My Body, My Voice, My Self
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on body theology. Body theology, for those of you like me who didn’t know there was such a thing, is an extremely necessary and often forgotten discussion. Theology of embodiment has been a source of liberation for many feminist theologians…here’s why.
If you think about it, Christianity by nature is filled with themes of embodiment: creation, recreation, physical healing, sacraments (communion, baptism), touch, and most profoundly with the incarnation of God in Jesus. With the Protestant Reformation, focus turned away from a sensual experience of God towards a mental engagement, suppressing the body as a source of sin. The body was despised rather than celebrated. Of course there is some truth to this discussion—especially as Protestants were tired of the corruption and sexual impieties in the Catholic Church. So much has been lost and suppressed because of this shift, namely, women’s bodies are often blamed for impiety—especially sexual ones—and in turn, hidden away from and feared by religious leadership.
Unfortunately, women are taught to be women from the eyes and voices of men. The Bible was written by men and a large majority of our clergy are men. Because we are taught—by society and our churches—to control, manipulate, and dominate our bodies, women are taught that our bodies are sources of sin and are reserved for our husbands by our fathers. Of course not all of us are taught this explicitly, and a lot of the time it’s a subconscious part of religious education. Nonetheless, Christian women often accept and embrace the notions that our purpose and roles center around being modest/prudent wives and mothers.
Frankly, I am tired of it. In recent months I have read a lot on women’s rights/studies/issues and have been continually convicted that my own religion plays a vital role in the reinforcement of patriarchal values. Do I believe God is oppressive? No. Do I believe the Bible was written by people in a patriarchal cultural mindset? Absolutely. I refuse to take the Bible literally. If that’s how it’s supposed to be, then I’m not a Christian. There’s more to unpack in issues of interpretation and redemption for women in the Bible than I’m willing to write in one blog post, but I like to believe that as a human race we have grown in our cultural, theological, and moral mindsets and can be willing to accept that the cultural norms represented in the Bible aren’t necessarily authoritative for today’s world.
Back to bodies. Feminist theologians study bodies because the liberation of our bodies is the liberation of women. Yes, women are allowed to be members of clergy in a few denominations (praise!), but the way we are taught to be women is continually entrenched with oppressive and patriarchal value. Here’s the thing: I AM MY BODY. My body is my presence, my body is my voice, my body is me. I am tired of suppressing, hiding, controlling it. I want to celebrate and love my body, not despise and exclude it from theological discussion. Jesus had very profound bodily experiences: he got angry, he was compassionate, he healed with his touch. His outpouring of love and healing came from his body. Rebecca Chopp says, “Jesus’ divinity is found in his deepest humanity. If we fail to see his body, we fail to see God.”
I (along with my feminist theologian friends) use the body, specifically women’s bodies, to critique religious oppression. We are made to feel like aliens in our own skin. My challenge and inspiration is to use my body as a way to create new space and find empowerment through the marginalized position my body is placed. Freedom is found in embodied participation in Christianity and the living Word.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read all my ramblings. And for that, I thank you. Peace.