15 August 2015

Mary: Profane Temple

Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter from the city of David to the house that he had built for her, for he said, "My wife shall not live in the house of King David of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy." (2. Chronicles 8:11)

And the Word became flesh. (John 1:14a)

I am darkness.
I am earth.
I am body
giving birth.
Life and death
bleed out from me.
I am chaos,

This far, no further -
no nearer to God.
For what has body
to do with spirit?
What has earth
to do with sky?
What has the profane
to do with the holy?
What has darkness
to do with light?

I am darkness.
I am earth.
Unclean, unholy,
separated by a wall
from the presence of God.
This far, no further
than the boundary line.

What has light
to do with darkness?
What has the holy
to do with the profane?
What has spirit
to do with body?
What has the Word
to do with flesh?

And yet
became flesh.

And yet
chose woman
to be your temple.

You chose darkness.
You chose earth.
You chose body.
You chose birth.
You chose this lowly maiden,
my earth-bound body;
You filled this profane vessel
with You.

From now on all
will call me blessed,
and all will be blessed
through me.


[15. August 2015]

A few things flowed into this...
  • Upon reading 2. Chron 8, I got stuck on v.11: Solomon removing his wife from the palace because that would be too near the temple, and a woman shouldn't be so near. In the time of Jesus, the temple was in fact split in different sections, and women could only go as far as the women's court (hence "separated by a wall"). This has to do with menstruation (during which a woman would be "unclean") - alluded to with the line "Life and death / bleed out from me".
  • (Unbelievably) I still remember something from a religious studies class 4+ years ago, when we were looking at Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger. Mary Douglas studied concepts of ritual purity, and the idea of "liminality" (being on the borderline, neither "out" nor "in") was quite important there. If I remember correctly, menstruation is a liminal phase, which is why it is seen as "unclean" in the Old Testament (and other cultures even today!) and possibly why women were kept at a distance from holy things.
  • In Chinese philosophy there is the dualist concept of yin 陰 and yang 陽 which you might have heard of. Yin is the feminine principle, yang the masculine. Yin is associated with the dark, cold, wet, negative, passive, female, earth, and things hidden. I decided to pick that up ("I am darkness" etc.), since it fits to the idea of the feminine belonging to an "unholy" or liminal sphere. Originally, yin and yang were meant to be complementary and equally important - still, the masculine (yang) elements are generally seen as more "positive" and valued higher. Interesting: the whole yin/yang division is not just Chinese, but occurs in Western thought too, where the spiritual was often given more worth than the physical, and where women were looked upon as less worthy to concern themselves with religious things due to their being more "physical" (Greek philosophy and medieval thinking goes in that direction).
  • I have referred a bit to "chaos" and "this far, no further"... In Ancient Near Eastern religion, the world was divided into "cosmos" and "chaos". Symbol for chaos was the sea. Some of this thinking is visible in the OT where it speaks of God setting boundaries for the sea, conquering ancient chaos monsters like Leviathan and Rahab (e.g. in Job, Psalms). I decided to sprinkle in these references too, since the feminine is sometimes also associated with uncontrollable nature and stuff like that.
Seeing how the feminine sphere had a rather vague connection to the holy and to God, what God did in the incarnation (= becoming flesh) is pretty astounding. Also considering how "flesh" and body were looked down upon in Greek thought around the time of Jesus (and long afterwards).

God became flesh. And God was born from a woman. In fact He spent 9 months in a womb. Pretty extreme stuff! And I think: what privilege! For Mary, who became God's temple, the house within which God's presence dwelt, during the time of her pregnancy. But also for all of us, because every Christian is given the immense honour of becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit. When I read Old Testament texts about the temple, I can only marvel at the privilege God has given us. Because direct access to the holy used to be pretty complicated, especially for women, what with all the rules about clean/unclean.

We women no longer have to be kept at a distance from the holy. We can go to church normally. We can partake of Communion / the Eucharist (the real presence of Jesus!) and no one asks us whether we're having our period. God pours out His Spirit upon men and women (Joel 2). Because God showed us in Mary that the female body can be a temple too.

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