Microbes, stardust and the body of Christ

Cecelia Asberg and Rosi Braidotti ask us to consider that:

“…the sheer number of microbes that inhabit our bodies including bacteria, viruses, protists or parasites, exceeds the number of our bodily cells by up to a hundredfold.”[1]

We pray for a better world. We gather to share in the body of Christ and we ask God to deliver us from all the evils of the world- inequity, hunger, war, climate change, illness including mental illness. Atheist friends tend to portray prayer as escapism, asking to be saved instead of doing something about it. Personally I don’t think it has to be an either or.

Even though God is not magically going to fix everything, we have been told “ask and you shall receive” and in any case years of telling little boys to put their socks in the wash, telling students to hand up their papers, telling employers I need to be paid in a timely way, telling governments to fund things properly have trained me in the not-so-subtle art of nagging. Like all the others God too gets to hear my perspectives on what would make the situation better.

Like a mother nagging a seven-year old to put things in the wash, I need to be involved in the work I am promoting, and this I think is the point of the first reading. Being religious and going through rituals won’t in and of itself achieve either my personal holiness or the more crucial aim of a better world. Our hearts and our over-worked, over-fed, over-stimulated bodies are hurting and the first reading tells us how to heal. First attend to the needs of the hungry, the poor, the oppressed and then come to God. Not that God is demanding some sort of tit for tat, but like babies copying their parents’ facial expressions, in doing the things that are the work of God we identify with her. We become like her and she recognises us. I like to think that even for God love is more than duty-of-care, I like to think that God too feels the ecstasy of recognition when seeing a loved one.

God does not force herself on the world or onto our lives, we invite her in by collaborating in the agendas of the kindom, we show our desire for God’s love and God’s action and then prayer is connection.

Corpus Christi reminds us that the Word of God is embodied. Embodied literally, living with a body, in a body, as a body.

We’ve been affected by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and we try to spiritualise everything – men in the past idealised the triumph of mind or spirit over body, something that was harder for anyone born with ovaries and a womb. Some of us spend a large chunk of our lives bleeding monthly and end up expected to look after the bodies of everyone else. Is the work of the philosopher superior? Someone has to bake his bread and weave his clothes. People who “rise above” their own bodies end up exploiting the bodies of others.

Jesus’ last supper was physical- bread and wine shared by bodies gathered around the table. Hands touched the bread, feet were washed, eyes met. The smell of sweat, the fear of approaching death, the light-headedness of confusion. Each of them breathing, the physical act of forming words that hang in the air between them.

Even in what we think, what we know and how we feel our bodies are implicated-  the endorphins when we move capably, the oxytocin when we spend time with the people we belong with, the dopamine to help us still our racing thoughts. When our bodies or minds don’t get what we need they fail each other. Some people need medication for “mental illnesses” meaning the stresses of their actual, lived reality have drowned out the body-mind’s capacity to renew itself.

We all need food. We all need rest. Our ears need to hear bird-song and the voice of the beloved.

Like Jesus after the last supper, we don’t always get what we need.

The second reading debunks a “prosperity gospel”. Being a follower of Christ does not mean endless feasting and celebrating. If we are going to exclude then we may as well not bother (I suspect this goes for churches as well as individuals).

A sacrament is more than just a celebration, perhaps we don’t have to be ascetic but neither should we use religious reasons to overconsume. A sacrament is an interruption to “business as usual”, more than permission to feel good or to escape from our daily reality.

Jesus who had multiplied the loaves and fishes, who had provided the wine (echoing Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures), who had healed, and loved, called and sometimes condemned sits down to dinner, having completed the work asked for in the first reading. Sunday is a time to reflect on, feed and sometimes refocus the good we do in the rest of the week. We all have homes to feast in, yes, but God also notices the homeless person who is not feasting who we might walk past on our way to church. The body of Christ, broken, splintered by inequities.

We live on a planet that may be dying, and that also is the body of Christ. This planet gives us life- makes our breath and grows our food. We are, and we are called to be earthlings, bodily creatures of bread and wine and water (wind, and stone, and fire). Just as we are called to tend the humans who are missing out, we are also called to grow flowers to feed the butterflies and to refrain from plastic so that fish would have homes. Bodies move upon the earth and in the air and water. Bodies that are all kin to us, bodies that are Christ.

Bread comes from wheat, wine from grapes, food needs insects to pollinate it. Human lives need bread and roses. Christ’s body, like all bodies needs a complex eco-system to support it. We gather to celebrate Eucharist, to thank God for our lives, our bodies, the opportunity to restore right relationship with each other and our planet. We are able to break bread because of earthworms and bees and butterflies, because of the lifecycles of plants and animals, because of tides and weather patterns and our cosy, life-supporting atmosphere. We came from stardust but we are not ready as a species to return just yet.

We are here to share and heal. We are the body of Christ.


[1] Åsberg, C., & Braidotti, R. (2018). Feminist posthumanities: An introduction. In A feminist companion to the posthumanities (pp. 1-22). Springer, Cham. 

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