Tag Archives: body

The Body of Christ

I tried to write about the thoughts and random connections that come to me when I approach communion (Eucharist). I had planned to put in more biblical details and allusions so maybe at some point I will rewrite this, but as soon as I focus on bread, then the mundane stuff of continuing to live as well as the real work of mothering and nurture comes to me and so the real world got into my sense of sacrament (as usual). So it came out less mythical and mystical and more down-to-earth than I had thought…I hope it makes sense. Add your own in the comments if you like.

The bread of life. Amen

The labour of my mother’s hands. Amen

The buried grain arisen. Amen

Cord blood to the baby. Amen

The scent of the turned soil. Amen

The seed scattered. Amen

The birds feeding. Amen

Waybread for the journey. Amen

Loaves, flatbreads, rice, tortillas, sandwiches, pastries. Amen

Starving children while we glut. Amen

Crumbs from the table. Amen

Staling crust, dryly sticks in throat. Amen

Children should be seen and not heard. Amen

Where then is the sacrament? Amen

If all of this will lead to crucifixion. Amen

I threw my leftover lunch out of the train carriage. Mea culpa.

My mother had worked all night kneading and proving the bread. Amen

My grandparents starved in refugee camps. Amen

There are homeless in my own city. Amen

I was only a kid. Amen

Your vocation is to feed hungry souls. Amen

To wash feet, to change nappies. Amen

To break bread and model table manners. Amen

The body of Christ. Amen, amen.

A mother’s body torn to give life. Amen

A mother’s blood flowing through the cord. Amen

A mother’s milk swelling, or inadequate. Amen

The father waking in the night to help feed the baby. Amen

The blessing of grandparents. Amen

Solace to the elderly parent. Amen

This too is my body. Amen

The battery hen. Amen

The lives that go into the abattoir. Amen

The lives that are held in limbo, on Manus. Amen

The lives that are born but not nurtured. Amen

The loves that remain a source of shame and exclusion. Amen

The oceans full of oil and sewage. Amen

The rice crops failing because seeds become patented. Amen

Food is a business, water and investment. Oh Lamb of God have mercy.

I told you this is my body. Amen

We eat you, we eat each other, we are failing to love. Amen

Save us Lord, we can’t walk on water. Amen

I told you you would deny me, but now I will feed you. Amen.

Whenever you make food for your workmates. Amen

Whenever you give food to someone hungry. Amen

Whenever you celebrate your own child. Amen

Whenever you remember to visit your great aunt or grandmother. Amen

This is my body. This is the bread that feeds you. This is flesh and earth and physical joy and strength. This is soul and spirit and the ecstasy of connection. Break this, give this, do this in memory of me.

The pod of dolphins leap for joy. Amen

The chili from a colleague’s generous harvest. Amen

My sister gets up early to make bread– her vocation. Amen

Bread and sacrament, our life and our heritage. Amen, amen.

The body of Christ. Amen

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“You give them something to eat” – Priesthood that makes a difference

This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ (corpus Christi). Traditionally this has been a time to talk about Eucharist and priesthood. I had almost finished writing this blog when I was fortunate to experience the ministry of a community of women theologians who also shared food that each had prepared. My head and heart are too full of good things to rewrite the blog but I feel there is something relevant to ideas of body, blood, sacrament in what happened today. Nevertheless for want of more time I will stick with what I wrote earlier in the week…

The readings were:

Genesis 14:18-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11b-17

 

I was always taught that the most special thing you could ever do was to be a “priest”. This was a somewhat unfair thing to teach to a girl. I grew up wanting to be the one who broke and shared the life-giving bread and spoke the word of hope. I felt depressed, even suicidal about not being the one who could do these things. This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, and with all the things I have been told about real human bodies and blood as opposed to the supposedly better risen body and blood of Christ, things that sometimes contradict each other I feel like there is a maze that I have to carefully find my way through, avoiding turns into despair or superstition.

The first reading and psalm draw to our attention ancient patriarchal traditions of priesthood. Liturgy here is something Melchizedek performs for his patron (in the sense of paying him a tithe) Abram. The psalm reinforces this as a continuous tradition. So far all that is there are all the old feelings of exclusion, the idea that all of this would mean something if I was a man and could become a priest. As a mere woman in the aisles however I get a little bit sick of being expected to look up to and praise male figures and male symbolic actions for no very good reason, just because I am told to. There is no mention anywhere in these readings of any sort of meaning or even trickle-down effect to women. It all begs the question why would you bother even being there, let alone supporting it with your labour, approval and money (as women do).

