Sunday, January 13, 2013


Nutella, Communion Chunks, True Love, 
and the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 
(and, in addition, Downton Abbey is stupid)

Some things you should know. This is a poem without lining or rhyming or metering or what the structuralists so like to call structure. Also, it is about being in love. Really being in love. Kick your uh-uh love. The kind we (I) never talk about on Freakbook or in blawgs or in polite fiction or in poetry you let anybody read except the person you love (and sometimes not even your Eloise or Abelard). 


In addition, I'm assuming that nobody would read this unless I said something (good or bad) about Downton Abbey because, in the current climate, it has become more important to even my friends than my near-miraculous melding of four topics into one. Be that as it may, here are

       Five things you should know: 
  1.  Today is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus Christ. 
  2. In the Eastern Church the Theophany is celebrated (last Sunday actually) because father spoke, spirit descended, and son  . . . stood there and got descended on and spoken about. 
  3. On a website called Catholiccuture.org they use the word "symbolical." Is that really a word? And, if so, is it necessary? 
  4. There was a lot of gross stuff floating around in the communion chalice today (as if drinking blood wasn't gross enough already).
  5.  In addition, I have become addicted to Nutella (and the phrase, in addition).             
And so we fall in love. Or we rise in love. Or float in love or swim in love or dance in love or curl up in fetal position in love and say it's all useless and life is hell until you get  a little note that reminds you that this person who shines so brightly (or seems to, obviously you could be wrong)  is still breathing and like Mr. Moreno, my old junior high football coach, used to always say, "as longs as there is breath, there is" . . . . No wait, he said "until the final whistle blows." It was Sister Philomena, my fifth-grade teacher at Our Lady of Mercy, who said the thing about breath. She was so beautiful.
       
Well, I probably shouldn't be quoting her about falling in love. Probably not an appropriate memory. Anyway--whichever, whatever, however--we love, love, love (as Lauren would say). And then we want to do everything and anything we can do (and many things I'm sure that we simply cannot do, for such is a lover's desire according to Plato*) for the beloved, even if it means buying out the entire supply of his or her favorite candy from Kroger's. Maybe even more than one Kroger's, although even Aristotelians find that excessive. So be it.

On the other hand, I'm not Greek. So, you fly across the world to spend a few hours together or you buy lots of candy or you write poetry and songs and make up names to obscure the sweet straight line of love's arrow sticking grotesquely out of your skin or you kill yourself, but no, that would be violating not only the law of God but the teachings of Coach Moreno and Sister Philomena. Although love usually does have that madcrazy dangerous element to it. If memory serves.

So Father Rich pretty much had me at "Epiphanies can happen anywhere. Even bathing." I got out my notebook and started scribbling furiously which isn't that uncommon for me during his sermons. It's just that sometimes I'm writing song lyrics about blue eyes rather than midrashing the texts of the day. I doubt it, but I flatter myself that he's been reading some of my stuff because so many things he said sounded amazingly like my "tenth dance of Christmas" which was a meditation on the incarnational aesthetic of Jackson Pollock. Well, like I said, I flatter myself. It's what I do; ask Edwin, he'll tell you. 

"Jesus comes," Father Rich said, "the Spirit descends, the Father speaks, right there at the river, where people are being washed. There is nothing more material, more physical than taking a bath. You need water, maybe soap. And, especially, you need bodies. 

What you don't need is a church or a temple. Sometimes great things happen at church; we believe that something great happens every time we gather at the altar. But in an incarnational faith, epiphanies can happen anywhere. John said, 'one is coming who will baptize with the spirit and fire.' He said that in the wilderness. And he didn't say people had to go to the temple for it to happen.

"C. S. Lewis said he was surprised by God on the way to the zoo. Maybe God will surprise you while you are bathing. Or cleaning your garage. Or taking a hike. We need to expect epiphanies any day, any place. Heaven can touch earth wherever you are. A voice will speak. The spirit will be there. Just like the baptism of Our Lord. Where you are is where God is. Heaven's location is with you." I wish he had said "while eating nutella" but I'm sure he would have if he only understood.

So now, I'm thinking about that bath water. Jordon river is muddy and cold they say. And, according to the earliest biological authorities, scummy with human dirt, sewage, decaying skin, all the dirt mites that they didn't know about then because they didn't have microscopes (and my view of the incarnation suggests that Jesus could not even see as well as . . . Superman) and all the blood of Roman terror and oppression and crucifixion. This man standing knee deep in our sludge was not only the clean and spotless lamb of God, if the crazy mad stories are true, he somehow WAS God. 

Was this dirty bath part of his eternal plan? Did he sketch this out in ages past? Talk it over with Mother Mary? She probably would have just sung, "Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be/Listen to your momma/let it be." If you know me, even a little, you guess my easy answers to these rhetorical questions. 
       
Jesus came to the dirty water that day to see his wild-eyed cousin. And he came to see us. To be with us. To write his first lines in a crazy love poem/song, to say, "you are my nutella"--I love you enough to bathe with you even though I'm not dirty IN THAT WAY." I mean, Jesus, if you weren't dirty before, you are now. 

Jesus came to the river because we were there. Of course, we were elsewhere too. Well, hold on, the liturgical year is long. Next week, find him partying hard at a wedding at Cana (oh how I would have loved to dance with him). Everywhere he went was an epiphany because he didn't mind being seen, being handled, being talked about, being loved. It's like Christmas all over, but this time he's fully conscious and diving in headfirst, unswaddled.

[Here our author suddenly eschews narration, switches modes, and dramatizes a scene, as the audience oohs and ahs at his flouting of Aristotle]

John: Cousin? What are you doing here?

Jesus: Want to get washed.

John: What? You don't need to be washed?

