“Food is shut within our bodies as in a very beautiful purse.
When necessity calls,
the purse opens and then shuts
again, in the most fitting way. And it is
God who does this
because I was shown that the Goodness of
God permeates us ever in our humblest needs.
God does not despise creation, nor does
God disdain to serve us in the simplest
function that belongs to our bodies in
because God loves the soul
and the soul is made
in the image of God.”
-Julian of Norwich
Jesus on the cross. It’s an image I’ve sometimes avoided, because I’m not sure how to understand it anymore
Julian of Norwich was an anchoress – not as removed from society as monks or nuns, but not quite within society either. On the margins. This excerpt above is one of my favorite parts, where, yes, she describes peeing and pooping as a spiritual act! Later, she also describes, at length, Jesus on the cross: the blood gushing from his wounds. It gets kinda gory.
I wonder why I am put off by her descriptions of blood. Blood runs through my veins but I am never disturbed by it till it is outside my body. The same goes for hair: why do we love it on our heads, but not in the drain? Why is saliva inside my mouth fine, but my spit disgusting?
Holy was always described to me as separate. God is set apart from us and the disease of sin we live in; God is holy; God is other. At times this way of seeing God has brought me relief. At other times it has distanced me from God, casting me as a creature that is tainted and unrelated to a pure Creator.
I want to remember where the outlines of God are blurry. When God existed inside Mary’s body, where did God end and humanity begin? When we take the eucharist, when does the body of Christ disappear into our own?
Giving birth, peeing, breathing, sex, bleeding, eating: these acts involve spaces in our bodies that are open to the world, where substances come in and out. That sounds grotesque, but maybe these orifices are sacred spaces, where interior and exterior communicate. The Jesus we see on the cross is not a smooth, closed body that repels, but a broken body open to the world, with fluid borders.
It is with this kind of seeing that I approach Jesus on the cross today: a God with a body that, like a mother’s, gives birth through suffering.
As you watch the video below, feel the air coming in and out of your lungs. Listen to the sensations in your own body as you read about Mary’s labor and Jesus’ death. Words provided below.
A Benediction for All that is Sacred and Holy
For those of us that feel far from God, may you see God around you and within.
For those of us that have been shut out of a church body, may the open body of Jesus welcome you in.
Jesus’ bleeding body lives in an open, generative, sacred space. May we find ourselves there.
- Norwich, Julian. Meditations with Julian of Norwich. Introduction and versions by Brendan Doyle, Bear, 1986.
- Brison, Karen, “Lecture.” Anthropology of Religion. Union College, New York. Winter 2010
- Bauerschmidt, Frederick Christian. Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ. University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.