It is January; a new year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bodies, and relationships with one’s own body. And I have a lot of questions.

For example, how often do men see their own blood? When a man bleeds, it isn’t natural. Something else had to pierce his skin and cause him to bleed. An object violated his epidermis and tissue, drawing the blood to the surface. Force. Violence. Yet, for women, it is the key signifier of womanhood to bleed according to the body’s own natural processes. Our lives are sometimes dictated by this cyclical visitor. Irregular bleeding can be an indicator of dis-order in the body. When women speak of blood, we talk about hue, consistency, viscidity, duration, frequency. We bleed for decades.

But the blood seen in film, television, and relayed through novels and memoirs is almost always that which was drawn out by force. Men’s blood is glorified, while women’s blood is merely a means to an end, or a nuisance. The closest thing to a public rendering of menstruation comes in the form of tampon ads, when the tampon is immersed in clear water. When a woman no longer bleeds, she no longer has the capacity for new life. Is she still fully a woman?

gianni-zanato-465463 If men’s blood is the stuff of legends, what do we make of women’s blood? “Menses” simply means month. Monthly blood. So ordinary. Men’s blood depletes life when it flows. Women’s blood is the signifier of life and, as such, must flow, every month. Which is not to say that women’s blood does not also take its toll. There is a cost: loss of energy, hormonal shifts, vulnerability. For some women, the cost is much greater, and difficult decisions need to be made. But most of us are left to make peace with the fact that our bodies function like a tidal gate, containing and releasing blood with the phases of the moon.

So then, what do we make of the hypermasculinity portrayed in film, television and narrated daily, weekly–sometimes in sermons–that communicates a semiotics of ‘endurance’ through pain, sweat, and blood? Is this truly feeling alive, as many would call it? Is blood taken by force always more significant, more heroic, than that which flows through women regularly? In light of normalized sexual assault and “domestic” abuse, whose blood, sweat, and tears will we continue to valorize?

At the center of the Christian salvation history is the blood of Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew; conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, buried, and resurrected. His blood flowed under a crown of thorns, and from a spear that pierced his side. We remember his blood with every Eucharist, and every Good Friday. Like men’s blood, it was drawn out by force. Like women’s blood, it is the ultimate source of new life and new birth. How we render the passion of Jesus Christ informs our narratives on suffering, abuse, and the non/necessity of shedding blood.

The blood of Jesus is a witness to the cost of corrupt power and fear of those who desire to maintain such power. Suffering is neither necessary nor good when inflicted by another person(s) who wield power through violence. Women, especially, are not offering themselves up to be crucified with Christ simply by existing. The suffering of Jesus was at the hands of political and religious collusion. God turned death on its head, and used his particular suffering for redemption, healing, salvation. To remember his blood is to remember that humanity spills blood to deplete life, while God pours out new life with every menses. And let us not forget, the blood of Mary flows there, too, as she witnesses the death of her firstborn child.

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O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When I think of ‘tearing open the heavens’ I imagine thick cloud cover roiling across the sky, hemming in creation, as lightning splits the frame. And then, rain. Rain and thunder that can move the Cascade ridges, slowly dulling their craggy facades; surely, that is a sign of God.

Clouds are amazing. They form soft veils or impenetrable walls, intimately hover over lakes in the morning, or scurry past the earth in another stratosphere unconcerned at what lies below. Clouds are another form of water. In the Puget Sound Watershed Basin, we are hemmed in by water on all sides. Even the summers, with fire seasons lapping at more days and weeks in the calendar, we are still surrounded by water of two kinds, fresh and salt. It is salt water that must become cloud and travel over the land before it falls back to the earth, desalinated, fresh. Yet it is also salt water that is closer to humans in chemical composition. Must we, too, become cloud? 

For some, clouds trigger claustrophobia–or, perhaps we should say, they loom with the threat of drowning. The hills, mountains and clouds can make a person feel contained, constricted, submerged. And yet, the water with its morphological powers can also feel like swaddling. There is such a fine line between feeling at one with, and feeling smothered.

. . .

