Sunday Thoughts

Yesterday, I went to Church with my boot on, having broken my foot.  The choir was singing, and my wife is the choir director.  High councilmen spoke, and as is often the case, my mind wandered.  So a wander-y post; please forgive.  There’s always a chance it will lead somewhere interesting.

The subject the speakers had been asked to address was ‘reverence,’ and as usual, the speakers emphasized that reverence isn’t just a matter of keeping small children from disturbing the meeting.  In fact, for the most part, the parents of small children in our ward are particularly punctilious about taking obstreperous infants out to the lobby.  But our speaker (a man for whom I have a particular fondness, because he’s from Kentucky, and speaks with the soft burr of a Kentucky accent, so familiar to this Hoosier boy) began speaking of reverence in lots of other settings; the music we listen to, the popular culture we consume, the clothing choices of young men and (especially) young women on dates.  We show reverence for Heavenly Father by eschewing hip-hop, by avoiding ‘certain movies,’ by dressing modestly; that seemed central to his thesis.  Rebutting it in my mind, I thought: ah, Ecclesiastes, “to every thing there is a season and a purpose under heaven.” And modesty standards are ephemeral/cultural/patriarchal/anachronistic, not transcendent/eternal/reverent.  And what of irreverence?  What of comedy?  “A time to weep, and a time to laugh.”

But my wife had been thoughtful ever since the passing of the sacrament.  From time to time, we pass notes in Church.  We try to do it reverently, or at least, secretively, and I love it, love communicating with her in these tiny notes scribbled in the margins of the program.  “Why,” she asked, “is the sacrament a two-part ordinance?  Why body AND blood, bread AND water?”  “Because that’s what Jesus instituted, at the Last Supper.”  “But why?” she asked.  “Why should we remember both the body and the blood?  Could it be because our bodies can survive lots of difficulties, but not the loss of blood?”  I wondered about this.  “Perhaps because Christ’s atonement was meant to overcome both pain (body) and death (blood)?”  Could that be it?

The Last Supper is described in all four gospels, but as with many incidents, is more elaborately told in John; it gets four chapters in John.  But John does not really mention the Supper itself; most of it is given to what must have been his last great sermon to the Twelve, a great dissertation on discipleship.  ‘Body and Blood’ aren’t mentioned, but the whole talk is full of dualisms: Jesus as ‘true vine’ and Father as ‘wine dresser’ for example, ‘servants’ who are also ‘friends.’

So perhaps our speculation isn’t scripturally based.  I still think my wife’s on to something profound. The sacrament celebrates Christ’s victory over pain and death, both.  We don’t just resurrect, we recover.  We overcome too.

And that’s something to cope with reverently.  We finished our note: the high councilman sat down, we headed up to sing.  But on our way up to the stand, my knee gave out a little.  I had to gimp my way up, then stand awkwardly while catching my breath enough to sing.  The song we sang was lovely, and the arrangement my wife had made for it emphasized the text in beautiful ways.  And I thought about pain, and the overcoming of pain, the part of the sacrament service (maybe) relating to bread, the body.  The beauty of music is enhanced by the difficulty of learning it.  The real dualism isn’t pain and death, but pain and joy, neither of which can be experienced without each other.

And another way to overcome pain, another way of coping with the endless struggles of human existence really is comedy, it really is irreverence.  That’s why people in power can’t really be very funny, unless they’re also self-deprecating.  A joke by a white supremacist about silly black people isn’t funny.  A joke by a black comedian about his own people can be.  Humor exists to afflict the comfortable, as well as to comfort the afflicted.  That’s also why the atonement was given us; that’s what Jesus meant by ‘inasmuch as you have done it unto one of least of these, my brethren.’ Did Jesus want us to laugh?

(And the single most reverent event I have attended was a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass at Indiana University.  With rock music, and bad language, and a priest blaspheming.  And a child leading us towards atonement, and peace.  And there’s holiness in great comedy, there’s God in the details of theatrical performance, however secular.  I feel God’s presence, listening to Bach, to the Beatles, to Tupac, to Arcade Fire.  To every season there is a time.)