The second reading then places this ancient tradition of priesthood in a context of Jesus’ last supper action as retold by Paul. We are told, as we are constantly that this is the tradition, that Jesus took the bread and cup and broke them and….hang on a second! Here Jesus is quoted as saying “Do this in memory of me!” He’s not saying “Watch a guy in a dress who thinks he is special doing it” he is saying “Do it”. No wonder that little girl that I was, was not content to sit and watch the action week after week after week, year in and year out. So there is some sort of call to priesthood here. Not a call to have priests but a call to be priests. Returning to the first reading and psalm but as a middle-aged woman who has been denied ordination I still am thinking “nope I don’t get it”. Something in the tradition is not gelling for me.

Onward to the gospel!

The gospel is one of feeding the crowds. The Twelve propose a system of individual responsibility where each person needs to go and sort out their own meal. Reading in a neoliberal time I cheer to see Jesus rejecting this approach. No, says Jesus. Our way is not to send people away. Or way is welcoming and feeding. In the face of overwhelming need we take what we can and distribute it. In the face of the “bottom line” and the “Real world” we refer the problem to God but then we take in our physical hands, the small amount that we have and we distribute it.

After five weeks unemployed and income-less I believe in miracles. Most of the miracles I have seen in that time have walked around on two legs. Most of them are people who are faced with too much to do and think and too little to distribute. Some of those miracles are my own capacity to do with less and to survive.

The lectionary puts this feeding of the five thousand as a Eucharistic act. It is a sacrament when we take the meagre supplies we can scratch together and confront the endlessness of need in the world with it. In another place Jesus points out that noone lives on bread alone…on the other hand we access the Word of God by refusing conventional wisdoms of turning people away and breaking our privilege and plenty down into crumbs that go further and do more good. When I see the miraculous feeding, and society building engaged in by Jesus, then I see a model of priesthood that is quite different to the ritualistic and patriarchal priesthood. Priesthood as nurture, priesthood as service. Priesthood as selfless giving for the sake of a better world. Priesthood of mothers and nurses, teachers and food growers, counsellors and artists and fire fighters and anyone who follows a vocation to serve others. Priesthood of doctors that refuse to be silenced as they speak the indignant Word of God concerning Manus Island. Priesthood of feminist theologians who support each other and gently heal themselves and then come back to tend the ungrateful church with their underappreciated gifts.

I used to think of women in the church as staying within an abusive relationship (which would be sinful) but I have come back to the church thinking it may be possible to be less co-dependent. It may be possible to see myself as limited by my status within the church, but I am called not to be “with” or “in” church but to be church. And then the limits I experience are part of myself, just as my body is limited in flexibility, energy and capability. This is not to take on the church’s abuse as somehow my fault, but to render irrelevant what the voice of men’s power says in attempting to boom through the church that is really my church. Some bodies live well with depression or asthma or diabetes or even cancer.

And so when I am church, I am invited into the Eucharistic act of feeding the world. The people come asking for a word of hope and healing, but they also have bodies that tire and need food. It is foolish to ignore the body and to pretend we can live wholly as spirits. In the gospel everyone sits and shares and is satisfied. In the gospel everyone looks to the sustainability and picks up the crumbs.

Noone tells us what happens to the crumbs that are gathered at the end of the miraculous healing.But then again it wasn’t women who wrote these extraordinary happenings down in the first instance. Those leftover crumbs too were the body of Christ. Five thousand is just a beginning, our mission is to feed all the world.

It is interesting to me, how the  Pentecost story disrupts the orderly group-think of church. And yet as church we are really uncomfortable with heterodox thoughts and even diverse ways of expression aren’t we? I wonder if the Spirit was moving in the words of the apostles or in the ears of the hearers to make sense? I love that there was not one message, in one voice, in one language but understanding was brought into the culture and world of each “in our own languages”. This fits with the psalms portrayal of creation as “manifold” and diverse, yet all going back to the same source, the same God.

