The Body Re-Members

Stephanie Anna Hixon, Susquehanna Annual Conference 

wellsprings_highlights

She told me that the body remembers these things, the feel of wet heat of the summer, the damp smell of murky flood waters lingering too long, the anxiety of trauma revisited, the tenderness within one’s joints and soul [1]. How the body knows and remembers reminds us that responses to traumatic events, violence, harm, or oppression are matters not experienced solely in cognitive ways.

The Spirit of Remaining or Abiding

While we often encounter the dichotomy of spirit and flesh in biblical tradition, the Gospel of John invites us to embrace the human and divine, the essence of spirit and body through water, wine, fish, bread, the touch of wounds, the staying presence of women, the familiar voice at the tomb. John provides fertile ground for Shelly Rambo as she explores the “middle spirit,”[2] the power of the spirit remaining and abiding in Holy Saturday, between death and life. In Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, she articulates a theology that refrains from moving too quickly to a triumphant resurrection experience, but persists with the power of spirit remaining, being present with, and giving witness to death and suffering.

Ruptures, Strains, and Disembodiment

Much of the experience of the world today keeps us intensely aware of violence, conflict, ruptured eco systems, stresses, and threats to a flourishing life. Even if we are privileged to be in a place of well-being, safety, and security, we are not far from vivid reminders of human suffering and hostile relationships. Deeper understandings of the impact of trauma, oppression or violence on individuals as well as the legacy of historical harms in communities calls us to reimagine what it means to be redeemed, transformed, reconciled, and made whole.

Powerfully rooted in women’s narratives of violence, coping, faith, and healing, Stephanie Crumpton writes in A Womanist Pastoral Theology against Intimate and Cultural Violence: “Women’s healing from intimate violence also involves recovering themselves from cultural practices that normalize violence committed against them,”[3] Faith is the context from which women can both claim their distinctiveness in the image of God and challenge the culture, including that of church, that contributes to normalizing violence against them.

As a mother, pastor, and theologian, Kelly Brown Douglas invites us to know more fully the historic paths that shape the environment in the United States and impacts lives for and with black and brown persons in Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.[4]

Reconciliation Is a Journey

Reconciliation is not necessarily a point in time or even a destination, but a journey with varied paths and experiences of forgiveness; justice; restoration; connection with God, self, and community.[5] Standing in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England, decades ago, among mostly male clergy colleagues who were delighting in the history and connection of the Anglican Church and the legacy of the Wesleys, I was keenly aware that my feet were planted in more than one sphere. At that moment, the history of women as ordained clergy complicated my sense of belonging to the celebration.

Intersecting spheres or dimensions are what many of us navigate along paths to be fully alive as God’s beloved in the places where we reside. When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation captures the essence of reconciliation as resonance, ways of knowing and experiencing healing in the midst of unspeakable tragedy and conflict.[6] Reminiscent of “sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26), the power of the Spirit to move and beckon through many facets encourages us to explore the arts and peace building. Books, spoken word, poetry, drama, film[7], music, visual, and other arts[8] vivify our lived experiences.

Rooted in Grace and Spiritual Practices

Singing, lamenting, weeping, wailing, healing somatic work, walking along the earth, exercising vigorously, savoring a cup of tea, dancing flamboyantly, or moving with more measured steps to the beat of a drum are but a few of the ways that diverse and differently abled persons seek to be wonderfully and fully human as inspired by the divine. These prayerful practices, along with traditional prayer, fasting, study, and other means of grace, enliven the gospel through body, mind, soul, and spirit.

Punctuated by witnesses of women exploring the Word, The CEB Women’s Bible provides a window to scripture.[9] Christine Pohl invites communities to cultivate practices that sustain us: “making and keeping promises, speaking and telling the truth, expressing gratitude, and extending hospitality.”[10] Elaine Heath offers a group study of wisdom from Galatians as we seek to be the body of Christ in a changing world.[11]

The Body Remembered

Reflecting on the trial-tested strength and nurturing gifts of family elders, Adrienne Sparrow Trevathan writes:

If I have genuinely lost the ability to experience the enfleshed revelation of my family, perhaps it is because I have become so satiated with my half-life that I forget the glory of the flower, the potential of existence, the glory of God to me—to us—in bread and wine. How can I get the church to understand?[12]

Let us remember and be thankful.

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[1] Stephanie Anna Hixon is an elder in full connection and serves as executive director of the JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation (http://justpeaceumc.org).

[2] Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 114.

[3] Stephanie Crumpton,  A Womanist Pastoral Theology against Intimate and Cultural Violence (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), 81.

[4] Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015).

[5] Stephanie Hixon and Tom Porter, The Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation (Women’s Division, The General Board of Global Ministries, 2011). http://justpeaceumc.org/product/the-journey-forgiveness-restorative-justice-and-reconciliation/, accessed September 21, 2016.

[6] John Paul Lederach and Angela Jill Lederach, When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation (London: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[7] See, for example, Peace Is Loud at http://www.peaceisloud.org/ .

[8] See, for example, Cynthia Cohen, Acting Together on the World Stage: Tools for Continuing the Conversation  (2011, available at http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/peacebuildingarts/actingtogether/.

[9] Jaime Clark-Soles, Judy Fentress-Williams, Rachel Baughman, Christine Chakoian, and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli,  eds. The CEB Women’s Bible (Common English Bible, 2016), https://www.cokesbury.com/product/9781609261887 and http://www.commonenglishbible.com/home.

[10] Christine D. Pohl, Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing), 2012.

[11] Elaine A. Heath, God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2016).

[12] Adrienne Sparrow Trevathan, A Prolonged Whisper (Copyright © 2009). Adrienne is an ordained deacon and member of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. Used by permission. The “reflection was written after a ’remembering’ exercise where participants were encouraged to remember and celebrate the gifts given them by the elders in their families.” It is available online at http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-prolonged-whisper1.

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