The Body and the Blood

The Body and the Blood

14222141_1386727568005784_4542092279506134420_nWhen I was a kid, for as long as I can remember, every Friday night, we would go to my grandmother’s house for a family supper. As my mother and one of my aunts were fond of saying, “Every road leads to Mayfair,” the suburb my grandmother’s home was located.  We would go there for what I can only describe as a feast.

My grandmother, God rest her soul, would prepare a feast for us every single week, without fail. My grandfather, or “Jhudu” in Arabic, was a big man, around six feet tall and well built. Despite his size, amplified by his dictatorial character, a trait the men in my father’s line were notorious for back in the old country, Lebanon, he was dwarfed by my grandmother.  Not in physical stature, she was a short and slight woman, and would walk stooped as a consequence of her arthritis and decades of rushing to attend to my Jhudu’s every whim. But by her towering spirit and her abundant heart. He would summon her, at any given moment, a summons so deep, guttural and loud your hair would stand on end. Sixty years they were married – that’s right 60 years (!), and in that time she never said an unkind word either to him or about him.  A devout Catholic, who, once the day was done and everyone had left, would go to her room, get down on her knees and pray. What the content of her prayers were, if she ever deviated from the Lord’s Prayer and the Rosary, I cannot say. I would wager though, if she did, she prayed for her husband, her children and her grandchildren, all of whom she worshiped.

My grandparent’s home was simple and old fashioned, even by the standards of the time. They were simple people, the way I guess most people were before we lost our innocence to the digital age. One feature of their home was remarkable, the dining room. It was an odd room, long and narrow, filled by two long, wooden, rectangular, tables placed head to tail, covered with white tablecloths. These tables were bordered by about twenty-five red-seated chairs. These tables, on a Friday night, would be laden with the most sumptuous Lebanese dishes of various kinds, as well as fried chicken and chips, massive salad bowls filled with greens and loaves of Lebanese bread. The meal was always accompanied by cold water, lots of ice, Coke, Fanta, Sprite, occasionally a good whiskey and glasses, on the side board.  Around this table our extended family would gather, my father and mother, my brother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, invariably a few friends and at the head of table, the patriarch, Jhudu. If my grandfather was absent for some reason, my godfather and the eldest brother, Uncle George, would sit at the head of the table. The one person who never ever, ever, sat down was my grandmother. No matter how much the family would plead with her to sit, she would not. Seemingly demure, she had an iron will and was never swayed from her duty, a duty she held sacred, to serve her family. She lived in the kitchen, her own alchemical laboratory and would only appear at the feast carrying in some new dish or fetching something someone needed to complete their meal. That is to say that her heart was filled with a love I have not encountered since. I recall her once saying to me when I still very young, “What do you want? Whatever you want granny will get it for you. If you want the moon I will fetch it for you. If you want my heart I will take it out of my chest and give it to you.” And I believed her, more than that, I can say that is exactly what she did for me.

The Feast, sitting around a table, breaking bread and drinking wine, with family, friends, those you love, is a richly symbolic act.  The Catholic rite of the Eucharist initiated by Christ at the Last Supper has the disciples, in eating the bread and wine passed to them by Christ, eating his body and drinking his blood. And this holds for every believing Catholic who has participated in the Eucharist ever since. It is a strange idea at first, eating the body and drinking the blood of the God, or in Christian mysticism, the Sacrificial Lamb. It comes close to a kind of cannibalism at worst, or at best, seems an exceedingly primitive ritual. Yet there it is, as a Christian you are invited to eat of your God. Beyond Christian mythology this is an expression of an archetypal truth, not only of the symbolic relationship of man to his God and to his daily bread, but also of the ritual of The Feast. Every time we share food, wine and feasting with kindred spirits we participate in the ritual of the Last Supper. One of the best examples of this is the Jewish tradition of Shabbat. The food nourishes our bodies, in Arabic we say “fee saḥitkum” meaning “may this food nourish you”, and the body and blood of the God we take in nourishes our soul. This symbolisation connects that which is simple, primitive, even primal, with that which is holy, sacred and divine.

This idea is expressed quite beautifully in the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam.

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot

With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot –
And Peace is Mahmud on his Golden Throne!

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!

Khayyam a great scholar in his own right finds the most sublime expression of the mystery of life in the fruit of the vine, a book of verse, a loaf of bread and thou. This is the life of the soul. Not abstract and often barren spirit, removed from the body and the blood, but the full participation in the mystery of our primal and sensuous nature.

For the last few years I have been travelling to Cape Town to offer lectures on Applied Jungian Psychology.[1] From inception of these lectures, a tradition was introduced of gathering in the evening, after the lecture, at a local restaurant for supper. For me, and I suspect many of the students, this was the highlight of the day. A communal sharing, a celebration of life and love.[2] The Feast is where we come together with an intimate community of like-minded individuals, a family of sorts, to act out and participate in this sacred ritual. A ritual where we celebrate each other, the unseen but ever present God,[3] the gift of the food we are about to eat and the gift of this life we have been given.

This symbol of The Feast is useful as a psychological metaphor, for the way we engage with our lives. You can always tell, for example, how someone will make love by the way they eat. What their relationship and regard for the meal they are presented with is. How they hold themselves and how they surrender themselves to and in the act of feasting. This can be usefully extended to other areas of our lives. Think about the flavours in your life, the bitter, the sweet and the savoury. How sharp, rich and full are the tastes you encounter in your world. Are you eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the feast of life? Are you able to digest it, assimilate it, be nourished by it? Or does the flesh of life leave you hungry and desperate for more, or bloated and apathetic. And if this is the case is it the meal or your failure to eat and digest what life has given you and continues to give you. One gets the impression looking around that many are starving. Whilst others are bloated and in a stupor of unconscious saturation, continually gorging to remain asleep.

