Flesh Pots and Manna

This is Starfoxy’s final guest post with us. (Thank you! It’s been a pleasure . . . )

Warning: I’m about to tell a story about my seminary teacher. A
dangerous pastime- I know.

We once had a lesson in seminary about the Children of Israel leaving
Egypt while not really wanting to leave Egypt. We were discussing Exodus 16:3-4:

3 And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God
we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat
by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have
brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly
with hunger.
4 Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from
heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate
every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or
no.

Our teacher then put up one hand and said in a deep
silly voice “Flesh Pots?” then while putting up his other hand and
saying in a soothing voice, “…or Manna?” He repeated this a few more
times, then asked us which we would prefer. All of us answered Manna.
I’m not being critical of my teacher, both he and the scriptures were
using the flesh pots as a symbol for the comforts of egypt and the
world. They sound good (mmm, steak…), but it’s not really as good as
the Manna, or the comforts of the spirit and the gospel. All of it
serves to illustrate the point that things really are better with God.
This memory illustrates another point to me– something hidden in the
connotations, the words and the symbolism– We have a deep mistrust of
flesh.

There is a common belief that our spirits are what is really
us, and furthermore that our spirits are hampered by the
unruly, though powerful tool that is our flesh. My body is not
me, it is simply a glove I wear over my spirit. There is a
constant feeling that it is the flesh that is fallen, that restricts
our spirits, and that filters our experience. We long for the day when
the flesh will be perfected and will obey the spirit perfectly, and
will become a transparent window into our perfect souls. How many of
us, deep down, believe that we would be good people, possibly perfect
people, if we didn’t have these darn bodies messing things up for us?
The problem is further exacerbated by scriptures which use the word
‘soul’ as meaning either a spirit by itself, or the spirit and body
together.*

An interesting idea was introduced to me a few
months ago
– perhaps when we are told to ‘consider ourselves as if
we were Adam and Eve, respectively’ it doesn’t mean to consider
yourself Eve if you are a woman, and cosider yourself Adam if you are
a man, but could mean that we should consider Adam and Eve to
represent our spirit and body, respectively. There is quite a bit of
symbolism that supports this idea (both in the creation narratives and
in the Temple), so I found it a rather appealing interpretation. The
only problem arose when I decided to try and use the commonly
understood spirit-body relationship to inform my understanding of
ideal and eternal husband-wife relationships. Using the beliefs I
mentioned in the last paragraph this led to the idea that women are
base, hopeless, holding perfect men back, and are all around no good
beings at lest until Heavenly Father fixes them. For obvious reasons I
found this unappealing and was just about ready to give up on
the whole idea. After a few days of intermittent pondering the idea
struck me that I had it backwards, I should have been using my
understanding of husband-wife (or wife-husband) relationships to
inform my understanding of spirit-body relationships.

When I married my husband and I became a new being, one flesh that
will hopefully be reunited after our deaths. So also, when I was born
I became a new person, different than the spirit being I had been
before, doomed to die but with the promise of resurrection. And when I
die I will not miss my flesh the way I miss a glove or a shoe; I will
miss it the way I would miss my husband. (Perhaps this is why fear of
death is so pervasive even among the religious, our bodies are
us and death rips us in half.) My husband holds the priesthood,
and I do not, in a similar way my spirit has been in the presence of
God while my flesh has never had the same chance. My body is not less
or more good than my spirit, just as I am not less or more good than
my husband. Neither my body or spirit will rewarded or punished
independently of each other, just as I will not enter God’s presence
without my spouse.

Ultimately this interpretation has the effect of ‘redeeming’ our
understanding of our bodies, something vital to a religion that
believes God has a body. And, if fleshed out thoroughly, can become a
two-way street where it will help us to make sense of certain quirks
within our gender relationships as well.

* Oddly enough, ‘Man’ can mean a male person by himself, or men and
women at the same time, in a very similar way.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Starfoxy,

    Very interesting. When I first started reading, I thought flesh pots meant harlots. It was only on my second read through that I realized it meant literally pots of flesh. 🙂

    I like your ideas about the body not being the base, degraded thing that so many represent it as being. And I think the analogy of spirit:body::husband:wife is very intersting (and problematic, as you mentioned.) I like how the analogy implies a tight and important bond between both sets of entities. But even using the marriage relationship to inform the spirit/body relationship, rather than the other way around, I still feel a bit of discomfort that man is linked with spirit and priesthood and woman is linked with body and no priesthood.

    Well those were my initial reactions, anyway. Thanks so much, Starfoxy, for giving me something interesting to think about.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There are a few ideas I have in regards to your discomfort (I’ve had similar thoughts to yours), and I’m not sure which one is most effective or correct. The first is that the priesthood is a priviledge which men temporarily hold, just as the spirit’s knowledge of God is a special priviledge that is for mortality only. Both spirit and body will be together in God’s presence- just as men and women will be equal in power and authority.
    The other idea is that as the priesthood indicates a special stewardship for spiritual needs- perhaps women have a special stewardship over physical needs. I often get the idea that there is a whole realm of authority and ritual centered around care for the body (washing, feasting, etc) that has been degraded and abandoned because of the idea that the body is fallen and catering to it’s needs in any sort of regulated ritual way is like servitude (and dangerously close to paganism). This second idea plays into the motherhood = priesthood idea, but I think gives it a great deal of depth that is normally absent in the comparison.

  3. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the explication, Starfoxy. I think for me to be comfortable with the analogy, women would have to have a special privilege equivalent to holding priesthood in this life. I’m a person who is very focused on fairness, and it just doesn’t seem fair that men get to have priesthood now while I might have to wait until after I’m dead to share this power with my husband. Like you I tend to think I would share this power with him post-death, but it makes me sad that we don’t have an eternal model of this power sharing (i.e. where’s Heavenly Mother?)

