Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the rub of theology

Sorry that this is late - I hope it was worth the wait.

When some of my friends and I talk theology we often find ourselves at some point rubbing our own skin or touching each other to try and show what we're trying to get at. "It's about this" one of us will say, stroking another's hand or arm, skin on skin, the intimacy of touch and the basic-ness of body as demonstration of the type of truth we are trying to articulate.

Why is it that this sensual act is where "the rub" is with theology for me and for much of my community? There is something very important to me in the act of touch, in the act of closeness. I think it is in part due to one of the most basic elements of my theology: this life and these people in this place at this time deserve my love and compassion. My metaphysical world is not void of non-material substance that is of value, but I try to remember the value of the material world as well, which I think is also central to Christian theology.

Our flesh is so precious: our contemporary cosmologists, our physicists, tell us that matter is extraordinarily rare in our universe. This body that sits typing is made up of more empty space than matter, and the universe has even more empty space. How precious and wonderful and rare we all are with our tiny amounts of matter in relation to the vastness of space. Christian doctrine backs up this preciousness of the flesh as God takes to flesh and becomes incarnate, in-spiring and enlivening our skin and bones, not only in the body of Jesus but in the dry bones in the desert, in ha-adamah the first earth creature, in the water, in the wind, in the bread, in the wine, in our tongues.

And yet these spirit-imbued fleshy bodies are fragile and vulnerable. We need each other for protection, for touch, for creating new life. And we need food to eat and shelter and warmth and clean water, for we are easily hurt; we simply cannot survive alone and exposed. Perhaps it is this very vulnerability that causes us to doubt so much our own preciousness, to doubt that divinity would dare to move in this weak flesh, these frail bones.

Ludwig Feuerbach told us in the mid-1800's that our idea of God is merely a projection of ourselves - or more specifically for Feuerbach, Man. More recently, feminist philosopher of religion, Grace Jantzen, took up this notion of projection and dared to suggest, with help from Luce Irigaray, that projection does not necessarily have to imply atheism. If our projections are ethical, ideal and life-giving, then they ought to draw us toward being more, toward becoming divine ourselves. Becoming divine, says Jantzen, ought to be the goal of all religion.

Could the frailty of our flesh be part of what has precluded some philosophers and theologians from allowing this possibility of allowing ourselves divine projections and moving toward those projections? How could something divine come from this frail flesh, they might ask. To which I would respond - how can divinity come from anywhere else but right here? *Shannon caresses her own arm*

As a friend spoke the other night of the frailty of human bodies, I was struck with a sense of awe for life, and compassion for all life. I am surrounded by fellow beings who are living with pain: watching my grandma in the hospital, watching friends and family members recover from surgeries and accidents and traumas, experiencing the unreliability of my own body - the brokenness of it all can be overwhelming. Yet we are here and we are alive and we are together and divinity breathes anew each moment, even right here where my wrist hurts, and right there where stitches close your wound, and right there where the pain is so deep we cannot touch it, and right there where new life defiantly begins. Right here, in this flesh is where we find "the rub" of theology, is where our religious lives take shape, is where all life becomes divine.

Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity.
Grace Jantzen. Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion.
Luce Irigaray. This Sex which is not One. and Sexes and Genealogies.



  • I want to do theology with your friends.


    I also dig Irigaray. Thought you'd enjoy this, from Elizabeth Grosz:
    [F]or Irigaray, the divine is not simply the reward for earthly virtue, all wishes come true; it is rather the field of creativity, fertility, production, an always uncertain and unpreempted field. … The divine is a movement, a movement of and within history, a movement of becoming without telos, a movement of Love in its Empedoclean sense.
    (Quoted in a paper on naturalist approaches to the concept of God.)

    By Blogger Christian, at 8:48 AM  

  • I LOVE this quote. Fabulous. Have you read any Catherine Keller? I think you'd totally dig her.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 11:24 PM  

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