Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Body of Christ

This semester, I'm taking a seminar on the sacramental theology of the Western Church. The bulk of the course has been spent on the theology of the Eucharist, particularly as it developed in the Medieval period in the thought of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. This class has been quite an eye-opener for a Baptist with very limited understanding of Catholic sacramental theology. Indeed, there is a major difference between what we think we know about it and what it really is. (I hope to write a series of posts soon about the many common evangelical misunderstandings of Catholic theology that I have uncovered since arriving at UD.)

I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramentalism in a number of respects. But, there are also a number of ways in which their sacramental theology has appeal for me. I appreciate the emphasis upon real participation in the Triune God. An essential aspect of the sacramental system is the vision of a way by which Christians individually and collectively participate in the Godhead. In various ways, Catholics believe, the grace of God uses the sacraments to incorporate the believer into the life of the Godhead--conforming the person ever more to Christ's character and bringing them into harmony with the work of God's Spirit. This participation is facilitated through physical, practical means: words, actions, and things--water, wine, bread, oil, touch, prayer.

This makes sense in some way because God has made humans to be bodily creatures. We experience the world in a bodily, sensual way. And, God revealed himself to humans in a physical way: the man Jesus of Nazareth. Since it is not against the nature of our God to reveal himself through the earthly and physical in Jesus Christ, why wouldn't it be fitting for God to continue to do so through earthly, physical means such as baptism and the Eucharist? Indeed, it has been the pattern of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob throughout history to use the earthly to communicate and mediate the supernatural: the pillar of cloud and fire, the Ark of the Covenant, the Paschal lamb of Passover.

All this is not to say that I'm "sold." As I said, I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramental theology in a number of respects (that I won't go into here). Still, I have a new found appreciation for the very natural, human desire to encounter God in a real, tangible way. Faith remains key here. I'm not suggesting Christians should walk by sight, not by faith. But, it is understandable that bodily creatures would desire a bodily means by which to worship and commune with their Creator. I can sense this desire within myself and it pushes me toward a reconsideration of the Church's sacraments in a way that takes this into consideration.

With all this in mind, I share the following reflection with you. I'm not a poet, but it seemed best to write this particular train of thought in a poetic form.

Corpus Christi
My daughter gropes for my face
in the dark
She nurses
Plump fingers
stroking cheek
Body becoming assurance
in the black

My fingers grasp the wooden pew
lips moving
with hushed recitations
I pray
Mouth taking, eating
Savoring the taste
Understanding better now
for the crucifix--
for the body of Christ

My daughter gropes for my face in the dark
I search the world for the texture of God


Bob Cleveland said...

That may or may not be a strength of the RCC, but what the SBC teaches about the Ordinance of Communion is definitely lacking.


That might account for your reaction to the seriousness of the RCC approach.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

You are exactly right. There's no doubt about it. For me, I'd say it’s a bit like someone fed on nothing but bread and water for 20 years suddenly happening upon a grove of peach trees. The color, texture, fragrance, and feel of a peach are elements deliciously decadent and attractive for someone so deprived.

Grace and peace,

Jade said...

I love the poem, of course ; ) Thank you for sharing, Emily!

Christiane said...

"I hope to write a series of posts soon about the many common evangelical misunderstandings of Catholic theology that I have uncovered since arriving at UD.)"

Emily, I look forward to your posts, as for a long time now, I have realized that this misunderstanding exists of my own Catholic faith among those dear people of my grandmother's Southern Baptist faith that I blog with.

I blame no one for these misunderstandings, but if you can help resolve some of them, God bless you. You can only do good.

Christiane said...

Beautiful, beautiful poem:

"I search the world for the texture of God."

a 'golden' line, Emily :)

Michael said...

"My daughter gropes for my face in the dark
I search the world for the texture of God." The "Texture" of God. I ran across your blog on Luke 14 and discipleship while preparing for this Sunday's message. Then googled your site to see if you were still writing. As a former Catholic now Methodist I appreciated your message on the Sacraments. I think we spend our lives "groping" for the texture of God, do we not. I learned to appreciate my Catholic heritage at a non-denom Seminary and the richness of it. I anticipate you'll keep writing Emily cause you've got a vision for the things of the Holy. Wish you were teaching in the Church I'm presently serving.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, everyone!