(Warning: What you are about to read will likely either A) gross you out beyond measure, or B) give you a nice dose of transcendent inspiration. Perhaps it will do both. If after reading this, you do find it’s both, you might want to ask yourself whether that’s actually a coincidence.)
I remember sitting in my English class back in high school when our teacher invited us to close our eyes and entertain a romantic fantasy. He asked us to draw a picture in our minds of the perfect man or woman–a person with whom we were in love, or had a crush on, or for whom we simply had a strong infatuation. We were to sketch in our minds every last detail: their hair, their eyes, their shape, everything about them we found beautiful or attractive. He asked us to focus on how wonderful they were and to celebrate our love or emotion for them.
Done. I imagined this girl in my mind, and felt a searing pulse of warm affection, as I assume, was intended.
Then he said, “Now imagine the object of your affection…naked. Without clothes.”
Done! The temperature in the room must have risen several degrees among the students. It couldn’t get any better than this.
Finally, he said, “Now, I want you to picture this love of your life, in your mind’s eye, naked and beautiful…”
“…on the toilet. I want you to picture them picking their nose and wiping the snot in an unseemly place. I want you to see them mining for earwax and looking at its texture. I want you to picture them urinating, listening to the pee as it tinkles, I want you to smell them passing gas in the most pungent sense, I want you to listen to them grunt, defecating in the loudest manner possible, dropping feces into the water below…”
I can’t vouch for anyone else in the room…but my perfect fantasy just turned to nightmare.
Then, pausing for effect, he concluded his experiment by saying, “Now, if you can still tell me you love them…then I believe you.”
His point was well-taken. When we consider love, beauty, what is attractive in a person, it usually begins on the surface–how they look, whether clothed or even naked. Then, as we mature, we realize that the object of our affection must go beyond the superficial to what’s inside: their intelligence, personality, their emotional maturity and spirituality. But are these the only things that lie inside a person? Should these ethereal qualities be the only reason for our love and intimacy? As my teacher helped us ponder: what about the physical-internal, both the pleasant and the not so pleasant? Can we love that too?
I was reminded of this question recently due to an unusual introduction into the world of nursing and home care. Our dog was hit by a car a few weeks ago and while we’re optimistic about her progress, she is currently for all practical purposes paralyzed from the “waist” down and therefore has no control over her urination or bowel movements. So, as the primary caregiver (I’m unemployed), I’ve had a crash course in changing bed sheets and cleaning up all sorts of bodily messes on an almost hourly basis. The most recent highlight was when she vomitted several gallons of bile all over her bedding and the living room. I’m certain the projectile must still be moving outward as we speak, perhaps even crossing state lines. It was monumental.
But in anticipation of her care, as much as I once feared her pee and poo, as much as I may have dreaded the idea of her exorcist-like vomit, my concern since has miraculously turned far more to her well-being than to my own discomfort. This is hardly a news bulletin to the billions of mothers, fathers, family caregivers, or the number of dedicated nurses in the world, but my love and care for our dog makes this intimate acquaintance with her body fluids seem negligible at best. Rather than repelling me, it bonds.
So, again I ask: is superficial appearance or even the exchange of internal thought and emotion the only medium for love and intimacy?
Why don’t you ask the man and woman falling in love, who, during an intimate kiss, exchange each other’s saliva for the first time? Ask the husband and wife who, in a sea of sweat, exchange their sexual fluid to become one flesh and perhaps produce a new life. Ask the mother who feels this new life inside, floating securely in her amniotic fluid, sustaining the child with her own liquid nutrients. Ask that same mother as she nourishes her child with breast milk. Ask the new parents on 24-hour diaper duty. Or when they wipe their child’s nose. Or, dry their tears. Or clean and dress a wound to protect the flowing blood and plasma beneath their child’s skin.
Depending our age, size, or weight, our bodies are from 55 to 78% fluid. So, if you really want to love someone, you must be intimately acquainted with their fluid makeup as much as anything else. And, this fluid, this internal part of us, is messy, it offends our senses. By the very definition of love, it forces us to reach beyond our comfort zone to truly know a person inside and out and accept them for who they are. This is the stuff we so often keep underneath that can only come to the surface in any genuine relationship. It seals our commitment and makes the connection real.
And in the theological sense, I don’t think our messy body fluids are necessarily some aberration of fallen, sinful man. Didn’t God in fact ordain before the fall that man and woman would become one flesh, joined from the beginning, we presume, through this messy exchange of body fluid? Do you imagine, had man NOT fallen, that he would have never gone to the bathroom? Developed earwax? That he would have never sweated or emitted any BO? I just see no evidence of this. Certainly, it was after the fall when humanity became ashamed of their nakedness, and likewise, it would follow, ashamed of all that flows beneath.
Our most inward parts, no matter how scary, I think, are a good thing. They are God-ordained.* They serve a purpose. Even the waste that we produce can often be good for life-producing soil. It all has a purpose. As vile and base as it can appear, there must be something to it that incites our mercy, and certainly, our transcendence.
The first transcendence, as said above, forces us outside ourselves into the world of true relationship and otherness. But, the ultimate relational transcendence akin to fluidity is the true love and intimacy we can have with our Maker.
Ultimately, while it is attached to different metaphors in Scripture, the very essence of the Spirit of God–the source of true life, love and intimacy–is also spoken of as a “fluid” entering the body and coming out to produce fruit that leads to eternal life. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me…from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”**
Love, while it may begin as fantasy, becomes true and meaningful when we dare to delve beneath the surface of the deep and see what treasures might emerge.
So, jump on in. The water’s fine.
* Psalm 139:13-14: “You formed my inward parts…I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
** See John 7:37-38.