Bodies Matter: Witnessing and Believing Trauma - Reservoir Church
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An Embodied Faith

Bodies Matter: Witnessing and Believing Trauma

Mariama White-Hammond

Sep 30, 2018

As I watched the sunrise this morning I was reminded of the song that says,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end

They are new every morning, new every morning,

Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord, Great is that faithfulness

I don’t know about you, but the last few days have been really challenging. The pain and sadness has been palpable – the tears in my eyes, the churning in my stomach the lethargy that has made me more tired that usual. Maybe if I can just go to sleep, I will wake up from this bad déjà vu dream.

I started Thursday morning in a challenge and ultimately futile exchange with an ICE agent that yielded no relief for the person for whom I was advocating. Then I drove back to Boston for a meeting of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. It is a statewide body with 15 members only one of whom is a person of color. I knew that was the case, I knew I would be walking into a room full of predominantly wonky folks who have the ability to come to the meetings because their job allows them or requires them to. Before I got there I was well aware that for the last 10 years this group has overseen the MassSave program and even though everybody pays into the fund, every single person who has an electricity bill has a little italicized line at the bottom of their bill that tells them how much they are paying into energy efficiency – even though everyone pays in – moderate income people, renters, people who don’t speak strong English, small mom & pop business – these folks pay in and then don’t get the service.  They have been under-served for 10 years and when I stand up on their behalf I am well aware on the uniqueness of my presence, but even more I am aware of their physical absence from these spaces of power and decision-making. I was not shocked when a group that includes 6 women who attend the meetings regularly and a few men who tend to be less regular attendees ended up being represented in their presentation by the two men. None of this is abnormal in my life. I am a Black woman in the mostly white world of energy policy, I am a person of faith in a space dominated by scientific calculations, I am the embodiment on values and visions that rarely get honored when people are trying to drive for efficiency.

My heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity was no doubt driven by the fact that on the way to the meeting I had been listening to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. In 1991 I was a twelve year old Black girl attending an predominantly white all girls private school in Boston. Anita Hill’s testimony and the subsequent attacks she endured left a deep impression on me and many of my peers. Most of my classmates had feelings and opinions as women, but few of them were connected to some of the racial subtexts that caused many black women like me to question some of the way that the real injustices of racism could lead us to protect Black men and even support their patriarchal attitudes in ways which caused deep harm to our own psyches. This week, all the feelings of the Anita Hill testimony, all of the memories of my own experiences with sexual harassment and coercion, all of the love I feel for women and men in my life who have suffered sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape – especially my own mother who is not only a survivor, but a committed advocate and healer – all of these things were walking with me – not in some ethereal realm, but I felt them and relived them in my body.

Then I heard the testimony of Brett Kanavaugh. His indignation reminded me of the sentiment I hear from many white men who are angered by how the world is changing. As women, people of color, LGBTQIA folks, disabled people, low-income folks and other marginalized people are demanding to be seen, heard and included – it shifts that balance of power for those who have had more than their fair share of power. In the past, the thirty one percent of our population that was white males was afforded 100% of the power – if you include class into the equation an even smaller percentage of white men had disproportionate access. As we push for 100% of the people to have access to power, their share is shrinking and for some that feels like an unacceptable loss.

I was particularly struck by his repeated insistence about how much time he spent in church. For some that might substantiate that he was less likely to commit this assault, but for me I paused when I thought about all the ways that our disordered and disembodied faith may not have been any deterrent and even potentially a support of the “bro” culture for a young Brett Kavanaugh. I remember the ways that even when I was young the purity culture was demanded of girls and much more loosely suggested to boys. I remember my grandmother’s constant lectures about not getting pregnant which I don’t remember being equally doled out to my male cousin. I remember lots of conversations about how girls should dress and carry themselves that again I don’t think the boys received in equal measure. I think about my own participation in this culture as I have attempted to protect the girls in my life from harm, have I crossed the line into teaching them to accept an unacceptable system of gender oppression?

In my pain I really didn’t know where to turn and so I did two things. First I spent time with my 4 year old goddaughter Sariah. She is my joie de vivre. The amount of love and energy pent up in her tiny body takes me out of the theoretical plane of existence and right into the here and now. Making sure that she is fed, that she is safe and that her tiny body and really big Spirit are cared for and cultivated helps me to be always thinking about the world I want for her while also being fully present in the moment in a way that I needed on Friday. We went to the ICA to see “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985.” We bought our tickets (or rather I got my ticket because at the children under 18 are free at the ICA). As we walked into the first room she saw a sculpture and wanted to walk right up to it and touch it. I had to explain to why there was a rope around the sculpture and how we had to respect the work by only looking with our eyes. Thankfully the museum had given me a sketch pad and a pencil so I encouraged her to use it to draw what she saw. She started walking around the sculpture with the sketchpad looking at it and drawing. People walked in and saw her little 4 yr old body studying and sketching with such focus that it made them smile. I smiled too because I was sure that this scene was the manifestation of the dream of so many of the women who were portrayed in that exhibit. For them it had been only a dream that a little Black girl could be there with her Black woman godmother, seeing their art hanging on the walls in one of the city’s most prestigious museums and that little girl could be imitating their art with no concept that there is any reason she could not make art of her own. In that moment it felt like the work of God over decades of struggle to make a world in which our bodies – her body could occupy the space with the confidence in which she sketched and then came to show her work to me and one of the museum employees who was in that room. Being there with her was a reminder that injustice does not have the final say.

