November 30, 2014

Female Thoughts on the Embodied Jesus

At the end of October, the Vox and Austin Mustard Seed communities had the privilege of hearing Cherith Fee Nordling speak at our community retreat. The following is a reflection by one of our community members after the retreat.

Admittedly, I am the person who waited until the week before the Vox retreat to actually register. I had been hearing a buzz about the theologian that would be speaking, and decided to Google her the weekend before the retreat. I liked her. I liked her so much, in fact, that I decided that hearing her was worth getting out of my comfort zone (and potentially losing sleep in a cabin with snorers). Before my time on the retreat, I had never before heard of Cherith Fee Nordling, and had only a few clips from YouTube to gauge what to expect. I found that in spending time listening to her, she is the type of theologian that doesn’t simply offer answers, but stirs up questions to bring about dialogue. I have been grappling with some of those questions for a few weeks now.

The first night of the retreat, she stressed the importance of understanding Jesus as fully human. This is difficult because we know that Jesus is also fully divine. Norldling pointed out, though, that Christians seem to prioritize Jesus’ divine nature, leaving him as a disembodied God, rather than an incarnate human. She stressed that Jesus had a body, Jesus still has a body, and that Jesus having a body matters in the life of a Christian. She said that Jesus is not “the other that gets a pass.” It is of the utmost importance that we regard Jesus as fully human because he “is the only human being who has ever pulled [living rightly in a fallen world] off.” He is our example, our older brother, or the “first fruits,” as the Apostle Paul put it.

Nordling painted a vivid, and at times, for me, slightly uncomfortable picture of Jesus as a real man with a real body. She reminded us that Jesus’ having a fully human body meant that he experienced all the physical realities of that body. Because Christians tend to think of Jesus as disembodied, we overlook the fact that Jesus teaches us how to live as fully human in our own bodies. Nordling said, “Everyone else seems to know what to do with a body, except Christians. Why? Because nobody thinks that Jesus has one, much less had one, that’s like yours and mine.” Jesus’ having a body matters because you and I have bodies.

This idea, though not new to me, spurred me to thinking deeply about what it means that Jesus has a body. Honestly, as a woman, it left me a bit wanting. If we take seriously the concepts that Nordling presented the first night, then we have to wrestle with the notion that Jesus, as the human that pulled it off, was decidedly male. Taking caution not to revert to any heresies that prioritize his divinity, we are left with Jesus as a man with a man’s body, a man’s brain, and a man’s privilege in society. Being female, with the body of a woman and the concerns of a woman, this leaves me with questions about where I truly connect to the embodied male Jesus.

For me, the heresies that allow Jesus to momentarily escape his humanity to access his “God-brain” seem more comforting because it feels like they leave more room for the feminine. When I am told that Jesus overcame the world and experienced the fullness of humanity, I am left wondering if he, as a fully human man, really understood women’s fertility issues, rape, PMS, or the stigma of being an “old maid.” It seems that the Father, though also referred to with mostly male names and pronouns, lends himself more readily to feminine attributes and empathy. The Father is the one who, in the Hebrew scriptures, is painted as a mother (Hosea 11:3-4) with a womb (Job 38:29) and breasts (Isaiah 66:12-13). Because he is not incarnate, the Father seems more mysteriously apt to understand women.

It is when I begin to think through this and become somewhat frustrated, though, that I am comforted by the Trinitarian understanding of God in three persons. On the retreat, Nordling said, “The Father and the Son and the Spirit…have loved each other forever. Perfectly. They are a communion of love. “ She reminded us that it was out of he abundance of this love that they share their love with humanity making us in their image, not just in the image of the Father. The same Father who mysteriously knows what it is like to be a woman has been in communion with the Son and Spirit since the beginning of time. I am created, as a woman, also in the image of Jesus. This is an enigma. Yet, it is an enigma assuring me that somehow Jesus understands me, as an embodied woman, in ways of which I cannot conceive.

[Written by Terra Tindle]

[Photo by jeffreychung @ Flickr]

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