Advent has begun, and we prepare our hearts for the coming birth of a servant, who is God. More than a servant, the Christ child is our very Font of Life. Jesus, as he tells the Samaritan woman, is Living Water. Jesus is the first human body to traverse the boundary of infinity and finitude. During his time on the earth, he enters water under the hand of John, and claims his flesh as nourishing bread. As followers, we are called to enter into, to partake of Christ in order to live–to drown ourselves in Christ and consume him. He is our sacrament.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the Hope candle. The times feel oddly apocalyptic, as they have before and will continue to feel until God comes. Hope can seem vain, or just out of reach. Like water, it seems to spill between our fingers when we grasp it. Last night, I lit the hope candle aware of how parched I feel. Is life on this earth still possible as earthquakes, fires and floods consume, and those in power deny life-giving channels to the margins? Yet, now is the time to enter Christ again, to partake in the life of the Triune God by remembering the first time Jesus came into this world, born of Mary, carried within her, sustained by water.

 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day from the Common Lectionary reading, Episcopal Church.)

Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

 

Google will tell you that the Anthropocene is “relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” I suppose that’s as good a starting point as any to do a little deconstruction work. But what does the concept really communicate? What do we see, who comes to mind, when we think of the Anthropocene?

I should begin by saying this delineation of a new/current geological age is still highly contested. Not everyone in the scientific community is convinced, yet much of the bickering has to do more with ‘when’ it begins than whether to use the term at all. Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer (2000) were among the first to use the term, and suggested an origin point of the late 18th century–right around the time Benjamin Franklin and friends declared independence from England, and Adam Smith (Scottish) wrote the Wealth of Nations. William Ruddiman (2003) counters their origin point by going back as much as 8000 years to locate the beginnings of human meddling in large scale agriculture and subsequent deforestation. Humans have been changing the environment for a very long time–building cities into hillsides, clearing land for grazing and crops, setting fire to whole villages and towns in times of war. Are we really only now realizing that what we do effects change in our surroundings? Yes, and no. coal train

To make a grand sweep and include agricultural development over entire continents dating back thousands of years helps us to recognize that humanity makes an impact wherever it goes. However, it generalizes the extent of the impact and–more importantly–the agents of environmental impact in such a way that blunts the political edge to the notion of the Anthropocene. Not every person, nor every society makes the same kind of impact on their environs. The Anthropocene, for better or worse, is a term embedded and entangled with capitalism, globalization, exploitation, and the commodification of Nature. It is also about the only concept big enough to capture our imaginations, and provide a semiotic web thick enough to divert winds of Progress.

We humans were not around when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but we can go to a natural history museum to see and hear life-sized renderings of tyrannosaurus rex locked in battle with the feisty stegosaurus, and the placid herbivore brontosaurus chewing its cud. These creatures live in our imaginations through toys, television and children’s room decor. From bones to films, the Jurassic age is alive and well. Past is present through a heightened awareness of its extinction.

Now we are in a new age of human technology where, in the U.S. especially, the realm of childhood is increasingly distant from the world our grandparents inhabited. With rapid change, we are constantly negotiating losses and gains. Additional screen time can take away from encountering what is outside our front door, and we are alienated from the ground beneath our feet. Aware of this, many folks have returned to the garden to get their hands dirty, practice a new form of meditation, and connect offline. Here in the Pacific Northwest, going into the woods is a kind of religious practice, accompanied by the daily rituals of recycling and composting. We are aware of our footprints, but still feel powerless in the face of rising tides and swirling islands of plastic, or indignant when we hear of others who do not share the same values.

Human activity has changed, is changing, and will continue to change the most basic elements of our world. We could stop every piece of machinery today and it would still take decades for the air to clear. Hell, the people of Flint, Michigan, still don’t have clean water. So, it makes sense to speak of a geological era meteorically impacted by humans. However, when we say that humans are ruining the earth, we must also keep in mind the following:

Which humans? Individuals? Societies? What parts of the earth? Who lives in those parts? Are those the people ruining their own environment? Who benefits, and for how long? What kind of destruction is taking place? Can recovery happen? What might it look like? How long will it take?

To speak of the Anthropocene is to speak of sin and salvation. We all have sinned against the rest of creation, though not all in the same ways, nor to the same extent. For some, salvation comes in the form of ecologically beneficial technologies. However, if those who develop technology for the sake of profit, then withhold it from the communities who may benefit from it the most, sin is perpetuated. True salvation can only begin through a full conversion to the earth, repenting of the ways in which we are complicit in the earth’s destruction, and lamenting in solidarity with those who bear the burden of capitalist consumption. Let us use our imaginations to take us there and beyond.