At long last, Jesus the Imagination, Volume Six: Flesh & Spirit is in print and available. Below is my introduction to the volume which features work by Christopher Bamford, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, Jonathan Geltner, and Ramon Elani among others. You can purchase copies wherever books are sold.
INTRODUCTION: FORGETTING THE BODY
I had no idea, when I announced the theme for this volume of Jesus the Imagination, that the idea of “flesh and spirit” would so characterize the entire year for me. In April of 2021, my wife started having extraordinarily heavy periods, with fist-sized blood clots, and which would repeat every two weeks. She was growing anemic. We had heard that women having received the new COVID vaccines had been experiencing similar problems, but my wife wasn’t vaccinated. Then, in a New York Times article—that has mysteriously disappeared—we read that many other unvaccinated women were having similar experiences after being in contact with the recently vaccinated. My wife’s symptoms eased a little after a couple of months, but never went away, and eventually she saw a doctor. Then, after a series of specialists and procedures and tests, we discovered that she had cancer of the uterus. My wife proved herself very brave. She wasn’t afraid of dying. To our great relief, we discovered just before Thanksgiving that she was cancer free: we had caught it early. To God alone be the glory.
Simultaneously with this challenge, we found that a young woman close to us was pregnant by rape. Strange phenomena accompanied this revelation—once dark spirits invaded her room waking her from sleep (she was staying with us at the time) and she asked me to bless her room. I did, but later that night a spirit (or spirits) attacked my wife as she slept—and I blessed the house again. My wife went to sleep and I prayed the rosary, which Valentin Tomberg describes as an “all powerful weapon” against evil. But when I completed my prayer and fell asleep, I was attacked, feeling myself pushed down into the mattress and unable to speak or move for several moments. I had my wife anoint me and we prayed Psalm 68, and we have had no such unwelcome visits since. To avoid her violator, the young woman went into hiding and had her baby far, far from her home and family. She is extraordinarily courageous.
I know much of what I have written thus far may strike some as incredulous, or even inappropriate for the introduction to a literary journal. I am fine with that, as I have nothing to prove or explain. I have seen what I have seen. Quod scripsi, scripsi.
I raise these very personal issues here for a couple of reasons. First of all, as I have mentioned, they hold import on our theme. But most importantly because they bear witness to the words of St. Paul in Ephesians: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (6:12). My family, your family, the world—all of us have been contending with spiritual wickedness in high places: a wickedness that no longer is content to slink in the shadows, but, in its extreme arrogance, now allows itself to preen in the light of day for all to see. Among other forms of wickedness, we have seen the manifestation of what the prophecies of Fatima foretold: “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family.” I have seen what I have seen.
One scripture I have turned to again and again during this year has been Mark’s account of the healing of Jairus’s daughter. In the story, Jairus comes to Jesus because his twelve-year-old daughter is stricken with a malady, “My little daughter is near death,” he implores the Lord. “Please come and place Your hands on her, so that she will be healed and live” (5:22). En route to the little girl’s bedside, a crowd presses around Jesus and a woman who has been afflicted with an issuance of blood for twelve years wishes to approach Jesus to heal her from her infirmity. “She had borne much agony under the care of many physicians and had spent all she had, but to no avail. Instead, her condition had only grown worse.” She tried trusting the science. Perhaps out of desperation, all other avenues exhausted, she turns to Jesus:
When the woman heard about Jesus, she came up through the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she kept saying, “If only I touch His garments, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she sensed in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
At once Jesus was aware that power had gone out from Him. Turning to the crowd, He asked, “Who touched My garments?”
His disciples answered, “You can see the crowd pressing in on You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”
But He kept looking around to see who had done this. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him trembling in fear, and she told Him the whole truth.
“Daughter,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be free of your affliction.” (27-34)
Jesus then comes to the house of Jairus and, accompanied only by the girl’s parents and the apostles Peter, James, and John, enters the now dead girl’s room, where he utters the Aramaic phrase, “Talitha koum!”—“Little girl, I say to you, get up”—and the girl is restored to her parents. To prove she is not a ghost, Jesus tells them to give her something to eat.
