So I understand that I am to “pray without ceasing” and “seek God in all things.” Sure. So what do I do when I am changing a poopy diaper? Identify with St. Joseph? I’d like to think that he changed his share of Jesus’ poopy diapers and didn’t make Mary do all the work. Someone served God by changing Jesus’ dirty nappies. So don’t I serve God when I change dirty nappies as well? Sometimes the most Grace can be found when your hands are smeared with the muck of humanity.
Jesus was God, sure, but he was also fully human. It is the latter of which I find most inspiring to me. To have a mature understanding of the nature of Christ, I feel I must consider the full implications of Jesus’ humanity.
I had a priest friend who loved to go around mildly shocking people by saying, “You know the best thing about Jesus Christ? He had hairy legs!” And people would laugh. But why? Jesus did have hairy legs. And poopy diapers as a baby. And nose hair, probably. Without the benefit of Right Guard or Dr. Scholl’s sandal inserts, he probably smelled pretty bad at times too. Jesus wept, Jesus bled, Jesus peed, Jesus pooped. He was human. Thank God.
A few years back someone at work was reading an alternative publication and noted the name of one of the bands listed in the music section, “Hey, look who’s gonna play at Numbers. It’s ‘Jesus Penis’!” Guffaws all around. And then everyone turned to me, the token Christian, to catch my reaction. I think they were expecting some righteous indignation on my part. I think I disappointed them. “Well, Jesus did have a penis.”
Yep, Jesus had a penis. To down play that tells us more about ourselves than anything. To deny one iota of Jesus’ humanity, even those aspects of being human we don’t even want to acknowledge about ourselves, is to cut the very core out of the central message of Christianity we hold so dear.
I remember back in 1987 when Andres Serrano’s `Piss Christ’, a large photo of a crucifix submerged in a glass of urine, caused a scandal and got the NEA in trouble. (Not long after, in a colossal example of bad timing, the Mapplethorpe retrospective added gasoline to the flames and got everybody ready to cut the NEA altogether.)
The shock of this piece originated from the juxtaposition of what is to some the most holy of images with what is, to many of those same people, considered the most base and vile of substances. Some considered the submersion of the cricifix in urine a prima facie statement of contempt for Christ and therefore blashpemous. In fact, Serrano was brought up in a devout Catholic family and religion was very significant to him as a child. He was not deriding faith, but examining it.
Revulsion at the sight of one’s bodily products is natural and serves an evolutionary purpose. Serrano’s art forces us to confront the nature of such revulsions with pictures of blood, semen, and urine by finding beauty in their depiction. He refuses to let us separate the divine from the profane in our minds.
Indeed, when I stumbled upon Piss Christ at an exhibit at an art museum two years later, I thought it a beautiful picture. The golden light that bathed the crucifix appeared to glorify it, not degrade it. Then I read the card and realized, “Oh. So this is it.” And then I had to confront my own revulsion, my own rigehteous anger, my own shamefulness of my own humanity. I drove home contemplating urine and blood and Jesus what it means to be human and what it means to be divine and if Jesus came to show us that there didn’t need to be a difference. Maybe sin was the only thing separating our humanity from our potential divinity. Maybe Jesus showed us how to be human and divine at the same time by conquering sin. Maybe… My faith was strengthened by viewing a cross submerged in urine. Go figure.
And thirteen years later I came across this poem by Andrew Hudgins in Slate which says it more eloquently that I ever could have.
If we did not know it was cow’s blood and urine,
if we did not know that Serrano had for weeks
hoarded his urine in a plastic vat,
if we did not know the cross was gimcrack plastic,
we would assume it was too beautiful.
We would assume it was the resurrection,
glory, Christ transformed to light by light
because the blood and urine burn like a halo,
and light, as always, light makes it beautiful.
We are born between the urine and the feces,
Augustine says, and so was Christ, if there was a Christ,
skidding into this world as we do
on a tide of blood and urine. Blood, feces, urine?
what the fallen world is made of, and what we make.
He peed, ejaculated, shat, wept, bled?
bled under Pontius Pilate, and I assume
the mutilated god, the criminal,
humiliated god, voided himself
on the cross and the blood and urine smeared his legs
and he ascended bodily unto heaven,
and on the third day he rose into glory, which
is what we see here, the Piss Christ in glowing blood:
the whole irreducible point of the faith,
God thrown in human waste, submerged and shining.
We have grown used to beauty without horror.
We have grown used to useless beauty.
— Andrew Hudgins, 2000
All this from changing a diaper. God can jump out at you from the most unexpected places.