"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Friday Forum: Learning to See the Genesis

I have gotten pulled into a conversation on Twitter over the last several days that leaves me thinking and contemplating deep within myself, which is always a scary place to be.  The questions center around the when a marriage is considered a marriage.

As I’m scarcely fit to talk about marriage, I thought I would take a different question to see if there is a parallel to our human realization of things.  My question is “When is corn considered corn?”

Like most people living in the United States, I did not grow up immediately on a farm.  “Corn” as I was introduced to it was little yellow kernels sitting on my plate that took a minute to unthaw in the microwave.  Yes, I had an absolutely glamorous introduction to corn.

But then I branched to corn-on-the-cob, which helped make the plant connection.  Seeing the ears in the store, I could appreciate that corn grew as the edible part of the plant.  The husks wrap up the argument (sorry for the really bad pun).  However, as you get to know more about your corn, the ear we associate with sweet corn is actually the inner kernel.  You can see that additional leaves surround the ear in this footage of harvesting corn.

Yet, we still have not reached the beginning of corn.  I lived in a farm community where they planted rows upon rows of corn.  To me, it was a “corn field.”  To them, it was “corn.”  I met folks who worked in the seed corn industry.  To me, they were “seeds.”  To them, it was “corn.”  Additionally, it wasn’t so much of a differentiation because they worked across multiple crops.  They saw what they had and envisioned the potential as fruit, or in this case, vegetable.

So, when is corn corn?  I think it is a question of connection, awareness and commitment.  Corn became corn to me when I could reasonably interact with it.  Corn became corn to the farmers much earlier as they had a greater level of awareness, connection and commitment.

I think you can make a similar argument about when marriage is considered marriage.  The processes exist in time and unfold through many discreet events and choices.  So much of what debates about marriage center upon is the question of “What is the fruit?”  What is the relationship between children, commitment, intention, intimacy, love, marriage, romance and sex?  (I purposefully chose to assemble that list in alphabetical order.)

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6 responses

  1. Aw! I thought you were going to write about genetically modified corn – the kind of thing Monsatan would craft, patent, and then sue people over.

    But maybe there is a connection. A few people ecclesial Christians (with too much time on their hands?) are fretting about when wheat ceases being wheat for purposes of canons on how bread must be made for communion.

    The questions seem related, but I don’t have time to tease it out.

    3 September 2010 at 7:20 am

    • The question of beginning is an intriguing one, particularly when we juxtapose the realities of the Eucharist. Perhaps discourses around Christian beginnings are about emergence of the Kingdom of God within our time-bound realities. The Holy Spirit is everywhere present and filling all things. At the same, the Holy Spirit came in the distinct historical time and place of Pentecost and other times of theophany.

      3 September 2010 at 4:56 pm

  2. Rae

    “The processes exist in time and unfold through many discreet events and choices” This is a great way of looking at it.

    This past year Josh and I have spent a *lot* of time together. A few months ago I thought about how odd it is that any couple can all be called “married” regardless of whether they know anything about what is going on in their spouses’ interior lives, or even the most basic mundane details of external life.

    And I do have a point here! Saint Augustine said “Joseph might be called the husband of Mary, though she was his wife only in affection, and in the intercourse of the mind, which is more intimate than that of the body.” Which makes me think that there are many levels to true marriage. And the process of uniting yourself wholly with another can never be complete. “Intercourse of the mind” is as necessary to marriage as that of the body, but we certainly don’t imagine that couples are not married simply because they fail to connect intellectually or interiorly.

    So for the sake of Church law marriage has to be a cut-and-dried thing, but for the sake of real life and love it is alive and thus changing, developing, growing, dying. Much like corn.

    Okay, do you think that I completely missed your point?

    3 September 2010 at 10:14 am

    • Rae, I think you’ve actually hit on another point worth making, as you have added a dimension to the fruitfulness of marriage while it continues to grow. Although, as a person living in celibacy, intercourse of the mind just sounds a little frightening. But what sort of actions, involvements, and choices provide continuance within marriage? Your comment seems to be rooted in the “What is the fruit?”

      My main point centered on the nature of full involvement with the present. Seed is not corn to me because I do not interact with it there. I’m not really aware of the situation nor am I invested. So many people have different periods when they realize they are entering a marriage, but I don’t think these awareness points are limited to the marriage service or engaging in conjugal acts.

      3 September 2010 at 5:10 pm

      • Rae

        I guess that I’ve been too influenced by the Greeks (actual is better than potential) and somehow can’t get away from thinking that you are implying that marriage outside of sex is “potential” rather than actual. So I didn’t intend to be focusing on the “fruit” but rather to express an actuality of something which I thought you were treating as a potentiality.

        3 September 2010 at 8:48 pm

  3. Actually, I was trying to root my observations holistically to suggest a proper context. My introduction to corn was far from glamor, mystery, understanding and appreciation. Much of our society’s debate has to do with how we arrange the concepts of marriage, sex, children, family, commitment, intimacy, love, romance, intention, [feel free to expand the list]. If we discretize marriage (or sex for that matter), then we’re likely to have all sorts of problems on our hands.

    Additionally, we have concepts that span the product-process continuum. (Sorry to be an engineer doing theology. It’s risky which is why I chose to talk about corn. Let’s go back to the corn where the analogy is safer.) The corn seed, the corn plant, the corn cob, the corn kernel… all of these are “products,” concrete things that exist. Yet planting, irrigation, harvesting, distribution, and consumption are all “processes,” in that they exist as an unfolding action. Some of these processes strike me as absolutely essential if corn will be corn, specifically planting and irrigation. Others seem to matter less, especially consumption. Is corn still corn if someone doesn’t eat it?

    To put it another way, the same “actuality” can have variant morphologies of “potentialities.” Consider the books on your shelf. They are all “actually” books; yet different publishers and authors brought varying potentialities to construct the actuality. I guess it is some of the engineering designer in me. But part of our job as human beings involves connecting realized actualities with particular developments of the potentialities. We can say “This path to that actuality is a better path to follow.” The distinctions are important. To make it slightly more concrete, there are many ways to make a baby, especially when considered holistically. Yet, the Church consistently exhorts Her people to refrain from activities that would make a baby until after two persons marry.

    3 September 2010 at 9:14 pm

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