I have felt recreated this week in some of the happenings of my life. I feel God patiently waiting for me to get over my flaws and reluctance. I had a paper to write for university, an academic piece of work with no direct connection to God or to my Vocation. I could not get through my anxiety and writers block, and in the end I recognised that this was exactly the same anxiety and writer’s block I feel every week about my blog posts, and especially the weeks when I am “actually preaching”, giving the talk to a group of people.

So I did what I do when faced with that block, I prayed that God would help and inspire me to bring me through the block. Then I apologised to God for praying this in a secular matter “I can’t pretend it is for your glory” I said, feeling guilty and shallow when surely there are far more important things in the world than my paper. I think God shook her head, she seemed to say to me “All this time we have grappled with this and still you do not understand! What other evidence do you need? Your real life, your identity, the things that give you joy and put fire in your heart are not opposed to your vocation. I call you as you are. I call a nerdy person who wants to write academic papers. Did I ever ask you to stop? No. I want you to stop doubting and trust me and use your gifts.”

I tried saying “after this God I will return to things that really matter.”

God said, “Try to have integrity in your work, in everything you do. There does not need to be seperation between your life in yourself and your life in me” And then God added “but you do need to show more love, thoughtfulness and care for others. I am not letting you off from that higher duty.” God’s spirit is radical and unsettling, but it is a spirit of good news and being humanised. We work to orient our lives and our motivations to her, but we DO live on this earth.

This brings me to my quarrel with the second reading. I think that we are made “in the flesh” and we can and do please God “in the flesh”. I’d love to rehabilitate that idea of the Spirit being higher than the Flesh somehow but I cannot. We are fleshly creatures and our spirits live in flesh and have the needs and desires of flesh and when people try to be “higher” than the flesh too much and repress their flesh then all sorts of unhealthy extremes result. On a simple level if I am too holy to eat then I will collapse. If I am too holy to sleep then my mind will be compromised and I will lose the ability to relate to others. If I set myself apart from human interactions or over/above the earth itself then I will fall into sinful arrogance.

If Christ is in us, then the BREAD of life is in us. Bread. Food. Material good. Christ walked upon the earth and with hands that touched the skin of another human being and laughed and cried and coughed and sneezed and yes even relieved himself. The church has attempted to “put to death the deeds of the body” and has shunned women who are less able to be out of touch with bodies that bleed or swell with new life. But without their mother’s fleshly life which of us would have life? Without the hands that perform base chores like feeding and washing and holding what would we be? We would not even be human, we would not live long and our lives would be nothing.

And there’s the flaw with the spirit of “adoption” theory (sorry to Paul or whoever wrote the letter to the Romans) because it is grounded in a FATHERHOOD from a very patriarchal time,where fatherhood was far removed from the reality of baby vomit, nappies and such mundane fleshly matters. But what if we are adopted instead by a nurturing God who holds us as we are and loves us even when we are less than pristine? Because how can we say “we have suffered with him” whose real flesh was torn by nails and thorn and scourged, whose heart broke at the physical sound of taunting voices and lost, grieving followers? How can we tell Jesus who told the women of Jerusalem to look to their own suffering, how can we tell that Christ that with him we simply rise above worldly messes.

This sort of apolitical thinking, this sort of compartmentalised way of being is a trap of privilege. In the church it has been spread and glorified through men, largely white men and through those who wield power over others. I cannot agree with what this reading seems to be saying, God does not call me out of my flesh, God calls me to let the Spirit into my flesh and allow her to orient my life toward happiness. Happiness does not mean self-indulgence but it may involve self-care as well as care for others.

And so having dared to quarrel with scripture I move on to the gospel. Jesus here equates love with keeping words. There is a unity of purpose within the trinity, in that the “father” with Jesus and the Spirit all love on each other’s behalf and all move on each other’s behalf and it it that life we are called into. The life where we participate in that unity of purpose and that love is what we are invited to, but in acknowledgement that we are still learning how to live it and be it the Spirit comes to us as a teacher, to “teach us everything”. The Spirit who is always new must be aware that there is a movement in teaching toward play-based and inquiry-based pedagogies. We don’t sit in rows spouting rote-learned dogma, we live our lives and follow our interests while paying attention to the rich, deep learning offered by the spirit in how to be love.

In the words of Miriam Therese Winter: “Come Spirit come and be, a new reality, your touch is guarantee, of love alive in me” And to each of us she will come in a language we can understand. “May my meditation be pleasing to her”