The second thing I did to address my pain was to turn to the scripture. I knew I was going to be here today and I had already been prepared with a sermon from 1 Kings when Elijah was clearly depressed and possibly suicidal. I was going to preach on what the Bible teaches us about the link between depression and our care for our bodies. I hope to be able to share that some other time, but in the lead-up to the hearing I began to sense that was not the word for today.

I knew the theme was embodiment and I wasn’t even sure where to start. As I shared earlier, I know that our religious tradition has a challenging history around the body and I have to admit that for me, lots of the issues really begin with the stories of the Bible and how we have chosen to interpret them. Not knowing where to start I decided to start at my go-to scripture to see if it would shed any light on what Jesus thought about embodiment. My go-to scripture is Luke 10:25 when a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” For me this is the most important scripture in the text because Jesus says that it all boils down to this. So I usually look at the Luke version but I know a version of this it is written in every one of the gospels because it points back to the Jewish tradition of uniting verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus to make this one statement that sums it all up.

Having read the Lukan version many times, I decided to turn to the passage in Mark which most scholars believe to be the first gospel on which Matthew and Luke are based (the book of John always does it own thing, so although it has sentiments that connect to this principle, it does not tell the same story.) Anyway – I went to the book of Mark and found the story in Mark 12. As I always do, I read the chapter in its entirety because even though the Bible is full of stories that we tend to break up into sub-chapters with headings, they are arranged in such a way that stories give context to each other and in this case, before making the statement about the most important commandment Jesus has already told three other stories to the crowd of regular people and religio-political figures who are listening to him. So I want to lift up one of the stories from Mark and then one which we are familiar with in Luke.

Mark 12 New International Version (NIV)
Marriage at the Resurrection

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.20Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third.22In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too.23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”



  • resurrection or not, tension within Jewish communities.
  • Trick question that tries to make him put the here and now in conflict with the hereafter.
  • Jesus recognizes the trick and makes it about God’s larger plan for justice.
  • The afterlife is no excuse to not follow God in the right now – God calls you to be who we are called to be, to live justice now. So they idea that Jesus may come back soon should not be an excuse to ignore injustice of any kind or to ignore the warming planet that is telling us to change.

Good Samaritan Context:

  • The lawyer is trying to get an out for who he doesn’t need to love
  • Three figures
    • Priest – Has got other things going on
    • Levite – Don’t know how that happened
    • Samaritan – Surprise for the Jewish folks who were listening

Three points:

  1. Physical condition matters – it doesn’t work to claim to care about people’s soul without caring in about their bodies. Forgetting about the body protects the privileged, those of us who already have privilege and protection.
  2. Sometimes God tolerates and even regulates our imperfect systems like the marraige system of the past (and many unjust systems we continue in the present) but God’s ultimate goal is freedom and justice for all of us. The woman is no longer property of any of her husbands but equal to them in God’s kingdom. This Samaritan is not just rescued by restored.
  3. Finally – the story tells us that if we are Christians – if we consider ourselves to be followers of Christ then our work is to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth and to do everything to resist systems that don’t align with God’s plan and to reflect God’s ultimate plan in our lives in our churches and in the world. And we definitely should not be the institution that is actively beating people down as we unfortunately the church has done at many times in our history and in the present.


When I got ordained I became clear about how much bodies matter

The next week will continue to be challenging

How we treat each other’s bodies is part of that commandment and it does not matter if you are a teenage boy or grown woman

When you are sitting with a friend who has been raped you are crystal clear that bodies matter. When you feel the suffering of someone in excruciating physical pain you know that bodies matter. When your head begins to throb and your stomach churns as you relive the pain of a past trauma, you know that bodies matter – not in some ethereal plane of existence, but right here and right now, and I am thankful to serve and worship a God who cares about me and my body – a God who is attentive to both the pleasure and the pain that I feel – a God who is not afraid to get up in with me, a God who was willing to come from a place of perfect existence and be subjugated to the all of the beauty and brokenness of life in a body.

The above is a prepared outline of the audio recorded sermon, not an exact transcript.