Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The worst paper I ever wrote.

Ok, I've mentioned it in a number of places, so I am offering it up here, so others may view it's full horror. And sorry, but the footnotes can't be copied. I don't know why.


Bite Me:

Female mystics, Eucharistic Devotion, and the Corporeal Christ

Woman is to man as body is to soul- in one phrase the sum of much of the philosophy and theology of the Middle Ages. Men were largely seen as linked to the mind and spirit, able to transcend the physical and think creatively or meditate; to worship and interact with God on purely spiritual level. Women on the other hand, not only inhabit but are imprisoned by their bodily nature. They are only a little above the animals, having souls but mostly unable to reach beyond the body, and so trapped in the bodies they inhabit, are by their very nature unable to grasp the supernatural. The divine is invisible, ineffable, ephemeral, and cannot be touched in the bodily sense; so a creature with such a thoroughly grounded bodily nature, with its corresponding desire and need for the physical connection will be denied the desired interaction: for the un-bodied God cannot be reached, be touched, or be connected with by a bodied female.
Given that impasse, with the gulf between the world of the body and of the spirit, visions of God and interactions with Him would then remain in the realm of the symbolic, containing something of the unknowable. However, with some of the female mystics it is their bodily nature, the very thing that holds them back from the realm of the spiritual and therefore from complete union with God, i.e., the body, becomes the vehicle by which they can attain it. In the same way that one who cannot climb up a tree with an armload of lumber, could build a ladder with the lumber, so to scale the tree and reach its branches, so that very nature which distanced them from God became their means of communing with Him.
In the Genesis account, God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, with the man and woman that he had created. They could commune easily and experience pleasure from this time because there was yet no gulf, no breach in the relationship of spirit and body. When Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, it was a reach for knowledge, which is in the realm of the spirit. Eve's attempt to grasp something of the spiritual through an act of the physical severed the two worlds, and created the division between them.
The phrase "Woman is to man as body is to soul" can also be read as "Woman is to man as humanity is to God". This separation of body and soul and of humanity and God was created by a bodily act, the physical act of Eve. Thus, the act of reparation must of necessity be a bodily one, an extrinsic act of salvation.
The person of Christ , by his very nature and existence, is the bridge between the two worlds, a curious inhabitant of both the liminal and the substantial. While fully God, he is given a body and takes on a cloak of humanity through the woman Mary; through her female body he is given a part of Mary's femaleness, and deep connection with the bodily nature. Thus , as the female body provided the agent of separation of body and soul, or of humanity and God, it is a female body that is the agent through which is provided the means of salvation.
A female mystic might see Christ as that ladder- as the tangible body used to bridge the gap between God and humanity, and indeed the Church saw him in that capacity. From his conception, which moved his existence from solely in the spiritual into one where he fully inhabited both spiritual and physical worlds at once; to the Passion, where he hung between those two worlds until the weight of them pulled him asunder and separated again the spirit from the body; he is that sole link and only connection between the earthly and the holy. Because it is particularly the bodily nature of this link that makes it efficacious, the body itself becomes particularly important. Every member is a rung on that ladder, and every wound or drop of blood imbued with meaning.
In the world of the medieval mystic, the corporeal presence of the risen Christ was embodied in the Holy Eucharist, that small wafer given to the communicant at Communion. The wafer was not just a physical representation of Christ's body, but it was Christ's body; and because Christ was not just a link to God but was also fully God, the eucharist was doubly important. It was sustenance, both physical and spiritual; it could feed the body while it nourished the soul.
Many of the female mystics of the medieval era showed great devotion to the eucharist, and quite a few reached a point in their devotion where they abstained from all other foods. Some reported it melting and tasting like honey in their mouths, others that it turned to blood or to meat that they needed to chew. Others, denied communion for any number of reasons, found that communion was given to them through miraculous means. Still others found their mouths suddenly filling up with the desired wafer, so that they were given their communion without the hand of the priest bestowing it.
The act of communion- that blend of communication and union (it is by no mistake that the recipient is known as the communicant) is central to the mystical experience. In the receiving of the eucharist, that link is established that crosses that liminal space between the earthly and the divine. The physical body of Christ is present in the wafer as is the divine presence, so that when the recipient eats the eucharist, her body and Christ's body become one; she has achieved a brief moment of true union of the corporeal and the spiritual. That the incorporation of Christ into self and self into Christ could be repeated was a mystery, but because of that it was sought repeatedly. The obvious metaphor of sexual union is however only workable on one level- that of the physical, of the wafer mixing with the communicant's body. The total union of the body to the spiritual belongs to the realm of the ineffable.
The bodily nature of the female was in the medieval view of a double nature: more than simply partaking of nourishment and excreting the excess, it could also excrete food. A woman producing breast milk became both eater and the eaten- taking in food and then becoming it herself. Breast milk was also thought to be made of blood, some sort of distillation or by-product of it. Perhaps in part because of this, the close associations of women's bodies with blood via menstruation, and of the production of milk, women were seen as intrinsically linked through their bodily natures to food, to milk, and to blood. It is then not surprising to find so many female mystics to be preoccupied with Christ's bodily nature, or that their preoccupation would be with his body as food, his blood as drink, and the wound in his side as like a breast to nurse from. Indeed as women were linked to the bodily by their excretory and reproductive functions, Christ is linked to the bodily through its salvific function.
It is not only Christ's body that they are preoccupied with, however. Frequently we see the female mystic not only appropriating Christ's body as that connector or touch-point to reach a union with God, but we see her using her own body as an extension; in her own devotional experience, or as part of another woman's devotion, as an adjunct to Christ, an intercessory link to yet another body. Catherine of Siena is well known not only for abstaining from food and sustaining herself only on the eucharist as part of her devotion to Christ, but also for licking the open wounds and sucking the pus from lepers, and sucking at the infected breast of one afflicted woman. In this she becomes not an agent of the bodily, reaching towards the spiritual; but the spiritual reaches through her, using her as an agent to connect with the bodily, much in the way that Christ provides that bridge. This is one expression of the imitatio Christi; not simply in the imitation of his sufferings, or of his life, but of his very existence as agent of reconciliation.
These women are also seen as becoming instruments of their own salvation, as intercessory agents for themselves. This is seen in instances where the particular sin to be expiated was particularly identified in or with a portion of the body, the penitent would administer punishment to that member, such as fasting to remedy the sin of gluttony, or self-administered beatings or mutilations to erase former pleasures. Through this sort of purchase, the mystic is again extending her body towards God, using the same body that sinned as the agent of the remission of that sin.
Whatever body it is that reaches across to bridge that space between the physical and the spiritual, the greatest emphasis remains on the point of contact. Like Michelangelo's hand of God touching man, it is that contact that makes the connection, that allows the communication. Both portions, the physical and the spiritual, are needed for a successful connection to be made between the two worlds. As an electrical current needs a contact to complete a circuit, so the heavenly needs the bodily to contact: hand to hand, mouth to mouth, mouth to breast, flesh to spirit. Through the bodily nature of Christ, the ineffable nature of God can be known to humanity. Humanity, through that union with Christ gained by the eating of the eucharist, can communicate with and be known to God.

And this pile of bovine exhaust... got an A.

I lost a great deal of respect for academia after that.

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