progress, and trajectory–on shelves with the rest of the files, I’ve felt the privilege of being part of this liturgy and catching glimpses of its power.

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