The Yuck Factor

Crucifixion from the Stations of the Cross at ...
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At the moment, my children are displaying tremendous generosity of spirit: They are sharing everything this week—including the snotty noses.

Children are adorable, but they come with some pretty nasty side jobs. The little ones have spent the last week or so challenging my commitment to cloth diapering and gushing from the facial openings. I have never experienced anything quite as disgusting as the faces I have had to clean gently each morning and afternoon upon waking, while they howl, scream, thrash and otherwise protest.

Saturday afternoon, I went to Confession. As I stood waiting at the back of church, enjoying the last weekend of Christmas decorations, the sight of the crucifix caught me. It’s so clean.

Sometimes I feel a squirm of guilt when I hear that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) because frankly, I don’t connect all that well to Jesus. I understand and believe on an intellectual level, but that visceral connection is simply not something I experience. Of the three Persons of the Trinity, it is the Holy Spirit who means the most to me: the source of any peace I enjoy; the power of God who rushed upon me and allowed me to conceive; the quiet presence who whispers music and words in my ears. By contrast, the Jesus of the Gospels seems “written” and stilted and unreal—the miracles worn out by sheer repetition.

But as I looked at the crucifix on Saturday, it hit me: the Crucifixion was not the surgically-sterile work of art that hangs in our churches and homes and museums. There would have been blood and mucus and sweat, body odor, perhaps even urine and excrement. It was ugly and smelly, and oh so human. Human in a way that the aloof, almost smug Jesus of the Gospels never seems.

I think this is why Lent is my favorite season of the year: it’s the one time when the humanness of Jesus comes to me, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so glad to be Catholic, with devotions like Stations of the Cross and traditions like penitence and fasting to shake us out of that removed, sterile, clean and otherwise non-threatening practice of faith.