dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, and in the slaughterhouse—amidststrangles cries, congealing blood, and spitting fat in the pan. Table manners depend uponsomething’s having been grabbed by the throat. A knowledge ignorant of these dark andmurderous “gestures charged with soul” is sterile rather than elegant, science rather thanwisdom, artifice rather than art. It is love without passion, the Church without a cross, a housewith dining room but no kitchen, a feast of frozen dinners, a heartless life. The pious (religiousand secular) would have us dine on abstractions but we are, in fact, carnivores—a bloody bunch.Sacrifice may have many facets, but it always has a victim.The second force that has traditionally balanced and checked the spread of a hypercivilized eucharistic knowledge of Christ has been baptismal. Here Christ is known not as he isin the dining room as guest, host, and food. Baptism’s knowledge of Christ is that of thebathhouse. It is not a mannered knowledge, for manners, etiquette, and artifice fall away as onetakes off one’s clothes. It is a knowledge of appalling candor, robust and intimate. It is lessmental than bodily, as when lovers are said to “know” each other. It is the inspired knowledge of the Song of Songs rather than that of the Epistle to the Romans, for God speaks not only in logicbut also in smell and in the feel of oil and warm water on the skin. God says much in Romansabout his union with humankind, but he says even more about the same mystery in the soft pornof the Song of Songs. There can be little doubt that more people have been willing to die for alover than for a doctrine of regeneration.This sort of knowledge is, of course, not awfully civil. It is rarely brittle and neverrendered obsolete when cultures change. It abides. Profligates and great mystics share it:converts and lover quickly learn it quickly. Only the conventionally pious avoid it, rather for thesame reasons, one suspects, that bourgeois society avoids having naked people to tea. Amannered situation cannot survive too much knowledge. Thus the noble aunt in Oscar Wilde’s
The Importance of Being Earnest
, on being informed of her two grown nephews’ approachingbaptism, huffs that such a thing must be regarded as grotesque and irreligious.That a bathhouse Christ leaves those grown accustomed only to a dining-room Christuncomfortable is precisely what it should do. For the Great Civilizer was often uncivil, the MostNice distinctly un-nice, the Cornerstone of all subsequent conventions quite unconventional, thePeacemaker sometime unpeaceful. He was the Paradox Unequaled. Nothing less could haverecreated the world.To live in
knowledge, it is not enough to be a little mad. One has to be among theliving dead—dead to all that is not, alive to all that is. For the sin we call original separates usnot only from God but from all that is—his creation. It is an option that amounts to choosingourselves instead of all else and then attempting to recreate all else in our own image. Our sorrystate is the result of everything’s intractable refusal to accept our tacky little providence ascounterfeit for the Real Thing. Feeling rejected and then frustrated, we savage both ourselvesand everything that crosses our path, becoming alien in our own house. Death is the only exit.Which is why, when God came among us, even he had to go this way. Thus our Christiandinners are wakes, and our bathhouses are tombs—not for Christ but for ourselves. He sits at ourtable fragrant with the ointment of his own blood, and we dine not only with him but on him.