Mouths

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In the Bible God's body is not so much seen as heard, for God speaks, and speaking is the voicing of a body: the exhalation of semantics. God's body is everywhere because God is always speaking, from the first to the last page. God speaks in the speaking of others - "The Lord your God says. . . ." But God must first speak (to) them, draw close and breathe upon them, before they can speak after him. We may of course imagine God speaking with a disembodied voice, as when a speaker is out of sight, in another room, another space. But by its nature, the disembodied voice bespeaks a bodily origin, even if it is now only the body of the text, which breathes when it is read, given voice in the singing of the cantor in the synagogue, the reader in the church.

God, being mouthless, must speak through the mouths of others. But in the Christian Bible, God gains a mouth in the person of Jesus, who speaks not just in God's stead, but as God. He is God speaking. But no sooner spoken, than he too, like all speaking, passes away, like breath on the wind. But in finding Christ the Omphalos of the world, Christianity finds the world spoken into being by Christ (John 1.3), so that the Logos - God's utterance - speaks the world, and is its breathing, and all mouths can be - because in some sense they already are - the mouth of God.

But mouths, like the body itself, are manifold; multiple organs. Mouths are not just for speaking, but also for eating; as well as for blowing and sucking, and, indeed, kissing. And these uses are not absent from the Bible and its reading. Indeed, the Bible itself is like a mouth, for it speaks the Word of God and is to be spoken; and it is to be eaten, like food; and kissed like lips. Both Jews and Christians kiss their Scriptures, in church and synagogue and in private devotion; an intimate sign of their love for God's word.

There are many kisses in the Bible - from those of David and Jonathan, who "kissed each other, and wept with each other" (1 Samuel 20.41) to Judas, who betrays his "friend" with a kiss (Matthew 26.49-50); from Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth, who kissed and "wept aloud" together (Ruth 1.9), to the "holy kiss" with which the early Christians were enjoined to greet one another (Romans 16.16; 1 Corinthians 16.20; 2 Corinthians 13.12; 1 Thessalonians 5.26; 1 Peter 5.14) - but perhaps the most significant kiss, because the most potent for later readers, is the kiss importuned at the beginning of the Song of Songs: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (1.2)! More than any other verse in the Song of Songs, more than any other biblical kiss, this entreated intimacy would become an enduring symbol for the soul's union with God in the Christian mystical tradition, which is to say, the theological tradition, at least until the fourteenth century, when theology began to be torn from spirituality. This tradition, being infatuated with the incarnation, with the conjunction of divine and human in Christ, was deeply paradoxical, using the body and its amours to explore the soul's embrace in the arms of a bodiless God.

For Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), in his Sermons on the Song of Songs, the entreated kiss evokes multiple intimacies: between the bride and her bridegroom, the (monkish) soul and Christ, the church and her Savior, and between Christ and the Father. This kiss is first the kiss of incarnation, when the Word's mouth was pressed to the mouth of Jesus. "A fertile kiss therefore, a marvel of stupendous self-abasement that is not a mere pressing of mouth upon mouth; it is the uniting of God with man" (2.3; Bernard 1971: 10). And having kissed Jesus on the lips, the Word in Jesus kisses the ascending soul, who, however, must start her ascent with first kissing Christ's feet. "Prostrate yourself on the ground, take hold of his feet, soothe them with kisses, sprinkle them with your tears and so wash not them but yourself. Thus you will become one of the 'flock of shorn ewes as they come up from the washing' [Song of Songs 4.2]" (3.2; Bernard 1971: 17). Then, when you have received forgiveness for your sins, you may aspire to kiss the hands of Christ - as he raises you up -and then, at last, to receive the kiss of his mouth (3.5-6; Bernard 1971: 19-20). For Bernard, the soul ascends to Christ by moving up his body, covering it with kisses; a ladder of arousal that rises to a returned kiss on the mouth, "at the summit of love's intimacy" (4.1; Bernard 1971: 21). It is because the bride asks for a kiss on the mouth, rather than just a kiss, that Bernard inserts the other kisses (of feet and hands) before the first kiss of the Song. And it is because the bride asks to receive the kisses of his mouth, rather than to be kissed on her mouth or by his mouth, that Bernard is led to find the kiss at the heart of God. Bernard distinguishes between mouth and kiss because the lips that kiss and are kissed become for him the lips of the Father and the Son, with the Spirit the kiss itself that flows between the lips of the divine lovers. The soul participates in the erotic life of the Trinity - between the divine lips - when she receives the kiss which is the Spirit, and which Christ gave to the church when he breathed upon the disciples (John 20.22). "That favour, given to the newly-chosen Church, was indeed a kiss."