We should drink deeply from the well of life and feed on what life offers. And do this as an act of celebration of appreciation, without losing ourselves in the process. There is an unsubtle difference between eating and gorging, between being drunk and being inebriated, between making love and rutting.  The psyche or soul is the meeting of the spirit and the body – the point at which the animal and the god connect and the human being is born. To live the life of the soul is to both lose and find yourself, to be, simultaneously, both drunk and sober.

Where and how are you fed by life? How do you celebrate The Feast?

Speaking for myself, for most of my life the hungry wolf has been strongly constellated in my psychology. I would, wisely I think, refrain from describing the trajectory of my life as one of spectacular achievement.  My achievements, such as they are, have been modest. Nevertheless, despite this, my life has not been without growth, refinement and evolution. Yet, for me, nothing was ever enough, no summit high enough, no experience ultimately satisfying. I have always looked at life through the tunnel vision of one filled with desire, longing and an unquenchable thirst. Knowing a little psychoanalytic theory, I know I am no exception to the rule. We are all hungry. It is just the extent of this hunger that varies and the lengths we will go to to feed. However I find myself now at a crossroad; of sorts at least, life in truth is never as simple as any binary. I have over the last few years, been able to increasingly taste what I am eating and drinking. I mean really taste it, savour it and to be drunk on it. I am learning to constellate Zorba the Greek as a compliment and balance to the one sidedness of the Wolf.

It is not that much has changed in the way I live, although there have been changes. Rather it is the frame through which I am experiencing myself.  I am not exactly a doppelganger for Fred Astaire. Nor even John Travolta, although some unkind comparisons have been made about our shared increase in girth, from the heady days of Saturday Night Fever. And unlike John, who very sensibly has moved on from the big hair phase, I have not, well not entirely anyway, much to the mirth of all and sundry. What I am trying to say is whilst I was as dazzled by the glittering lights and disco ball as the next kid, I could never quite throw it down on the dance floor. Not really, not with an honest heart. I was always too inhibited, too shy and self-conscious to really let go. Of course, some decorum is not out of place and I have always felt my dancing was one of those cases where discretion was the better part of valour. That and also something more, something deeper. When placed in the midst of the Dionysian horde, crowding the dance floor, often an icy hand would grip my heart and a voice whisper in my ear, best be on your way young man before the chariot you arrived in turns back into a pumpkin.

Of late though, I have begun dancing again. Not at the disco, I cannot keep my eyes open after 10 pm, but in the car and at home with my family and with friends, who can always use a good laugh. I dance and in dancing my heart sings a song that for too long wasn’t heard. I have no style of course – unless random incoherent gyrations could be called a style, I am not only tone deaf, but hear a rhythm in the music unknown to any other mortal man. I defy the principle of mathematical precision in the rhythmical structure of music! But you know what? I have realised none of that matters, not really, not for me who is the lead character in the play of my life. For maybe the first time in my life, I am able to dance. And to once again listen to music and be moved by it.  Nietzsche’s aphorism ‘If it weren’t for music, life would be a mistake,’ rings true for me.

I sometimes find myself in my own kitchen preparing a meal for my family. Much, I imagine, as my grandmother did, although if she was the archetype I am merely the symbol.  Listening to music on the radio and dancing as I cook. My culinary skills, like my musicality, are primitive. The kitchen I am cooking in is usually a mess, the radio only half works – it is a very special kind of vintage, old and quaint without being retro and hip. I can never find the CD I want to play and have never quite been able to migrate to digital playlists. As I cook and dance in that kitchen I experience a long sought sense of joy. Once the food is ready, invariably, I need to summon my family for a rushed meal on a poorly made up table. The kids only pick at their food, everyone is slightly laconic at the offering of the meal, but despite this there is love and laughter and happiness. An interruption of the ceaseless activity of the world, an envelope of time where we come together as a family. And it is good and it reminds me why being alive is good and I am grateful for that.

Until we speak again,

Stephen.

[1] The Centre of Applied Jungian Studies focus is the application of Jungian theory outside of clinical psychotherapy, we have coined this term ‘Applied Jungian Psychology’ to name this body of work.

[2] At our last supper, after an extraordinary day, where I all but had a riot on my hands in class, such were the protests from two students at one of Jung’s more radical ideas, this protest was silently woven into the image of a photo taken that evening (above this post – photo taken by Thys de Beer).

[3] Vocatus atqua non vocatus deus aderit. (Called or not calledGod is present)

Comments (3)

  • Elize Rowan Reply

    Thank you, thank you! I have the same issues with cooking and dancing on the surface and I need to contemplate the underlying issues once again. I cook and bake up a storm every Christmas, but I need to do it for my soul every day. Thanks for reminding me through your beautiful writing.

    September 13, 2016 at 07:47
    • Profile photo of Stephen
      Stephen Reply

      Thanks for the feedback and your kind words Elize . We are kindred spirits. That said, I have little doubt your culinary and baking skills are worlds apart and ahead of mine!

      Wishing you much love, soulfulness and meaning in all your activities.

      September 15, 2016 at 08:37
  • Profile photo of Allison_Jansen_van_Vuuren
    Allison_Jansen_van_Vuuren Reply

    I recently discovered the joy of breadmaking..not the instant mix with a spoon and bake type but the slow rising and difficult to handle yeasty dough of ciabatta. I was hooked..each attempt was an effort and had a different result. I discovered arm and wrist muscles I did not know existed as I do not have an electric dough mixer. But the results were so satisfying! We have lost so much of value with our ready- made- to- buy culture. And it tastes so good with a good dollop of olive oil and a red wine…

    September 16, 2016 at 21:06

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