Blog Template Theology of the Body: Geography

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Cashie River: Windsor, NC

(updated 5/18/09)

A work assignment has given me the opportunity to explore of a new section of North Carolina with its local residents. As I have had the privilege of traveling the back roads of Chowan and Bertie counties, I've been struck by the degree to which the land becomes a part of its people. In traveling its roads, walking its fields, bathing in its streams, and taking in its vistas, we form a connection with those who grew, worked, and loved on that land before us. It should be no surprise, really. Genesis tells us that the Lord chose to make us out of the dirt.

I enjoy and can get lost in cartography. It both piques my curiosity for exploration, but also fills gaps and helps synthesize my appreciation of the place. The knowledge of the land also gives an incite to its people and a door to enter more closely into their lives. When meeting someone new, I can see them open up when a question about where they live is followed with, "Oh, you mean over that creek, by that little store, or past that big farm."

I recently took a vacation up the eastern seaboard and into south central Pennsylvania. Along the way I was able to take a detour through Delaware into a southeastern Pennsylvania hamlet where my brother and his wife lived after they were first married. When I initially called my brother, he sounded like he was in a hurry until I told him where I was. Then the conversation included phrases like,

"Yeah, yeah, take the left after that bridge but before that big barn."

"There's a great restaurant in this neat town, yeah, Centerville."

And from me, "I may lose cell service under on this little covered bridge."

"Yep, the Brandywine Creek."

"I can see why you enjoyed it so much here, but boy is it cold!"

Another call caught my sister in law chasing their kids. Her rushed tone slowed and she suddenly had a little more time for words like, "Ah! Our old stomping grounds."

"Yes, we loved the Gardens."

"I wish you could be there in the fall."

They spoke many times about Chadds Ford, but I understood them better after I walked in their footsteps. After an encounter with the land, I felt I had encountered them. I felt a bit more bound to my brother and his wife.

Perhaps for similar reasons Christ gave the church sacraments, that we might find Him not only in word, text, or spirit, but through a sensory encounter. This may be why pilgrimage offers a profound avenue of grace. In smelling the dirt and tasting the air where are ancestors of faith toiled, we better understand their labor and find new strength to share in those struggles. In seeing the stones upon which they bled and hearing the silence where they found ecstasy, we witness the peace they enjoyed through their surrender to our Lord's love. In tasting the very dust from which they came and we shall return, we can find strength to join them in that sacrifice.

It seems that nowhere is the connection more firm than in the land's waterways. By tracing a stream's winding path down a map, then traveling it or crossing it at different points, I find a sense of cohesion and understanding of the land it dissects. Great cities are tied to the rivers and springs that nourish their peoples. Rivers’ flow to the sea has been used countless times as a metaphors for life. Throughout my life, I have seen changes in people's eyes when they stand before the body of water where they learned to fish, swim, or sail. A part of Peter must still live today on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. He first encountered our Lord on its shores. He feared for his life when tossed by its wind whipped whitecaps. In a moment of ecstasy, he walked on that very water, when Christ simply said, "Come." In a burst of passion, he dove headfirst into that lake at the site of the risen Lord.

It should come as no surprise that water makes such an imprint on our souls. Quite simply, it is the primary building block of our bodies, and its consumption in necessary for our sustenance.We are reminded by Aquinas that are bodies and souls are intertwined, and though they are in many ways independent, they are in a sense married, bound together until death do them part. Something so fundamental to the body should leave such a mark on the soul.

It is no wonder that we are reborn from sin through a baptism of water and the spirit. Scripture proclaims the procession of Spirit as a spring poured out upon the desert. Christ offered the woman at the well living water. The real drink of life would come from the water and cells flowing in His veins. He foreshadowed His matrimonial gift of His blood when he turned simple water into fine wine at Cana. He consummated the union with His church by letting His blood on the cross. Through our ingestion of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the bride groom completes the circle of living water as the gift of Himself. We are told in the Gospel, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. In so doing the material of His glorified body is absorbed into our very muscles and bones. In so doing, the matrimonial communion in completed. We are re-born in water at baptism. From water Christ made the wine with which He blessed marriage. The water He drank formed the blood He spilled. He gives His blood as wine to His bride that though its consumption, it may flow through us in communion with Him. His blood in our veins sustains us as living water as we are joined to His body and His sacrifice.