Friday, June 5, 2009

Theology of the Wounded

For many, a healthy God is a healing God – a God whose presence heals the wounds of dejection and despair. Out of pain, pleasure. Out of suffering, contentment. Out of hopelessness, a flickering promise of rejuvenation. In the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus the restorer. We read of Jesus restoring sight to a man born blind and bringing Lazarus back to life after he tasted death for three long days. Even if we don’t take these accounts to be literal histories of supernatural events, many of us cling tightly to the hopes and dreams enfolded within. Even if we employ a different vocabulary, or – like Emerson – refocus our attention on the super within the natural, deep down we secretly yearn for the miraculous. Deep within we, too, long for restoration – for deliverance from the troubles and torments of our daily lives. Deep inside the bellies of our souls, we pray for our wounds to heal.

Consequently, our theologies – our ways of being in the world – remain entrapped within a dangerous cultural dialectic of wholeness overcoming brokenness.

Only recently have we begun to excavate the tangled genealogies of ableism. Dominant Christian theologies, for one, paint fantastical pictures of the Holy Spirit magically curing, heroically rescuing and divinely redeeming wounded bodies. Similarly, Jewish tradition records Levitical purity laws that explicitly bar individuals with ‘defects’ from offering sacrifices to Yahweh. So doing would desecrate the Holy. Certain Buddhist doctrines, like that of inherited Karma, inform disabled peoples that their sufferings derive from actions in previous lives. Popular interpretations of Darwinian evolution provide biological sanction to positions of inferiority, while a liberal humanism of cultured civility draws the ‘Family of Man’ in terms of healthy, civilized and wholesome ancestries. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the stigmata of debility left certain bodies as lacking full humanity – degenerate, on account of race, gender or disability.

In each and every one of these scenarios, disablement allows for imposed colonization - degeneracy ‘invites’ sympathy and the imperialism of a superior force ‘helping’ the deficient person or population.

What would it mean for our theologies and philosophies to take woundedness seriously?

What would it mean for ourselves if we were to stop waiting for a cure?

What would it mean for our communities if we were to change our answer to the question: from what must we be saved?

What if we no longer sought deliverance from brokenness? What if we allowed the wounded body to speak – what would it say?

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