Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Bodies that matter

As my head is currently full of my dissertation (due in two weeks), I thought I'd treat you to some short thoughts from someone who's better than I am at making theology accessible and exciting. Robert Farrar Capon is, I think, the best theologian I have ever read, and he isn't an academic theologian: his best work is, in fact, part theology, part recipe book. For those of you who wanted a positive theology of the body in response to Mary Midgely's critique, Farrar Capon is a man who knows why bodies matter. I can't emphasise enough just how much you ought to read him. This is from the preface to a reissue of his theological recipe book, The Supper of the Lamb - read it slowly, and savour it:
If this book has any claim to make, therefore, it is that food is precisely an epiphany of the greatness of our nature -- or, to use the most accurate theological word of all, it is a sacrament, a real presence of the gorgeous mystery of our being. People have responded to The Supper of the Lamb, I think, because after all the modern reductionism about food ('Food is only a necessity,' 'Food is nothing but nourishment'), it gave them solid reasons for glorying in the truth that they had suspected all along; namely, that food was life, and that life was good.

Admittedly, this is a hard insight to keep track of. Food these days is often identified as the enemy. Butter, salt, eggs are all out to get you. And yet at our best we know better. Butter is ... well, butter: it glorifies almost everything it touches. Salt is the sovereign perfecter of all flavors. Eggs are, pure and simple, one of the wonders of the world. And if you put them all together, you get not sudden death, but Hollandaise -- which in its own way is not one bit less a marvel than the Gothic arch, the computer chip, or a Bach fugue. Food, like all the other triumphs of human nature, is evidence of civilization -- of that priestly gift by which we lift the whole world into the exchanges of the Ultimate City which even God himself longs to see it

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