Filed under: brave new world | Tags: communion, eucharist, food, margaret visser, scapegoat
This is from an interview of Margaret Visser on her book The Rituals of Dinner. In it, she makes the case for the eucharist being one of the most complex human constructs ever devised. It is a meal full of content and ritual that upends everything we know, every order and truth and thing we hold sacred.
Her truly radical claim, that only two things really unite people: joining together in killing one who has been isolated from the group, the scapegoat, and sharing a meal. Her vision is isolating and bleak and more than a little true.
The Eucharist is blinding, it’s so incredible. It’s one of the richest, the most extraordinary rituals ever devised. I’m not talking about the belief in it. Just look at it analytically. It smashes all the categories of our culture: all of them. It smashes all the oppositions by which we categorize the world. It takes everything and makes it into one. The difference between here and everywhere is gone, the difference between one and many is gone, the difference between same and different is gone, the difference between meaning and fact is gone, the difference between host and guest is gone, the difference between God and man is gone–all the huge things which are absolutely divided in the experience of the world as we are brought up are smashed.
The mystic experience is one of perceiving a thing and its opposite at the same time, and realizing that black and white are the same. The Eucharist does this in an incredibly sophisticated way. And one of the many, many, many things it does is completely destroy the categorization of food, because it is a vegetarian meal which is also cannibal. And then you have all the poetry and all the ritual. This is mediated by ritual, it has to be–mediated by incredibly complex ritual although it’s extremely simple as well–and only eating can do this.
You see, there are two ways in which human beings are brought together most completely. One is by killing them, namely the scapegoat, and one is by eating together. And the Eucharist, of course, is about both. So it’s the ultimate uniting thing. But you see how food can say things like that. Only food could do the trick, because it’s an outside thing that comes inside. It’s one thing that we all share. We all eat it; we all become one. Human beings have been going on about food and its meaning since we were squatting around fires in caves. It’s the great metaphor. Much more important than sex. Sex is really a latecomer.
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