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[The following very much falls in the range of "too much information." It is not for the squeamish. But one cannot talk honestly about the Incarnation of God without including a few uncomfortable details.]

It started when I stepped into the bathroom at the end of a work day in April, stood at the urinal, and out came a stream of red. Something is wrong here, I surmised. I quickly flushed and cleaned up after myself. I then rushed outside, hopped on my bicycle, and rode home. When my wife walked in the door a few minutes later, I suggested we spend our Friday night at the emergency room. (It was one of few times she didn't have a better idea about what to do on our weekly date night.)

After arriving at the hospital, I was asked to urinate. I could tell the nurse didn't quite believe me when I described what had happened. She no doubt thought I was panicking after seeing a little pink in my urine. When I filled the little urine container with what appeared to be pure blood, her eyes widened and she said, "Ah, I see."

This was the first stage in my new relationship with blood. Our friendship warmed over the next month before I had prostate surgery; we saw each other often in those weeks. But since the surgery was so successful, well, we just don't see each other as often as we used to.

* * *

I may be friendlier with blood, but we're not intimate yet—that is, I'm not ready to drink it. That Jesus would use this metaphor to talk about the Eucharist—well, how can a middle-class, suburban white guy, sheltered from the gorier details of life, put it? How about: It's disgusting. If you serve wine in your home, and tell your guests to think about blood as they drink it, you can be sure that some will gingerly put their wine glass down, saying, "I think I'll just have some water, thank you." 

We are uncomfortable around blood—maybe men more than women, who have a monthly encounter with it. But few people are as comfortable with it as we are our flesh, the other tangible sign of our humanity. Every time we bleed profusely—like the Labor Day my head slammed into a screw protruding from a partially closed garage door—it's scary. Even when you know that head cuts bleed profusely and that it's nothing to be concerned about (just get some ice on it ASAP). But when your hair is matted with blood and your face has streaks of red all over, it's not a welcome sight for your wife when you walk into the kitchen asking for a towel. When blood moves from the inside of our bodies to the outside, suddenly we are made aware of how utterly dependent we are on this red liquid. This is why some people refuse to give blood, as if doing so would drain some of their life away. Other people faint at the sight of blood—as if falling unconscious were a dress rehearsal for death.

We live in an age that has done its very best to shield us not only from death, but from blood as well. Other people slaughter our livestock or take care of our bleeding loved ones, in places and institutions far from our daily doings. This is not altogether a good thing for many reasons, but one is this: The less we experience blood, the less comfortable we become with it. And if we're not comfortable with blood, we cannot be comfortable with ourselves.

We are, literally, flesh and blood. Flesh we like. Blood, not so much. But to separate flesh from blood is to stab at the very heart of who we are, of who God created us to be. To be squeamish about blood is to be squeamish about life. It is only a half-step away from Gnosticism, where even the flesh starts to frighten us.

SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Galli is editor of Christianity Today and author of God Wins, Chaos and Grace, A Great and Terrible Love, Jesus Mean and Wild, Francis of Assisi and His World, and other books.
Previous SoulWork Columns:
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