Wonder Bread by Natalie Weaver


Natalie Weaver editedIt is a difficult thing to wake up and realize you are living a life you do not recognize. This happens for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, it happens dramatically as in the case of death, job loss, personal trauma, or illness. Other times it is a slow and insidious transition from what you knew to what you have become, as you find yourself looking at your workplace and recognizing no one or wondering who these people are in your home. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a haircut or a pair of contact lenses, when suddenly you see some wrinkle or skin mark you didn’t know had been forming while you slept. I find this experience shockingly regular now, and while I am no longer surprised that it happens, I am consistently surprised at what I discover.

For example, my son is now an altar server in the Roman Catholic Church. This has occurred concurrently with my very unexpected involvement in an annulment case, which has revealed an outrageous lack of pastoral sensitivity on the part of the Church. Witnessing the hurt this process causes, I could run from the Church. But then there is my son in the choir and serving at Mass, trying to understand this world that I both introduce him to and also roundly critique. I was chatting with a colleague at lunch over such matters and noticed her quieting after a time, eyes cast off into the distance. After a long pause, she murmured, “How did I get here again?”

As I review my own trajectory, I find myself more and more inclined to critique. The things I trusted or valued as foundational slip in meaning, even as I discover a newfound appreciation of chaos, disruption, and recreation. I realize how profoundly formed I have been in my own Christian narrative about personal permanence, eternal life, and uniquely human creaturely existence.

As a graduate student, I was fascinated by the idea of the great matrix of being as described in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk, but I was disturbed by the seeming lack of personal permanence (as I then read her work) in that model. I was scared about what happened to the individual if it did not persist forever, which seemed to me to be the crux of Christian hope. This hope was reiterated for me this past Sunday during Mass, where my son sat rather uncomfortably next to the presiding bishop. The content was “body” heavy, focusing on death and resurrection, and the emphasis of the homily was on the hope for immortal life that is the great reward for eating the bread and drinking the cup. It made sense contextually as Memorial Day was imminent, but I could not help but remember the perennial feminist questions and reminders about space, place, and the natural and even welcome limitations of creaturely life.

I found myself increasingly disoriented by what I was listening to – one of those moments when I did not recognize myself – when we began to sing Pangue Lingua Glorisi, whose first and second stanzas poignantly invoke the image of the divine seeding of a stainless and untouched womb. I sat there squirming (aware especially that 5th grade has just finished sex education), thinking to myself, “What stainless womb?” What seed alone has accomplished this? Is this the same Church that sends annulment questionnaires to unsuspecting (non-petitioner) persons, brazenly assigning case numbers to their lives and soliciting by the such-and-such of the month- without so much as a handshake- details about one’s body and sexual behavior more intimate than one would share with one’s gynecologist? And, why, by the way, is immortality the main reason for the faith? What does that even mean? Also, what’s with the hat? And, why is my son, who has recently given me his best effort at an explanation of the absence of female priests, sitting there?

As I looked at the Latin text in translation, I noticed two words running next to each other… pane and miro … and I had this strange image of Wonder Bread … White, bleached, processed or in WonderBread’s own words, “soft, white, and wholesome as childhood itself.” (Whose childhood?) How did I get here again? I gathered up the kids after Mass and retreated to a Dairy Queen/Orange Julius hybrid down the street, having developed a massive hankering for a hotdog on a bun.

Later that night, I tried to process my own Wonder Bread. This was the best I could do:

He said, “What’s the most important line?
in all of Scripture, all of time?”
Before anyone could reply…
This bread and blood and body mine,
broken
, shed, for you I die.
“And this, it gives eternal life.
See, we’re special, you and I.
We can live forever
up there in the sky.
That’s why you should dine on
Wonder Bread and Wine”


But, I’m here stammering, with a baby on my breast
and skirt bound up under my thigh,
a foot in my rib,
and a stick in my eye,
blood on my skirt and milk on my shirt,
a weight on arm at the back of the aisle,
“But I, but I, but I

I thought it was love.”

 

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

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Categories: Catholic Church, Christianity, Feminism and Religion, Poetry, Women in the Church

Tags: , , ,

8 replies

  1. I love this post, love your poem. You are a wonderful guide and companion in this how-did-I-get-here place. I remember in one of those times long ago, I was comforted and challenged by theologian Alan Jones (son-in-law of novelist Madeleine L’Engle) saying something like this: “If you have to choose between Christ and your experience of the truth, choose you experience and trust that Christ will be revealed to you in a new way.” I did, and he sure was. So was she! Thank you for honesty and beauty.

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  2. Thank you for your essay. I was raised Catholic, and it definitely formed my world view. However, after practicing Buddhism for several years, so much traditional Christian theology just seems a way to avoid facing one’s mortality, a way to avoid dealing with that terror of the death of the self. We miss so much of life by cowering from that fear instead of letting it in and letting it transform us. Blessings to you and your son on your journeys.

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  3. Diamond Sutra: “How should one walk the Path of wisdom? Begin by taking a vow to help others.”

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  4. I love your candor about experiences that prove you are unfolding like an orchid. It kept reminding me of Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward.” God speed on your journey.

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  5. I’m always grateful to people who question, it lets me feel “not so alone”. Thank you Natalie.
    I question much of what I’ve learned through the years. When I asked my mother “why” (inquiring, not “smart alecky”) she would say “because I said so, that’s why”. In a monastery when I asked “why” I was told because it is the tradition. Now when I ask “why”, that voice deep within me says: “because you are alive and growing, my girl”. And that’s the best voice of all.

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  6. Beautiful poem.
    I feel like looking for a YouTube video of “Once in a Lifetime”.

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  7. You’ve really pulled the paradoxical threads together so well. Thank you for this thoughtful essay and poignant poem – I think I will read them again. And I hope that your son will appreciate these gifts later,when he is of a certain age and maturity.

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