ashwednesday: (spilled milk)
NOTE: THIS POST STARTS OUT AS A RANT ABOUT PERIODS THEN TURNS INTO SOME KIND OF CATHOLIC THING. JUST GO WITH IT. I posted this on my livejournal yesterday and it got a surprising number of comments, so let's stick it on Dreamwidth too.

I wish people would talk honestly and openly about menstruation. I don't mean in a "let's be positive about our bodies!" kind of way, or even in a "let's cut the blue-liquid tampon ad crap", but in the sense of actually talking about what the experience of menstruation is really like. Not just cramps, or menstrual disorders, but the whole everyday physicality of it, all the different things it does to your body. Girls get SO little education on what to expect.

There's such a taboo about talking about menstruation. Mostly it's about the blood, but it's not just that. Even people who are all cheerleadery about being open about the fact that yes, every few weeks we do tend to leak blood, shy away from talking about what else menstruation does. I mean, when you start your periods, unless you have a well-informed and willing-to-talk parent, how do you know that increased progesterone levels speed up peristalsis, so you might have to empty your bowels more often? Or that cramping doesn't just necessarily feature in the pelvic region but may radiate down the legs, the arms? That you might throw up because of your changing hormone levels? That the blood on day 1 may be completely different to on day 3 and day 5? That it smells different as well as looks different? No one really talks that much about the whole - shitting, pissing, pukingly physical side of periods. Things that aren't neatly enclosed by a floral-wrapped tampon and a handy box of Feminax. But it's nothing to be ashamed of. At the same time, you don't have to be all hearts-and-flowers about your period, using your blood to make (usually rather dreadful and terribly earnest) menstrual art. You can be grossed out and annoyed by your period, that's cool. I'm not saying let's all talk all the time about all the physical processes - I don't want to hear the ins and outs of people's bowel movements as a general rule, so why should that change now? But I do think it'd be healthy if there was more general awareness of how many things in one's life, physical and mental, menstruation affects.

with this in mind it seems hypocritical to cut, but someone might complain about BLOOD )

I was pretty annoyed, but it struck me this evening - as I rinsed out my knickers, good times - that really, I'm a lot better off than I used to be, given how painful my periods were in the past. I'm not really sure why in the last two or three years they've mellowed out a bit - it might just be age - but after 17 years of having periods I am glad for any slack I may get. This doesn't mean my periods aren't painful, far from it. I still take my prescription drugs, and my cramps are way too strong for a couple of regular ibuprofen to handle. But the agonising pain is rare nowadays, so I'm glad of that.

And I also thought, watching blood rinse away, how human I feel when I have my period, and that that's not altogether a bad thing. I've never been one of those women who get all IN TOUCH WITH MY INNER GODDESS over my period, and I shy away from the idea that menstruation = femininity, because there are, of course, many women who don't menstruate (and some men who do). Having a period doesn't put me in touch somehow with a mystical feminising power. But! I started thinking about - wait for it, kids - Jesus, and how maybe I can find spiritual connection through the processes of menstruation.

Back in the later middle ages, the body of Christ became a focus of particular devotion. People became fascinated by the physicality of Christ, and artists started focusing on his body - Christ as an infant, depicted with sweet folds of fat, with clearly delineated genitalia, sucking on his mother's breast; Christ as a crucified man, forehead and arms and side and feet bleeding. At this time there were a great many religious women who felt passionately connected to Christ's body. And there does seem, in some of these mystical writings, to be a connection between menstruation and Christ's wounds, a sense that the physical processes of medieval womanhood could be understood and in a way almost shared by Christ, who suffered in his body so terribly. Christ-as-Mother is not an outlandish concept to medieval mystics, and while Christ is never a woman, there can seem something liminal about his body. Perfectly human, Christ embodies lived experience, and medieval women, used to being criticised for being too much of the body anyway, seemed to find something very liberating in being able to both express their love for him through their bodies and believe that he shared in their bodily experiences. (There's a whole lot I could say about the sexiness of medieval spirituality, and how a sexualised element to mystical experience is quite common, but I'll save that for another time, if anyone's interested...)

Anyway, thinking of all this made me wonder about ways I can try to appreciate the processes of my body better as an act of faith. I'm not going to suddenly get all holy about menstruating, reverently wrapping up used sanitary towels and saying an Our Father over them before putting them in the bin (jaysis wept!), but I think this might be a useful thing for me to think about. Suffering is such a terrible mystery, and I've been back to thinking about it as a philosophical problem since reading The Sparrow. I know I'm never going to have an answer about it. But I wonder if thinking about the Crucifixion a bit more may help.
ashwednesday: medieval tapestry (Tapestry desire)
Yesterday I took a trip to the beautiful Rievaulx Abbey, founded in 1132 by St Bernard of Clairvaux. The abbey was founded by a small group of Cistercian monks, an austere order that wished to closely follow the Rule of St Benedict. The remote location made an ideal situation for monks who wished to live a simple life. However, over the next century the abbey became one of the most prosperous in England, and had a population of 650 monks and lay brothers. Unfortunately, at the end of the 13th century, an outbreak of sheep scab meant that the abbey became bankrupt, as much of its wealth was invested in its sheep flocks (14 000 sheep!). Its decline began at this point, which was not aided by raids from Scotland and the ravages of the Black Death, which reduced the population of the abbey to a handful of monks. Because of this, the rules of the order were relaxed - the monastery could not really be self sufficient, and like other monasteries the lands surrounding it were leased out.

Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in 1538. As well as being stripped of its valuables, I've just come across a fascinating claim that the advanced blast furnace used by the monks of the abbey may have actually sped up the coming of the Industrial Revolution, so the Dissolution may have put a stop to that as well! Since I'm not an archaeologist, and certainly not one who specialises in metal, I have no idea if this is just a crazy theory. However, some archaeometallurgists had some crazy fun doing iron smelting experiments at Rievaulx, which you can read about here! It's high on picture content and relatively low on terminology the layman won't understand. This report came out in 2002, and I'm not sure what the upshot of all this has been... If anyone knows, do let me know. I could go on an actual academic hunt for articles on this, of which I'm sure there are many, but I don't think I have time right now...

So, instead enjoy some pretentious photography of a beautiful location.


ashwednesday: ocean (Default)

January 2013

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