I have often (and I mean for decades) puzzled over the curious fact that the girl in the story is twelve and that the woman’s problem (and it was definitely a woman’s problem) also was measured in twelve years (in Matthew’s version, which is far shorter than Mark’s, the girl’s age is not mentioned). In fact, I have many times asked priests or theologians what they thought the significance of the number twelve in the story is (I even dreamt such an interrogation this last week). No one could ever give me an answer. I have speculated that perhaps it has something to do with a Jupiter cycle (which lasts twelve years), but that doesn’t seem to quite fit—Jupiter, the Greater Benefic of the astrologers, gives abundance, growth, and fecundity—and the women of the story are suffering from exactly the opposite.
After much thought, I have decided the story has something to do with a woman’s power to give birth (and contrary to the opinions of the possessed, only women possess this power), which the little girl had not yet come to and which had been disfigured in the woman. Jesus restored both of them—that is, he restored their bodies, their flesh, to their proper functions: the woman to the regularity of her cycle, and the little girl to the arrival of sexual maturity: the former’s cycle had become overactive, we could say, while the latter feared its inevitable appearance. And I think it unavoidable but to conclude that Jairus’s daughter and the woman were spiritually and physically united by way of their afflictions.
We have seen much of this in our current culture: a mania regarding the most beautiful miracle of the reproductive cycle in women—so mad as to suggest that such is not even confined to women; so mad as to suggest that the terrifying prospect of puberty should be blocked or redirected even before it arrives. Such are the symptoms of a humanity in the grip of spiritual sickness: a spiritual sickness that impacts the flesh. Only a god can save us.
The English writer D.H. Lawrence spent his entire literary career wrestling with this question. He saw the attitudes of the West toward sexuality as pathological for the most part, and sought to offer an alternative in his imaginative explorations of the subject. I admit that I don’t find his conclusions very satisfying, but I admire his courage in facing the questions which confronted him. Early in his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence ventriloquizes through his characters a kind of dialectic on the spirit and the body. One, Lady Bennerley, suggests the body is the problem: “So long as you can forget your body you are happy,” she says. “And the moment you begin to be aware of your body, you are wretched. So, if civilization is any good, it has to help us forget our bodies, and then time passes happily without knowing it.” Clearly, our own civilization now suffers from precisely this desire to “forget our bodies,” though with obviously disastrous results.
Lady Bennerley is countered by brigadier general Tommy Dukes who proclaims, “Give me the resurrection of the body![…] But it’ll come in time, when we’ve shoved the cerebral stone away a bit, the money and the rest. Then we’ll get a democracy of touch, instead of a democracy of pocket.” Unfortunately, for all his rhetorical aplomb, the good general is a tremendous disappointment—all talk and no action, supportive of the sensual but asexual: a proper image of the British intelligentsia Lawrence excoriates in the novel.
But Lady Constance Chatterley, married to a (literally and figuratively) impotent Lord (he is essentially dead from the waist down), finds inspiration in the phrase “Give me the democracy of touch, the resurrection of the body!” though she doesn’t exactly know what this means at the time.
Lawrence was, like Milton and Goethe, a Christian who practiced a Christianity “for his own personal use,” in Goethe’s phrase. His desire to see the face of God united to his desire to see the Real of eros between a man and a woman, we might say, were the two most important facets of his psyche. These realities coalesce in much of his work, particularly in his poem “The Church”:
If I was a member of the Church of Rome
I should advocate reform:
the marriage of priests
the priests to wear rose-colour or magenta in the streets
to teach the Resurrection in the flesh
to start each year on Easter Sunday
to add the mystery of Joy-in-Resurrection to the Mass
to inculcate the new conception of the Risen Man.
Give me the resurrection of the body. Give it to us all.
Stella Matutina Farm
14 July 2022