I feel entirely creepy coming back from a post-colonial theological conversation and quoting yet another German white guy, so this morning you have the pleasure of hearing from Moltmann’s resident theological sparring partner, his wife Elisabeth. This excerpt comes from her book, I Am My Body as part of her chapter on the relationship between the body and Christianity.
“More recent attempts to recover a more positive sense of embodiment in the church are finding difficulty in getting detached from the old thought-patterns and developing independent ideas which are not just the adoption of modern secular concepts. They would have to bring about a comprehensive change both in the traditional Christian doctrine of sin and in the doctrine of grace. They would have to rediscover the human body as a comprehensive field of energy and as a political organ, and start from the creation, not from the ‘fall.’
On the other hand people also have had the experience that Christianity more than any other religion practices a broad acceptance of the sick, suffering human body which is despised in many societies. The works of mercy are again the most distinctive potential of Christianity. But what is the explanation of this love of the body on the one hand and contempt of the body on the other?”
Of course, that explanation is not an easy one- but it is one, as Moltmann-Wendel suggests, that we should examine closely. It is a debilitating dichotomy.
Two things I particularly appreciate about this excerpt- one, I find the description of the human body as a “comprehensive field of energy and as a political organ” to be a FAR better definition to guide our theological thinking on the matter, because it does not remove personal and political realities from the table as much ascetic theology has attempted. Secondly, her assertion that works of mercy are the most distinctive potential of Christianity begs the question of those of us in the Church- why are works of mercy not (usually) the primary distinctions of our communities of faith?