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On Brotherly Love and Bowel Movements

Dreamscape: Clouds

The Apostle John, one of the fathers of the early church, described the man who sees others in his community suffering and in need and then turns away as one who “clenches up his bowels” (κλείσῃ τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ). We render this in English as “closes his heart” (1 John 3:17). In the ancient world, though, the seat of the emotions was τὰ σπλάγχνα, ta splagchna, the viscera, the guts, that place where you feel ill when you’re doing wrong. The man who turns away from others who “have need” shuts up his guts.

A bit sadly, John then asks, “How can the love of God remain in him?”

Quite literally, such a man is so full of shit that though he says, “I know God, I love God,” there is no room for love of God inside him. He’s constipated. He’s clenched up. He’s stiffly full of his own refuse, and there’s no room left either for love of God or love of one another. Unless, like the Shulammite in The Song of Songs, he allows his “bowels to be moved” by the presence of the Beloved, he may well continue to walk through life straight as a stick and desperately, painfully constipated, wreaking his discomfort and misery on others as he goes.

But John says he can only love God if he also loves others, if he unclenches and loves those in need, “not in thoughts and in talking but in work and in unforgetting.” It is utterly impossible, according to John, for you to be a godly person and fail to respond to those in need. He who forgets his neighbor forgets God. Such a person might insist he loves God and loves Christ, but according to John, he is a liar.

He is a pseustes, a ‘fake.’ A phony. A liar to others, a liar to God, possibly a liar to himself. You can have a society where people talk about devotion and obedience to God all the time but if people are suffering and their suffering is ignored by those talking about Jesus, John, one of the founders of the Christian church, says that we Godtalkers are liars and full of shit. (Forgive my coarseness here, but John is very direct, and at times the Greek is a bit earthier than we prefer our sanitized English to be.)

John is very concerned with truth. It’s important to him, incredibly so, as it was to all the apostolic writers. And truth, for them, was a matter of continually unforgetting Christ (both his presence and his promises) and one another: that is necessary to keep the greatest entole, the entole of Christ. We translate that word as “commandment” in English. It literally means an “in-the-end.” I would be tempted to translate it “purpose.” For John and his colleagues, it is the purpose, the greatest purpose, the purpose he urges us to keep and hold to: love God, love one another.

This has been your evening meditation on bowel movements, the Bible, and caring for those who suffer and have need.

Stant Litore

P.S. Also, please get the book: Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible – I do not recall that I discuss bowel movements in it, but I discuss many other things that may fascinate, delight, trouble, or move you. May this book aid in the unclenching of our guts.

P.P.S. If you have been loving my work, whether the fiction or the nonfiction, please come support my work on Patreon: A membership at a very small amount gets you a lot of great reads, and it helps me do more of this. The stories we tell are how we weave peace, and I hope mine will do a small part in that. Come join me. I could use the help, and you could use the stories.

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