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Essays, Politics of Scripture

Embodied Politics: Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1:39-57)

The story of Mary’s visit to Jesus was the text I heard read at Beverly Harrison’s memorial service in April. It is a story of two women, who meet in the midst a world, dominated by important men giving and receiving important messages. Two women find some space apart and something peculiar happens, Elizabeth experiences revelation in her body. Barbara Lundblad, who was preaching at Beverly Harrison’s service, noticed how full the story is of people seeking and receiving revelation in the form of proclamations, in the form of spoken language. Here though Elizabeth’s revelation is felt rather than heard.

Elizabeth’s testimony emerges from her embodied encounter with the living God. Embodied ways of knowing are typically marginalized from political discourse. Our politics happen mostly with speeches and written policy. These aspects of social discernment are essential, but it this weeks lection points us toward the importance of revelation through bodily experience. This sort of experiential revelation occurred with a small group of American Catholics who, in the 1980’s, carried out liturgies while trespassing on Nuclear Test Sites in the American West. Julia Occhiogrosso, a participant in the liturgical actions, observed how the familiar ritual in a charged context generated new meaning:

On the other side of the line you are aware of…the security in uniforms with guns on their side and ready stance prepared for us, gloves on their hands to make arrests, you are aware of these diverse rituals, these really distinct rituals clashing and one highlighting the other. (From Ken Butigan, Pilgrimage Through a Burning World)

The political nature of Jesus’ gospel was not explained to her or written out as a series of logical suppositions. Rather, she learned the gospel through embodied, socially engaged action. If we believe that we can, like Elizabeth, know the living God revealed by seeking what makes our insides leap, then social action becomes not only a tactic by which we can express our pre-formed political notions, but it serves as a forum for the generation of political insight.

In my own activism I have found this to be quite true. Taking a stand on behalf of the poor and joining movements full of people with different ideas and histories is a critical act in the development of one’s person political commitments. I first encountered the horrors of American militarism while carrying a small white cross in a procession toward the gates of Ft. Benning protesting the School of the America’s. That symbolic moment taught me more about my nation’s imperialism than any article I had ever read because it awakened a new spirit in me. It generated my political commitment. I felt the spirit leap inside of me and in that moment I was truly ready to join God’s people in bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and seeing the lowly lifted up. I was filled with longing to see the hungry filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.

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