Also over the weekend, I re-read Anne Wroe’s spectacular Pilate: Biography of an Invented Man.  In the medieval passion plays and cycle plays, Pilate was always a leading character, and a comedic one.  A ranter and a drunk, he’d lay about him with a club, shouting curses to Mahmoud (Mohammed, and who cares about anachronism!).  Pilate was, as governor of occupying forces, the most powerful man in Palestine; Jesus as powerless as it was possible to be.  But, especially in John, the tables are turned on Pilate.  His conversation with Jesus is just strange enough to be plausible–Pilate asking what he must have thought were utterly straightforward questions (“where are you from?”) and Jesus giving answers as baffling as they were provocative. (Funny?  On purpose?  Comedic?) Because Jesus knew from the beginning that his body and blood had to be forfeit; he had to be killed, and in a specific way, and this Roman administrator had to order it.  But Pilate was just unsettled enough to see, with perhaps some genuine insight, how wrong his own role would have to be.  He nearly overcame his own limitations; three times, he declared that he could find no fault in this man.  But ultimately, his own weaknesses reasserted themselves.  And, finally, he affixed his seal to an order, and then ordered a basin, and washed his hands.

He did it because he was afraid.  He did it because he knew how Emperor Tiberius (pedophile and murderer and a Roman God, a vicious tyrant, and also believed to be divine) treated the bodies and blood of men under his command who did not handle the affairs of Rome perfectly.

So we all have the same choice Pilate had, the choice to behave courageously or cravenly, bow to authority or (at times, when prompted to) mock it.  And we’ll suffer either way, and die whatever we choose.  But we can honor that body and that blood, by the choices we make. But we have to make those choices.  And not let our culture, whatever it might be, dictate them for us.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Thoughts

  1. thebenbailey

    Liz and I pass notes back and forth as well. Just yesterday we were pondering why the Savior says to the woman at the well that whosoever drinks of living water will never thirst, compare that to the apostles saying that we need spiritual nourishment in the same way we need temporal nourishment. I like your point about standing up to your culture. It makes me think of the moral we hear sometimes in the church about how we should always follow the brethren even when we disagree. It is an interesting moral dilemma, follow your leaders or follow your heart… and there isn’t always a clear answer. (Sorry, just some meandering of my own.)

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    1. juliathepoet

      I have been thinking through some similar issues, and wondering whether that dichotomy is actually an important test of our ability to find the divine, when we each have very different spiritual spiritual gifts.

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      1. Lauren M

        Random reader here:

        Our Stake representative gave a talk to our ward (in Chicagoland) too. His focus was honoring the words of leaders, and he busted out the controversial 14 Fundamentals of Following a Prophet talk. I have had thoughts like yours Julia regarding the necessity of such things and our personal responsibility to take things home to ponder and apply in our own spheres of truth.

        I wonder now if how the interchange between personal revelation and obedience to leadership is a necessary parallel in learning similar to how we are also working to find a symbiotic relationship between the impulses of our physical with the nature of our spiritual selves. Which is (connecting to this post and where my thoughts have gone when considering the two part sacrament) how I have viewed the need for bread and water/flesh and blood and how the atonement works both externally and internally on what we make and what is given.

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  2. Ethan

    Just a thought.

    You may get sometonhing from loI’lloking at the etymological roots of the words. Often helps me.

    In this case they trace to the same one. That is, blood and body come from the same word which, both related to the trunk of a tree, and ultimately to the concept of blown or swelling/rising/growing. This is just a guess on my part but perchance it references that which does the blowing/rising/swelling and that which effects it, the power and the powered.

    For me it is reminiscent of the two names for the two pillars of the temple in Jerusalem. Boaz and Joachine (sp?) The meanings given as The Lord is Strength and He (the Lord) will establish. It also brings to mind the definition of intelligence given in D&C as “light and truth” or the hebrew translation of Urim and Thumim (Lights and Perfections) the whole idea of the correctness and its establishment combined with the forwarding of the same/the powering of it.

    This gets me into all sorts of dualities, but I’ll refrain for now on that.

    As to comedy I’m always reminded of the “fools mock” part of the book of mormon. I’m also interested that mocking is pretending, counterfeiting, faking. An interesting cousin of faking or mocking would be symbolic representation. As we know with the ark of the covenant even Holy symbols can be used for idolatry. So intent seems to be a big part of whether or not one is being funny in a holy way or if one is mocking as satan would have us do.

    I again go to the root of “Satan”, etymologically speaking, and we find that it is the intent to be adversarial that makes him Satan. When we mock or with enmity, that seems to be key. When it’s the “other” that is the focus of our humor and laughter that is when there’s a problem.

    It brings to mind words of nibley on Satan as being the accuser. He points out that Satan has no need to le or deceive when accusing because we are all culpable of things, but the spirit of accusor, of fault finder, that is his role, and when we are finding fault rather than repenting of fault we are following the wrong spirit.

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