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  • Writer's picturerev. sarah wells macias

The Body of God

This offered as a reflection of the Christmas message found and needing to be heard in The Body of God: An Ecological Theology written by late eco-feminist theologian Sallie McFague.


Reading and reflecting on this book during Christmastide, the Festival of Incarnation, seems appropriate. The Word becoming flesh is the reason for the season. But in whose flesh is the baby Jesus carried? It is a woman’s – more specifically a poor, dark-skinned, unwed teenage woman. And when her time comes to deliver the child, this woman seeks shelter in a stable – a cave really, a room in the earth.[1] In other words, the body of this particular baby is born in the body of this particular woman who gives birth in the body of this particular earth, which Sallie McFague suggests is the body of God. Particular bodies matter in the Christmas story and our society’s treatment of women and the earth as vessels of the divine may be an appropriate gauge on whether we are worthy of unwrapping any gifts.

McFague begins the body/corpus of this work with a section on lament because this is where we must almost always begin. (So much for “Joy to the World.”) Lament is a primal language of the church and is the first step towards repentance/change. But if we cannot even see our own complicity in the devaluing and objectification of certain bodies, then we will totally miss the counter-cultural, egalitarian, and world changing invitation of Christmas which can bring us back to our senses – which, of course, are always bodily. Until then, we will continue on a spiraling path of what should be called non-sense – a path paved of greed and selfishness. Some call it the American dream. Christian nationalists call it manifest destiny. But when a country is established on the backs of bodies that did not - and still do not – matter and are all too often ignored, then its destiny will never come close to resembling the pattern of true democracy and justice for all which it claims. Our Christmas lament might begin with recognizing that the universal and transcendent God is embodied (imminent) in the particularity of those whose backs hurt the most. From this perspective, perhaps we will (finally) choose to listen to their ignored voices. When we do, we will hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor; [2] the groaning of creation whose voice is distinctly feminine.

Until we follow God’s lead of being in solidarity with those oppressed by systemic injustices (the majority of whom are women of color), then we will never come close to the true Christmas message which can liberate us from this man-made trajectory (pronoun intended) of ecological deterioration which is killing us and God – the compassionate one – who suffers with.

This can be seen most notably in the non-sensical ways that our industrial food system is constructed. In this system, bodies do not matter. Not the body of the earth, not the hungry and malnourished bodies in your county and mine. Also, if we are to take incarnation seriously then we must take the eucharist seriously. As much as I love a good metaphor, I do not believe this sacrament to be a symbol or a concept. That lets us off the hook too easily. As McFague says, “the body of God must be fed.” (p 170) Our sacred food ritual where we receive (and consequently become) the body and blood of Christ brings us together, without any bias or privilege, into membership with all others with whom (and in whom) God dwells. 

Food connects us to “all others” and any reconstruction of our food systems must be built on the notion – nay, the God given reality – that each has intrinsic value. Back to the Christmas story – those who might otherwise be considered lowly get top billing here. This is part of the reconstruction. There is the young woman, her infant baby, and the earthen cave as a manifestation of the body of God. And then there are the animals who are often overlooked but play an important role in the ecosystems and food systems in which we live. Cows, sheep, and chickens are what we raise on our farm and the truth is that any of their bodies may at some point become part of the farmer’s (mine) as carne = meat. If these fellow members of creation only had utilitarian value, they would be raised differently. A cow in a feedlot or a chicken in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation), for instance, is totally utilitarian. The workers who are employed in these sites spend their shifts in unhealthy, toxic conditions over which they have no control (a form of enslavement) are also devalued and utilitarian as are the consumers who are led to believe they have no choice but to purchase these “products” and call it food. But when each of us in the patchwork quilt body of God are intrinsically valued – cows, farmers, teenage mothers, infants, the earth - then we can all offer own unique contributions towards the health, healing, and salvation of each other.   

This path towards a salvation of creation (which includes all of us – the whole body of the universe) is one that we can choose to take. But none of us will be on it until we recognize those whom we have oppressed, knowingly and unknowingly, and invite them to enter that gate ahead of us. This is not an abstract new year’s resolution but a very real and urgent plea from an indwelling God whose voice is heard in the particular and local – the overlooked people, places, watersheds, bioregions, and neighborhoods. What are the frameworks and cosmologies where I live which elevate any-body over any-other body? How am I a complicit participant in the construction of this framework? This question is easier posed in an academic, theoretical paper than in actual application. But it is critical in saving the planet – not because the planet is our home, and we will lose our home if we stay on this path (which is true) but because this planet called Earth has intrinsic, not just instrumental value. To love and care for the Earth only for what she can produce and provide is an indicator of an industrial and consumerist culture based on transactional and conditional relationships devoid of love - to the earth, to each other, and to God. It is an unsustainable and desecrating arrangement. For Christians however who claim that God is incarnate, we have a model of radical inclusiveness where all bodies matter, each one treated with dignity, and no one will hunger and thirst.

Merry Christmas – and may it be so.

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. Learning to Walk in the Dark. Canterbury Press, 2014.

[2] Boff, Leonardo. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. Orbis Books, 1997.

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