Near and Far: Seeing Resurrection through Bodies of Trauma

Soma & Sarx post #2

Positioned in front of a window on the 4th floor of The Seattle School is a telescope. It isn’t that the view of the mountains is lacking seen plainly from the window, but the telescope brings even greater clarity and depth to the mysterious, mist-covered Olympic peaks. Throughout the term our group has been working to integrate contextual theology with traumatology, asking the question of what the lives of those caught in trauma can uncover in Christ’s life and resurrection. What we have come to realize is that, like the lenses of the telescope, each person, each body marked trauma, each unfolding narrative of death and resurrection adds depth, clarity, and power to Easter. Reciprocally, the mystery of the Gospel speaks back into processes of trauma: encouraging, witnessing, and remaining with broken people.

Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, 1938

The body of Christ is described as a multiplicity of parts forming one body.¹ Specifically, the people in each “church” hold countless embodied traumas and heartaches that refuse to be left at the door each Sunday morning. This reality collides with the belief in Christianity of the incarnation, the mystery of God becoming human in Christ. This doctrine becomes the intersection point between theology and traumatology, as divinity and humanity merge in a body that is vulnerable to trauma. For many contemporary Christians, the passion of Christ was contained in multiple Easter services, paintings of a bloody crown of thorns, and possibly a Mel Gibson drama. Taking in the incarnation, however, tells us that to better understand the trauma suffered by Jesus we need to look no further than the traumas carried on the backs of those living, singing, and praying with us. Korean American theologian Wonhee Anne Joh paints a Christology that includes the view that death on the cross is the embodiment of han, sin and unjust suffering. Han, which builds upon the body, relates strongly to the neurobiological trauma research of Bessel van der Kolk. In The Body Keeps the Score, he points out that trauma causes the body to live in disequilibrium and thus the physical ailments carried by the individual can often be traced back to their trauma history.² The particularity of the scars in the Body of Christ, the unique wounds we carry from our embodied traumas, give detail and expression to the wholeness and depth of the incarnation and the lengths God entered for humanity in the crucifixion.

Theologian Shelley Rambo reminds that the physical body of Christ in the resurrection is not without similar scarring, that the redemption of resurrection is more about remaining that conquering.³ If we are to take the resurrection seriously we cannot fall into a triumphalistic interpretation of Christ’s return. Rather, we can interpret and engage the resurrection through the traumas that inform our contextual theologies. From the perspective of queer theology, we can see the resurrection as divine transgression in the name of love, such that even the boundary of death cannot stop Spirit and life from leaking back through open wounds.⁴ Theologian Francis Young draws attention to wounds, and it can be argued that if the redeemed body of Christ maintains its wounds, inherent value and glory can similarly be restored to our damaged and differently-abled bodies and minds.⁵ Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez enters trauma through a faith of praxis, following the paradox of a risen, scarred Jesus in overthrowing oppression and systemic oppression.⁶ The body is the site in which each of these theologies intersections powerfully with traumatology, each casting shadows on the other.

Alone any one of the aforementioned theologies is powerful, but woven together, knit like the sinew of the human body, they challenge in new, profound ways. Jesus doesn’t leave behind his physical body in rising again and neither should our healing practices. The theological lenses presented in this paper provide alternatives to a purely spiritual reading of the power of the resurrection. Rather, as we work therapeutically with the body, we continually invite the restoration of the Spirit, and experience people coming back to life as they return from dissociation and dehumanization.⁷ If we are to better embrace, integrate, and live out the mystery of resurrection we cannot view it from a distance. Instead, we need to put our eye to the telescope and allow embodied, traumatized lenses to pull those distant peaks near.

  1. 1 Corinthians 12:12–27.
  2. Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score (New York: Penguin Books, 2014) 56.
  3. Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma (Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) 143–172.
  4. Patrick Cheng, Radical Love (New York: Seabury Books, 2011) 50.
  5. Frances Young, Arthur’s Call (London: SPCK Publishing, 2014) 49.
  6. Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job (New York, Orbis Books, 1987) 94.
  7. Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score (New York: Penguin Books, 2014) 101–104.



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