catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 18 :: 2010.10.08 — 2010.10.21


A divine measure

There is an ancient heresy in which the body is viewed as wholly carnal, a burden our soul must endure until we can struggle out of our fleshly shell and pass into pure spirit.  Gnosticism maintained that the transcendent self is trapped within matter and that the body is a shallow weight, pressing down on our spirit with an oppressive hand.  Gnostics upheld a sharp dualism: knowledge is the ultimate good, the material world is the ultimate evil. 

But veins of Gnostic thought have reached our generation, as we try in our own ways to shed our bodies.  We loyally uphold their creed today: feeling trapped in our bodies, held hostage within our bones. 

How, then, are we to digest the Incarnation? How are we enabled to make peace with our bodies because the Spirit became Flesh? What are we to do with His wounds, His cup, His bread?

Perhaps the Incarnation teaches us to identify with the brokenness of Jesus’ body, in the way that our own bodies feel broken, damaged and defeated.  And as we identify with His bodily suffering, perhaps we can also accept His sacrifice.  The sacrament of communion provides us with a physicality to our faith.  As Marjory Zoet Bankson expresses in her book, This is My Body, “The Last Supper…This is my body, broken for you…is a way to express the union of my body and spirit in tangible form, to find the language and form for the mystery of connectedness.”

Jesus speaks in body language; He gives us His bread.  He broke the Gnostic heresy with a resurrected, fleshly fist, and His life became known to us as what we now call sacramental: a visual, tangible, flesh-and-blood form of grace.  The Incarnation gives us the hope “that His life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:11).

The following is a poem in two parts, in which the question of measurements, both physical and spiritual, is considered.

I have not weighed
myself in months.

if people must be measured,
can we not do it in colors?
or convictions? or blushings?

numbers are for rented doorframes,
panicked metronomes, and epitaphs.

they are for crowded calendar boxes,
ransoms too much, seconds too late,
and black tallies on the wrists of Jews.

numbers are for least and loss.

but let us be counted
by a more generous scale.

How do you measure a vision?
with numbers on a splinter?
the big dipper?
a cup to the tilted ear?

Do you bracket it in the quotes of martyrs?
or cage it in hand, like the fireflies
of children’s play?
Or funnel it neatly into years?

Or could it be—
a scale of its proud own?

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