“Chocolate Jesus and the Oral Thing”
Copyright 2007 by Erin O’Riordan
Forget sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro’s six-foot, realistic sculpture of a nude, crucified Jesus,
made entirely out of chocolate. I want a chocolate Madonna.
I’m not talking about Madonna Louise Ciccone, although I’m a bit surprised that that
Madonna hasn’t come up with “chocolate-covered” as one of her myriad incarnations. Yet.
(Or did I just miss that page in her Sex book?)
As many of you will know, Cavallaro planned to exhibit his sculpture at the Lab Gallery,
located inside the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The timing of the exhibit
coincided with the week leading up to Easter 2007, celebrated as Holy Week by Roman
Catholics and other Christians. The exhibit was cancelled following protests from the
Catholic League, among others.
I followed this story online and in my local newspaper. It easily lends itself to silly jokes
and double entendres about eating the body of Christ. My editor had a whole comedy
routine worked out around a single well-meaning but misguided altar boy’s attempt to do
away with the offensive chocolate genitalia. In his version, an old priest would walk into a
church and find the altar boy sprawled on his back, stuffed to the gills, with chocolate all
over his face. “Don’t worry, Father. I took care of it,” he would say.
All of this orally-fixated talk reminded me of a song I heard years and years ago. Let me set
the scene: I was a student at an all-women’s Catholic college. Across the interstate, there
was a co-ed Catholic college . . . you know the one I mean, the one with the famous football
team with the ethnic nickname. Every Thursday during the school year, my friends and I
would hang out at the student center for Acoustic Café, where we could drink free coffee,
eat free (if slightly green) hot dogs, and listen to our fellow students’ musical talent.
At the very last Acoustic Café of my college career, a guy got up and announced that he
would be performing an original song, an ode to his favorite dining hall delicacy. (I regret
that I don’t know his name.) He got my attention when he warned us that there would be
“an inappropriate verse.” The song was called “Waffle,” and its final verse was something
to the effect of:
“I want to have sex with my waffle.
I’m going to eat you . . .
And I wish you could eat me.”
Not the sophisticated lyrics of a Cole Porter tune, perhaps. But who can’t relate to that?
Who among us has not, at some time, eaten something so sublime that the body’s
response to it was almost sexual? For some people, that food is a dining hall waffle. For
me, it’s chocolate.
The day of the last Acoustic Café had also been a day of celebration for me. I was a
Psychology major and a Women’s Studies minor, and it happened that there was a course
called Religion & Psychology (hereafter referred to as R &P) that counted toward both. In it,
we read Freud and responded to him as social scientists, feminists and theology students
all at once. As the year ended, we gathered at a new meeting place to talk about what we
would take away from the class. That meeting place was the Chocolate Café.
The Chocolate Café is South Bend, Indiana’s cathedral to the worship of the cacao bean.
Worshipers who wander in find, not stain-glass saints, but vintage posters for turn-of-the-
century candies. Instead of hymns, the sounds of French and Italian café music waft
through the speakers and into the outdoor seating. Spiritual hunger is fed, not with bread
and wine, but with chocolate bon-bons, hot chocolate drinks, ice creams, and succulent
ripe fruits drenched in fresh melted chocolate. There are no pews, only comfortable,
antique-looking cast-iron tables and chairs.
My R& P class pushed two of the tables together to enjoy the communal meal, a candy-
coated Last Supper. There had been much to celebrate about R & P throughout the
semester. Although I was the class’s lone non-denominational recovering Catholic of
Jewish-Christian-Pagan descent, I never felt like an outsider. I loved learning about the
writings of the female mystics and dissenters, women who chose to live within the rules of
the Church or rebelled against its deeply ingrained sexism. My soul was stirred by the the-
A-logy of Catholic thinkers who viewed the Virgin Mary as a goddess figure, the counter-
image to an over-masculinized God.
But the best thing about R & P was that my girlfriend was in it. (I’ll call her Hildy.) Hildy and
I routinely sat across the classroom table from one another. If I wasn’t careful, Professor K.
would catch me staring into Hildy’s blue eyes instead of paying attention in class.
The meeting at the Chocolate Café wasn’t technically class, though, and I had no intention
of letting religion or psychology distract me from Hildy that day. It was hot, and she was
wearing a pair of shorts that perfectly showcased her dazzling legs. Hildy had a scar from a
sports injury, an imperfection that I found absolutely charming. When she went for a
mouthful of banana split, missed, and dribbled fresh melted chocolate just up her thigh
from that magic scar, I unabashedly scooped up the chocolate with my finger and ate it.
My eleventh grade Sacraments teacher had tried to convince me that only men can be
priests because Jesus had a male body. Women as priests would be confusing, he said.
I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. What I did get was that if God ever designed a body
to inspire worship and devotion in me, it was Hildy’s. Her full-lipped smile radiated joy, her
blue eyes were full of calm, and those legs (despite the scar) looked strong enough to
support the weight of the world. A painter or sculptor would have done well to use Hildy as
the model for a Madonna.
And chocolate could easily be elevated to the status of sacred food. We eat it for
Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter. I’m reminded of a high school classmate whose father
is a religious historian. When my classmate was about four years old, her father took her
to see the Pope. She had a photo of this, and in it, her face is smeared with chocolate that
the Pope gave her. If chocolate had been available in first-century Jerusalem, Jesus
himself might have offered it at the Last Supper.
Okay, so I exaggerate about that last part. Still, in my mind, eating that bit of melted
chocolate off Hildy’s leg was the perfect form of communion. As souls embodied in
gloriously messy human flesh, we often need other people to see the God and Goddess in
ourselves. It’s too bad that the Lab gallery decided not to exhibit Cosimo Cavallaro’s naked
chocolate Jesus. More people should have had the chance to see his gloriously messy, all-
too-human, embodied Jesus. I have no quarrels with his decisions to portray God as male
and nude. It’s just that my female soul longs to see Cavallaro’s good work completed. I
want my chocolate Madonna.
If that’s too controversial, I’ll settle for a chocolate Isis or a chocolate Venus.
Author’s note: The Associated Press article about the cancellation of the Cavallaro exhibit,
dated March 30, 2007, can be found at www.msnbc.com.