    I have heard something similar to your idea about men being in charge of spiritual needs and women being in charge of physical needs. But instead of phrasing it that way, it was phrased this way: Men have a priesthood of administration, women have a priesthood of life. I think this stems from the idea that men have the privilege of directing the church and leading congregations, but women have the privilege of ultimately deciding when/whether to create life or not.

    I’m not sure I go along with it entirely, but I like the idea of both men and women having priesthoods. (I would like it even better, however, if both men and women were allowed to more equally share these stewardships.)

  4. Caroline says:

    Now that I think about it, I’m not too hot on this priesthood of life business. After all, it’s only been in the last half century that women (in well off countries) have been able to control their reproductive abilities. Women for millenia have been having kids they didn’t want because of a) husbands who weren’t considerate of wife’s desires b) lack of good birth control.

  5. Sean says:

    “I’m a person who is very focused on fairness”

    Thats nice and all, but over the last 4 or 5 thousand years, life has definately not been fair. Maybe the ruling classes had a decent life, but in general, most people got totally crapped on. Some led the most miserable lives imaginable simply because of bad timing. To think anything in this life is going to be fair is definately a pipe dream in my view.

  6. Caroline says:

    I agree, Sean. But just because fairness is an ideal doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Re; the ‘Priesthood of life’ I don’t buy into that mostly because of the lack of agency involved. I cannot reliably choose to become pregnant and bear healthy children the way a Priesthood holder can choose to be worthy when he gives blessings or whatever. The sort of authority and ritual I’m thinking of has little to do with the creation of bodies, but everything to do with the maintenance of bodies. I’m thinking of things along the lines of yearly feasts like the Seder Dinner of Judiaism, preparations of physical spaces, and things like the washings and anointings of the sick that were performed by women. Basically attending to the physical needs of everyone (not just the unborn and small children) in a regulated ritual fashion the way that the Priesthood tends to the spiritual needs of everyone with blessings, the sacrament, and baptism.

  8. AmyB says:

    Interesting thoughts, Starfoxy. I don’t know if I’ve wrapped my brain around these ideas yet, or how comfortable I am with the idea of Adam and Eve representing our spirit and our body. Discomfort is no reason to discount it, and I’m continuing to mull it over. I do like the idea of considering Adam and Eve as aspects within ourselves, Adam being that part that wants to remain completely innocent but at the expense of never having experience or knowledge. Eve is that daring part that yearns for something greater, intuits the larger plan and is willing to take risks to achieve her potential; her expense is the loss of innocence.

    Sorry, I think I just got off- track there. I’m on an archetype kick lately and like considering what parts of myself relate to these cultural narratives.

    I also want to note that I agree with Caroline that although fairness may always be out of reach, we make ourselves and our society better by reaching for it. It is the same with all ideals, and with trying to reach our ultimate godly potential. We can always be working for something better and greater. That’s one of the beautiful aspects of humanity.

  9. Anonymous says:

    And, if fleshed out thoroughly…

    Was that pun intended? 🙂

  10. Anonymous says:

    OK, so I went and read the comments at BCC that presented this idea. If there are things that can be gleaned from this perspective, then more power to you (your end analysis is interesting), but there’s a word that is missing from the initial analysis that, IMO, sorta throws a wrench into the whole idea: “respectively.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous- that pun was intended. 🙂
    About ‘respectively’ I actually thought of that as well. The use of the term ‘respectively’ is dependent on what was listed immediately prior to the second respective list. If there is no immediate initial listing then I think that the meaning is vague and could be open to much wider interpretations. To be honest I don’t recall if there is or is not a ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ before the injunction to consider ourselves Adam and Eve. If there isn’t then I think it was intentional and was probably done that way to allow various valid interpretations. If there is, then I still think there is enough symbolism to support this idea as at least a valid secondary interpretation.

  12. Anonymous says:

    fyi, there is.

  13. Kiskilili says:

    Starfoxy, your reading of the old pairing of women with the base and physical and men with the sublime and spiritual–that both women and the flesh be reevaluated and valued–is ingenious and appealing for a number of reasons.

    However, I’m still very uncomfortable with the original model. First, there’s no indication from the text itself that women (the flesh, in this reading) are meant to be on a par with men (the spirits).

    Secondly, what are the implications for associating women with the physical to begin with? We claim that “gender is eternal” (whatever that means). Presumably my spirit and body are equally female, as a man’s are equally male. Why then code one as male for symbolic purposes? What does it mean about gender and what does it mean about the body and spirit? Since the association female-flesh is arbitrary (?)–I’m equal parts body and spirit to any man–so why construct that association?

    As I read your post, it’s maybe an arbitrary division of labor–women attend to the physical and men the spiritual. I guess I’m still not sure why everyone shouldn’t be engaged in both types of labor, with their souls (in the strict LDS sense).

    (Also, I’m suspicious of Cartesian dualism and doubt we can validly ever separate body and spirit, but that’s a topic in itself.)

  14. Anonymous says:

    As I read your post, it’s maybe an arbitrary division of labor–women attend to the physical and men the spiritual.

    And this is clearly not exclusively the case…men are breadwinners in the Adam-Eve model (very physical), and if you go by the classic gender roles, the nurturing role for women is far more than just physical. It would of necessity include spiritual as well. (And a protector would seem as much physical as anything.)

    Still, I like the ideas you come up with in terms of being one with one’s spouse.

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