Jesus: Yes I do.

John: No you don't. I am not worthy to untie your sneakers.  

Jesus: WHAT?

John: I mean you should wash me.

Jesus: I will, I will, eventually. Don't worry, in more than some water camel-skin boy.

John: WHAT?

Jesus: (fixing John with an ironic eyebrow look) For God's sake John, we're having a theophany here this afternoon. Just get me in the water, please.

John: (mumbling) Awight. Whatever you say.


People, even crazy prophets who were his cousin and later his close disciples, just had a terrible time letting Jesus get down and dirty with us. "Don't buy me candy, Jesus, please, at least not that much. It's extravagant. Let's not be extravagant. Aristotle and all. And don't get in the water like you want to be with us. Ewwww!"

[More drama!! More oohs and ahs!]

Jesus: Peter, I'm going to wash your feet.

Peter: Not I, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest washeth . . .

Jesus: PETER! Listen in small words. I. Am. Gon. Wash. Yer. Feet.

Peter: Lord. I am Peter. Smelly. Anger problem. You are . . .

Jesus: God . . . . Peter. Listen, if I don't wash your feet, you can't be one of the guys.

Peter: No, no, Jesus, Lord.

Jesus: Yes, yes, Peter, friend. I gon get down and wash yer feet. I want to.  Weren't you there when my cousin and I had this discussion at the river?

Peter: Yes, but I wasn't paying attention.

(Laughter all around)

Maybe Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism forever, as the church fathers have said since . . . since back in those old days when there were church fathers and they said stuff like that. Making the water . . . cleaner. On the other hand, we can think of the epiphany/theophany/mad crazy gesture of bathing with us as part of the kenosis that makes no sense whatsoever (if of course it happened at all) except under the heading of really being in love

Not "symbolical." Not restrained. Not fastidious. Not risk-free. Not germ-free. Or rejection-free. Or joy-free. Or surprise-free. 
       
No, I don't mean Jesus wants to be your friend like in those bad songs. Or your boyfriend, your buddy, your pal. It's way beyond that. Way out of control.

We are his nutella. He was wildly extravagantly absurdly crazy about us. It's the only thing that makes sense. 

That girl who did the thing with his feet? That one? I love that girl. She came and poured out the most ridiculously expensive perfume on his feet. My friend Jack actually bought some just so he would know all about it. Spikenard. Now Jack has his own personal Spikenard stash. Says it's super smelly and expensive as hell. He took it to church and they passed it around. I. LOVE. THAT. What a sacrament. Somebody (Judas?) cleared his throat and said, with a look of phony concern, "rather expensive, don't you think, rabbi?" Jesus smiled at him, with love I'll bet, and a mountain of irony and said (although the translations don't quite capture it), "She bought the whole damn store, girlfriend."

So of course, I'm so moved by all this, by Jesus jumping into this epiphany, not shining some mystic light that you have to meditate for several hours and, in addition, fast for a month and a half and sit on a pole in Syria to see, but  jumping in knee-deep to the big muddy and saying, "yes, come on, follow, let's go, be with me, that's why I'm here, the kingdom of heaven is like a man who found some nutella and sold everything he had, including his spikenard, to corner the market on that all that amazing goodness."

And this all somehow seems Eucharistic to me (but then again, everything does; my faith is very . . . edible). I almost rush to the altar, I'm third at the rail (somebody cut in front, but in the spirit of spikenard, I'll extravagantly forgive). And I remember what a friend told me, and what I've been trying to do, about gulping and slurping the sacrament not holding back or taking those little sips I used to take in my holier than me days. 

"The Blood of Christ, shed for you." "Amen." Then, before I drink, I get a good look. There are, I swear, absolute chunks of stuff floating in the chalice. Edwin? Alex? Father Rich? Were you like . . . gargling holy wine?

If I were what's her name, Linda Winter, the great memoirista, I'd make something up here. I'd write about how I looked at that crap in the cup and thought of the incarnation and the one who wasn't too holy or clean or fastidious to jump into the water with us, or to eat from the hands of rough fishermen, or to let himself be touched by the dirty sinful boys and girls for whom he was mad enough to risk everything, and then just swilled it down with a song in my heart. That would of been sweet.
       
But that's not me. I believe in telling the whole truth, whether it makes me look good or not. I looked down into that cup and saw one of those little chunks floating there, and, all of a sudden, it looking amazingly like the face of John the Baptist all wild-eyed and hairy. And the chunk said, in a very manly baptist voice, "be at peace, my son, you can just take a tiny sip, but then make sure you write it up so everyone knows you are a damn hypocrite."  

So, that's what I did. Although, since then, I've been thinking that Edwin, who was raised in England, had probably just had some Nutella with his breakfast toast, and I was stupid not to swill. 
       
Envoy: 

If you love someone, you buy them all the candy or spikenard in the world until you have to stop. Or you bathe with them and die for them. Or any number of extravagant things. Maybe write them a journal full of poems and then give it to them in a few years. 

And if they say, "I can't have any nutella around, because I eat it all at once" or "poems make me whirl until I'm dizzy and then I might fall down and hurt my beautiful head," then you have to honor that. But then, in addition, you have to eat nutella in remembrance of them and you might put on a lot of weight. It's the same with their favorite donuts. Maybe it's best if you love someone who likes hummus and celery. 

I have a friend who said, "Nutella comes and goes." I think that may be the most profound thing I've ever heard. I'm not sure what it means yet, but I intend to find out. I think it probably has something to do with Lord Grahamcracker or whatever his name is on Downton Abbey


*Plato did not really say this as far as I know, BUT I'm sure he thought it many times. Also, when he thought it, he thought you weren't very smart for being carried away by love.  

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