“Dance, Rise, Chew, and Swallow”
A review of
Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ
By Marcia W. Mount Shoop
Reviewed by Angela Adams.
Let the Bones Dance:
Embodiment and the Body of Christ
Marcia Mount Shoop.
Paperback: WJK Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Let the Bones Dance is based on Marcia Mount Shoop’s premise that the body is ignored in and exiled from Reformed spiritual experience because “the body is a liability, a conspirator in our fallenness” (2). As an overweight woman over 30 struggling with infertility, the idea of the body as liability is nothing new to me. More often than not –in social situations, in the business world, at baby showers – I try my damnedest to prove my worth based on the value of my intellect, my acerbic wit, and my spirit; that is, I try to convince myself and the world to ignore all of this extra flesh. Frankly, I’ve taken some comfort in the fact that church has been the one place where I can check my body at the door. And now Shoop’s gone and screwed up my coping mechanism.
See, Shoop sees it as a problem, a dis-ease, that within church walls we usually relate to our bodies in terms of pain and disease that need healing or weaknesses and lusts we need deliverance from, forgetting that Christ came to us complete with vertebrae, hunger pains, and feet that were probably desperately in need of a good pedicure with all the walking and dirt and dust. Shoop believes this dis-ease does none of us any favors because it cements our own negative opinions of our bodies and prohibits us from healing.
In Let the Bones Dance Shoop does a lot of truth-telling. We find here truths that we tell ourselves: e.g., that we betray our Creator when we despise our bodies. Or, that during the Lord’s Supper, when we are supposed to “re-member” the Body of Christ by drinking Christ’s blood and eating Christ’s flesh, we usually sanitize the sacrament with tasteless bread and super-sweet juice – two carbohydrates!—that hardly remind us of the body of a real human being at all. Or, that when we usually think of Christ’s body, it’s not of the Incarnation, the fact that Christ put on skin to be like us, but of the Crucifixion: “Compassion, love, and embodied knowing take a back seat to the cycle of judgment, deserved punishment, and forgiveness” (5). Or, that our bodies remember trauma, so emotional healing includes healing our bodies, too. Or, that the Body of Christ just doesn’t know what to do with our bodies.
But the truth doesn’t stop there. The “embodied theology” presented in Let the Bones Dance is, in Shoop’s own words, “theological anthropology knit together with the particularity of the stories that women’s bodies have to tell” (5). So after a too-heady-for-my-taste introduction and an excellent chapter on how our bodies and feeling shape “how we perceive, know, and judge” experience (23), Shoop spends a chapter each on three “prisms” of difficult human experiences – tragedy, relationality, and ambiguity—anchoring each chapter with the physical experiences of rape, pregnancy, and motherhood. Shoop then reflects on the redemptive “fixes”: dispositions of compassion, interdependence, and adventure. And finally, Shoop asks “What would it look like for us to bring our bodies with us to church . . .” (163), and answers her own question by presenting confession, the Lord’s Supper, and music as three practical ways we can bring our bodies to church and live in our bodies as Christ heals and redeems us.
I have to be honest: I didn’t read the chapters on relationality/pregnancy and ambiguity/motherhood. After reading the chapter on rape/tragedy and crying my eyes out on a plane and spending more than one sleepless night thinking about my own personal tragedies, our body’s ability to physically “store” memories, PTSD, and wondering just how in the world my church can help people connect with their bodies and heal after sexual trauma, I couldn’t open the pages on the very experiences that cause me the most pain, leave me feeling betrayed by my own body.
I believe that part of the reason the chapter on rape/tragedy affected me so is that Shoop weaves poetry, quotes, journal entries, and examples into the warp of formal theology. She makes it all connect emotionally, viscerally even, in an incredibly effective way, allowing the reader to not just read, but experience the theology with his or her own feelings and body. So, be prepared.
In her last chapter, Shoop behooves us to bring our bodies to church so we can be made well, and then leaves us with this:
Scripture tells us again and again that this is the way God works: Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink, a man gets up and walks after thirty-eight years of sickness. . . Jesus tells us to eat his body and drink his blood. God lives and breathes and dies and rises. What kind of God is this, who would do such unlikely things to give us what we need? The kind of God who emptied God’s self to get closer to us, to tell us what we need to hear, to show us how we need to live, and to hold us close enough that we can breathe in divine winds of change. This is the God who made us with nerve endings, synapses, marrow, and dividing cells. God made us this way. . .
We can be part of a healing revolution by bringing our bodies with us to worship on Sundays. We can sing and dance and feel our way to a renewal and revival of the Body of Christ. We can embody new zest by feeling God’s vibrating music of redemption. This music yearns to course through our veins and strengthen the heartbeat of our gatherings. It longs to in-form us, to transform us, and to teach us how to dance. Surely it is the adventure of God’s beautiful mystery that breathes life into dry bones, that allows dead bodies to rise, and heals the Body of Christ with bodies chewing on bread and swallowing wine.
Well put. So let’s dance, rise, chew, and swallow.