life and death

Saturday at the Slaughterhouse, Ann Voskamp+ the Sling Blade



I spent all day Saturday in a slaughterhouse. Standing on the concrete floor, layered against the cold that blew in through a half open door,  a knife slinging in my hands, my gloves soaked in blood.  There was little beauty in it. I cut flesh from bone, meat from gristle, fat from muscle. I cut through marrow, through tendons,  between joints.  





I have stood here many times before. It is the slaughterhouse my father-in-law helped to build and run all the years he was a cattle rancher here on Kodiak Island.  



The two cattle we butchered lived an idyllic life out on vast open fields with their livestock kin, beneath mountains they likely did not gape at. They were fat with natural island grasses, and they died in an instant.  They would feed our fishing crew and our extended family for a whole year.  





What did I see inside the very tissue of a wild range once-living animal? What do I see other times when I am bloodied with deer meat, with caribou, when I am excavating and filleting the reddened body of a massive halibut? I see the purity of the meat. I see my family sitting around our long crowded fishcamp table passing platters of food.  I see people being fed and filled and warmed.  



But make no mistake. Death is hideous and bloody. I take little joy in butchering out real flesh and wrapping and packaging up edible hunks of death. We hold both truths on our plates, on our forks every time we lift food to our mouths: something has died to feed us.



I don’t mean to make you squeamish with these words or these photos.  Some of you may be vegetarians and vegans. I applaud you in so many ways.  And I too wish for the Garden again, when lions lusted after cantaloupe instead of antelope, when wolves chewed straw instead of chasing lambs, and not a single beast snapped once at a mouse or a gnat . . .  I too am hungry for the time when nothing must die to feed us.   But we are no strangers to talk of blood and talk of death that leads to life.  

My friend Ann Voskamp, in her essay in The Spirit of Food connects the moments around two tables when we remember and celebrate the bloodiest of all times, the  Eucharist.  “The agricultural act of eating food, like eating Christ, is no different: we eat, entering into death, and come back rejoicing. The daily eating of food is but a way of remembering death, a way of experiencing resurrection.  The living dead, we eat of the dead, and the miracle happens again: we revive.” 
 
Dear friend, Jeanne Murray Walker


We believe in both of these miracles.  We live them out every day.  Do we believe in metaphors as well?  I do. I come with my sickness and numbness. I drop my knife. I hitch up my jeans and climb awkwardly onto the table.  I bare my ribs, my throat, my heart. “I’m ready,” I whisper. I open my eyes wide. And I lie still. I know it will hurt a little, but I am not afraid.    


I open the book:

 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

The Word of God is a knife. What a bloody mess it makes of me! (NOTHING in all creation is hidden . .EVERYTHING is uncovered! Soul, spirit, joints, heart, thoughts, intentions, motives, fears . . . ALL laid bare .  . .



 But the knife in the hands of the Holy Spirit it is not butchery---it is surgery.  And in a long line of Jesus paradoxes here then are more: 

The Word of God dissects us to make us whole. 
It cuts us to heal us. 
It bares us to free us.  

Have you felt it? 

Yes. 

I do have meat for sale, neatly wrapped and packaged. Bargain prices. Overstock.  Care for a slab of pride? A brisket of slander? A T-bone of contention? A chuck steak of rebellion? 


Taking orders!   Selling cheap!

The rest of me is making dinner now, tender, sore, but full.