Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Andrew Hudgins (Advent #2)

This past Thursday Yale Divinity School hosted poet Andrew Hudgins as part of its ongoing Literature and Spirituality series. (Past guests have included Barbara Brown Taylor and Franz Wright, among others.) It reminded me how much I enjoy Hudgins' work, from which I have shared at least one poem before in this space.

Per request, Hudgins concluded his reading with the poem below, "Piss Christ: Andres Serrano, 1987," published first in 2000 in Slate Magazine. I had read it before, but to hear it again was deeply powerful in a new way, not least due to our being in the YDS chapel. The poem also reminded me of an anecdote I have shared often with others. When I first saw and learned about Serrano's "Piss Christ," I assumed without a second thought that he was a Christian, and the work of art was a deeply faithful reflection on the mystery of the incarnation. People had to clue me in after the fact that the work was considered "outrageous" and "blasphemous" by the general Christian community upon its arrival, and caused all sorts of public outcry.

Fortunately, even as my naivete about popular sentiment can know no bounds, I find solace in the fact that Hudgins gets it, too. As we prepare for the unaccountable miracle of Bethlehem during the season of Advent -- as we wait for none but God to act -- let us be mindful of what Serrano and Hudgins will not let us forget: "if there was a Christ," then Christ, too, like us, was "born between the urine and the feces." If we affirm anything less of the incarnate one, we might as well be silent.

- - - - - - -

Piss Christ
Andres Serrano, 1987

By Andrew Hudgins

If we did not know it was cow's blood and urine,
if we did not know that Serrano had for weeks
hoarded his urine in a plastic vat,
if we did not know the cross was gimcrack plastic,
we would assume it was too beautiful.
We would assume it was the resurrection,
glory, Christ transformed to light by light
because the blood and urine burn like a halo,
and light, as always, light makes it beautiful.

We are born between the urine and the feces,
Augustine says, and so was Christ, if there was a Christ,
skidding into this world as we do
on a tide of blood and urine. Blood, feces, urine—
what the fallen world is made of, and what we make.
He peed, ejaculated, shat, wept, bled—
bled under Pontius Pilate, and I assume
the mutilated god, the criminal,
humiliated god, voided himself
on the cross and the blood and urine smeared his legs
and he ascended bodily unto heaven,
and on the third day he rose into glory, which
is what we see here, the Piss Christ in glowing blood:
the whole irreducible point of the faith,
God thrown in human waste, submerged and shining.

We have grown used to beauty without horror.

We have grown used to useless beauty.

1 comment:

  1. I feel greatly insulted by this poem! "If there was a Christ" he asks. To debate the existence of Jesus is quite ridicolous. I don't imagine any historians making that claim.