riffing on Barbara Brown Taylor (again)

My friend Travis Reed over at The Work of the People shared another bit of his conversation with Barbara Brown Taylor. Once again I’m smitten… absolutely captivated by her loveliness. When she speaks there’s poetry, some hint of mystery released into the ether – I’m captivated. My imagination’s ignited…

So I must, in the spirit of generosity, share this bit of conversation with you. Watch and savor.

“I’m shaped Hebrew enough to think you don’t get a soul that’s not embodied.” For all the work the Greek system has done on me over the years, I’ve got an inner Hebrew orientation. Maybe it explains my deep affinity for the Hebrew poets who speak with concrete images, employ repetition and restatement, who stay close to the earth and cherish the land they stand on. She names it so well – shaped Hebrew enough.

Embodied souls, not souls on the loose without attachment or material connection. Our soul comes encased in a body that locates us in time and place. We experience moments through this body as it marches through minutes, months. Without this body and all its senses, how would we encounter the seasons? The body must be acknowledged, seen as integral to our spiritual formation.

In our community development work we engage with bodies – feeding, healing, employing, strengthening actual bodies on actual land. We get dark soil under our fingernails from planting cabbage, corn and cassava together. We get wet installing irrigation pumps, digging wells, then washing with locally made soap. We’ve got ink stained thumbs from identity cards and birth certificates passed through our hands to theirs, from voting alongside our friends for the first time. Our bodies touch in hearty handshakes, long embraces, hands held as we walk the red dusty roads together.

When people talk of ‘saving souls’ it rings incomplete. Souls don’t exist apart from bodies. So we labor in partnership to redeem bodies + souls, always in tandem. Missions that only talk of souls miss more than half the equation. They miss the full measure of the person they seek to rescue. Bodies matter – ours and theirs together. Souls embodied here on earth and in the resurrection… matter to God.

“…our souls have fingerprints all over them.” What a picture. I envision the fingerprints of my doting grandmother, Sister Mary Roche who recognized the contemplative in me early on, my beloved rhetoric professor who shaped so much of my thinking. Isaiah, Micah and the storyteller of Genesis and Exodus smudged me up quite a bit. Smaller imprints from my own children…

“…the body makes theologians of us all. Why me? Why like this? Why here? Why this long?” The one thing we all have in common, our bodies, puts us all in play as theologians. All of us are invited to reflect on lives unfolding on this earth in these bodies. We ask these questions and find ourselves transformed into everyday theologians. When we ask ‘why’ we attempt to stitch together what we know of our tangible life with the mysteries of God. This is theological praxis at its best.

“…what we remember… the stories that speak to our flesh.” What are the stories that speak to our flesh? For me, it is the never-ending supply of bread and fish as they pass through the hands of Jesus, and through our hands to the hungry. Jesus weeping strikes me as so intimate and honest, freeing me in my own emotional displays. All the conversation and promises about land speak to the community development practitioner in me, this soil that God created, calls us to cultivate and care about. Land enough for everyone, land fertile to feed all our bodies, land free of weapons and war. These stories speak to my flesh.

What stories speak to your flesh?

P.S. For another glimpse into Barbara Brown Taylor, click over here.


Want to read more? Get new posts delivered straight to your inbox:

Tags: , ,

7 thoughts on “riffing on Barbara Brown Taylor (again)”

  1. Melani
     ·  Reply

    I think her first sentence was my favorite–“Oh gosh, I’ve been bathing in scriptures for forty years now.” It feels like that sometimes–bathing. A close second is “Matter matters to God. It’s what the sacraments teach. Bread and wine and water and oil and hands matter to God.” I love me some Barbara Brown Taylor! Thanks for sharing this video.

  2. Caris Adel
     ·  Reply

    Oh goodness. I’ve never read anything by her, but have her on my list for the year. That was beautiful. I can see why so many of you rave over her. Wow.

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      read An Altar in the World first! I also read collections of her sermons as devotional reading (thought I don’t like that phrase).

  3. Diana Trautwein
     ·  Reply

    She is at the top of my favorites list and I loved this interview when it dropped into my inbox. Thanks for your ‘riffs’ – I share almost all of them. (I am not a community development worker, but a pastor and a spiritual director. . .)

  4. Erin Wilson
     ·  Reply

    “…the body makes theologians of us all…” That line just tore right through me. Brought back to my mind a very powerful moment shared with a homeless man under the portico of the public library in New Orleans. Him tucked up between cardboard and a piece of carpet, holding a sandwich I’d just given him. Him lifting that sandwich in two hands, telling me it was evidence that God had not forgotten him. It was the single most perfect communion I’ve ever experienced.

    Thank you for this post, Kelley.
    Much for me to think about here.

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Yes, perfect communion that ratifies all dogma about the communion table right? Lovely.

  5. Leah
     ·  Reply

    Wow, I’ve never thought about the importance of our clay-bound bodies before! It makes me wonder of our skin colors and its implications. If our earthly matter matters to God, how carefully and deliberately did he choose our skin colors… with it, our culture, our heritage, our beliefs, our thinking, our response to God, even. So much to explore on this topic! Thanks for this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


All content on this site is copyrighted by Kelley Nikondeha. Please do not copy work without permission. You are welcome to quote or reference my blog in your article, but please make sure you link back to the original post. Please do not post an article in full without permission, because that is a violation of intellectual property. (My African friends have a different sense of this, but being American, I can tell you it does matter to me!)

All writing on this site represents my own journey, my own wrestling, my own epiphanies. While I work with Communities of Hope, ideas shared here do not necessarily represent this organization.