Hence the bride is satisfied to receive the kiss of the bridegroom, though she be not kissed with his mouth. For her it is no mean or contemptible thing to be kissed by the kiss, because it is nothing less than the gift of the Holy Spirit. If, as is properly understood, the Father is he who kisses, the Son he who is kissed, then it cannot be wrong to see in the kiss the Holy Spirit, for he is the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their unshakeable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity (8.2; Bernard 1971: 46)

Augustine, in his book on The Trinity, famously likened the divine triunity to the relationship of lovers. Carnal love is the "coupling or trying to couple" of two things, namely the "lover and what is being loved." And if we raise this image to a spiritual plane, to love of the spirit in the friend, rather than of the friend's body, we will arrive at a more fitting triad for modeling the divine relationships: "the lover, what is being loved, and love" (8.5.14; Augustine 1991b: 255). In a sense, Bernard returns this image to the carnal, even as he finds in it the soul's perfecting: as she kisses the lovers' kiss that moistens their pressed lips. It is perhaps only in the twentieth century that we will find a revered theologian offering a theology as sexualized as Bernard's.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88), who died shortly before he was to become a Roman Cardinal, was steeped in the Christian tradition of "sacred eroticism" (Rambuss 1998), and, like Augustine and Bernard before him, found the triune God to be the "lover, responding beloved, and union of the fruit of both" (Balthasar 1990b: 32). The Spirit as fruit of the union between Father and Son is an obviously sexual metaphor. Picking up on the Song of Song's "well of living water" (4.15), in which Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330-c. 395) had seen the bridegroom's mouth, gushing with the words of eternal life (quoted in Balthasar 1995a: 157-8), Balthasar does not hesitate to imagine the divine life as an ejaculatory flow; "a flowing wellspring with no holding-trough beneath it, an act of procreation with no seminal vesicle, with no organism at all to perform the act." It is just a "pure act of self-pouring-forth" (Balthasar 1990b: 30). The same biblical image informs Balthasar's (masturbatory) vision of the bridegroom's return to life on the first Easter morning; but now the fountain's mouth is a wound, from which the seminal flow gushes forth.

Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop. Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. . . . But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It's still much too early to speak of a wellspring. It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure-nothingness, it leaps out of itself. . . . The spring leaps up even more plenteously To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts from this wound. . . . Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over abundantly, over-flowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire (Balthasar 1979: 151-3; see further Crammer 2004 and Loughlin 2004a: 146-61).3

The mouth is not only for kissing, it is also for eating, and as such is associated with bodies in the Bible and with the Bible as food. "My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night" (Psalm 63.5-7). In the Book of Revelation (10.8-10), John is given the word of God to eat, on a little scroll. "So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter" (10.10). It is a word of judgment, just like the scroll-food given to Ezekiel for his eating and prophesying, a word of "lamentation and mourning and woe," but as sweet as honey in his mouth (Ezekiel 2.8-3.3). As both the Word of God, Bible and Christ are one, scroll-flesh and scroll-food, since Christ is the word-body given for eating.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22.19-20)

In one fourteenth-century illustration of the meal that the angel gives John to eat, the Eucharistic aspect of the scroll-book is suggested by the postures of the messenger and the visionary, who have become celebrant and communicant. The angel supports John's arm as he raises the book to his mouth, as if it were a chalice (see Loughlin 1999a: frontispiece). It is above all in the Christian Eucharist - performed, interpreted and contested throughout the centuries and across the world - that we see the Bible's most audacious body realized in the bread-become-flesh and community-become-Christ; in Christ become food and embrace.

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