Most who discuss them agree that the Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey fiction series are the same basic story line with different characters. What seems to differ among those discussing the two, however, is why they are so popular that they developed a cult following. I have a suggestion along that line: What if the wild fascination with the two series stems from a root common also to self-mutilating cutting practices, and the Eucharist? And what if all of it goes back to Leviticus?
Cultural Blood Lust
Doesn’t our culture seem to be in the grip of an odd vampire-zombie blood-thirst? Hollywood movies and video games get gorier by the day. Numbers of youth ritualistically bleed themselves through baffling cutting practices they say “make them feel alive” as they silently “cry tears of blood” that “relieve the pain.”
I know because I called a friend who cut herself habitually as a teenager and was part of an “alternative” subculture. She shared with me her affinity for cutting was because, according to her experiences and circle of friends, “blood is more intimate than sex, because life is in the blood.”
Especially interesting to me was that she had either ignored or was unwilling to acknowledge in her explanation that sex is naturally ordered toward life. So life is “in” sex too, unless there is contraception or some other sterile union. Surprised by learning that her remark “life is in the blood” was a direct quote from Leviticus 17:11-14, she stated blood was more intimate than sex because you never share your blood with others unless you are hurt.
Everyone has sex nowadays and it means nothing, she said, going on to express that in sharing blood with another, you are part of that person and their pain, and they are part of you. There is unity. “Human to human, blood to blood,” she said. How strange that she spoke of life, blood, and sacrifice in the same context, because her view was simply an echo of the cultural fascination with Twilight and Fifty Shades.
Exchange of Blood
In the two series both girls are virgins when they become physically involved with the leading males. Additionally, both of the leading men draw their blood in other ways, all confused attempts to take the blood relationship even further and make it deeper. I say confused, because a sacred exchange of blood was God’s idea from the beginning of time.
Dr. Hahn explained that a contract is simply a legal agreement, whereas a biblical covenant, like the Sacrament of Matrimony, is a complete self-donation, a sacrificial exchange of persons. Since a female usually bleeds in her first sexual encounter, isn’t the marriage covenant – in its highest, purest form – signified in part by blood, blood spilled in the first marital act of consummating self-donation?
Whether the woman is aware of it or not, her blood is a sign that marks the couple’s first intimate encounter as a permanent blood covenant. Through that encounter, and every one afterward, he transmits the seed of life to her seed, and she potentially carries and nurtures that union unto new life.
Why All the Bloody Fascination?
The Bible is full of such sacrificial blood covenants. The blood covenant was God’s idea, not because God loves gore and death, but because blood is holy. “The life of a thing is in its blood” (Lev. 17:11-14), so blood is particularly God’s and reserved for Him, since it is He who gives every thing its life.
After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God under fig leaves in sudden shame for their nakedness. Why did God provide clothing of animal skins for them to wear? Could the sacrifice of animal blood have signified, from the earliest moments in history, His permanent commitment to humanity even, and maybe especially, in its sin? Could He have been preparing us for an even deeper reality?
In the Old Testament blood was particularly holy and never to be presumptuously touched. God enacted a strict prohibition against drinking blood upon pain of death (Lev. 17:11-14). The prohibition makes blood seem dirty, but in fact, in Jewish thought anything holy had connotations similar to that of radioactivity. If you get holiness “on you” and you’re not holy yourself, it will hurt you somehow.
As I explore in chapter three of Unleashed, women experiencing their monthly flow of blood were considered unclean (Lev. 15:19-28), a Levitical mandate that personally offended me since that joyful feminine experience is hardly my fault! Until I made the connection of that monthly flow of blood with the ability to sacrificially bring new life into the world, I did not realize God-as-Life-Giver was setting woman uniquely apart for Himself by those prohibitions in Leviticus.
Honestly? That realization changed the way I saw my role and the role of my own blood in God’s perpetual life-giving plan.
Blood to Blood, Life to Life
Part of why the Old Testament seems so brutal is because of all the bloody animal sacrifices God required in the tabernacle and the Law. Those sacrifices illustrated the brutality of sin. Sin introduces death and leeches away life – a quality of life we can barely imagine or experience yet.
Each Old Testament sacrifice foreshadowed the one Super Sacrifice of the Blood of the Lamb required to eternally atone for human sin. Jesus shared our blood and our pain. He gives us His eternal-life seed through His pain and His blood. “Human to human, blood to blood.”
And yet, the Cross was not the end of the life-blood connection. While the Old Testament prohibited drinking blood, Jesus requires we receive it for eternal life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53-54). Lest we misunderstand and think He is speaking symbolically, he uses the literal Greek word for gnawing.
And if you are offended or disgusted by Jesus’ literalism, well, you are not the first: “After this [saying], many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66; anyone think 666 is a weird way to abandon Jesus, here?).
Reflecting on the mystery of Eucharistic communion, Saint Paul warns, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord…anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). How could anyone be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord if the
Body and Blood of the Lord were not really present?
Clearly the early Christians believed in His presence: “Mark ye those who hold strange doctrines…how they are contrary to the mind of God…They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they allow not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins” (Ignatius of Antioch, [30 – 107 A.D.] Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6,2:).
And: “We do not receive these as common bread or common drink. But just as our Saviour Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been eucharized by the word of prayer from Him is the flesh and blood of the Incarnate Jesus” (Justin Martyr, [110-165 A.D.] First Apology, 66,2).
The Eternal Blood
Isn’t the Mass a Eucharistic Sacrifice because it is the same Jesus present, body and blood, pouring Himself out for our sins? In doing so He is not redeeming us again – He did that already on Calvary – but He offers Himself in Eucharistic Communion to transmit His divine life to us through His sacrificial Body and Blood.
When He says, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood that is poured out for you,” He uses the same word the Old Testament used for the pouring out of sacrificial blood in the tabernacle and covenant sacrifices. To eat and drink the blood of those sacrifices would have been to drink unto death, so God enacted a protective prohibition against such.
But when Jesus came, He came to give us life (John 10:10); He is LIFE (John 11:25). Jesus made eating His flesh and drinking His blood the whole point of the New Covenant, because His sacrificial, eternal life is literally and uniquely present there.
How will Jesus satisfy our culture’s fascination and thirst for blood? How will He satiate the world’s primal need for the blood-giving, life-demands of Leviticus?
Embrace His Cross; receive Him in the Eucharist; go forth and be broken and spilled out through Him, in Him, and with Him too, in every precious encounter. This is the only Way.