Zoecentric

Readings can be found here: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/062721.cfm

What I read for work affects how I read my faith, just as the faith I try to live informs my ethics and beliefs about the purposes of my work. I’m reading post-humanists at work and I found many crossovers between what they say, and this week’s readings.

I tend to find binaries problematic. I don’t fit comfortably into the supposed binary between male and female. I’m not allowed to be a male because of my body and I don’t manage to convince myself I am a female because that’s just not ever been an identity that’s worked for me- politically, sexually or in terms of how I can live with myself. I find the body-soul or body-mind or matter-spirit binary less than helpful which I have outlined before.

So when I am reading that the life-death binary stems from patriarchal philosophy and politics (and church) I am open to trying to understand this. Braidotti and others point out that the preoccupation to define exactly what counts as “human” and what counts as a “life” is ironically necrocentric- obsessed with death and loss.

They’d argue that much of the politics that has destroyed this planet comes out of necrocentrism- militarism, greed, the othering of humans who are different, the othering and exploitation of anything non-human. A necrocentric view of the world sees not what I would call an “image of Godde” but sees only resources and the need to cling to power, security, rights and compensations.

If instead we embrace a zoe-centred way of being, one than accepts our individual life-death as a small component of the larger dance of life we open ourselves radically to other people, animals, things, and ways of standing beside not triumphing over the other. Life proliferates around us but Barbara Bolt reminds us that we are charged with a responsibility to respond ethically.

How could I read all this without thinking of the first reading?

God our zoe-centric God is not about the power of death to define or delimit us. The world has beginnings and endings, cycles of renewal and love, capacity for life to continue or change after death. The molecules that make us up are intimately ours but close to timeless and will go out into otherness after our own cycle of being. These molecules will still be in the air, earth and water, embodying other beings after we are not the phallocentric, egocentric “I” anymore.

Another binary gets challenged in the second reading. Being rich or poor are constructions of a necro-centric society. Instead there are only ever 2 things. The need for a body’s bodily and emotional needs to be met, and our capacity to relationally respond to the needs of the other. Who are we consuming and who are we feeding? Regardless of our status and luxury we will not live forever. How do we embrace the life that we have today, and the rivers and rains which flow through our fluid bodies that supply our abundance without holding us accountable?

It’s not wrong of us to wish to prolong our life and be comfortable, but it is wrong to hollow out the other in serving the self. Instead we should acknowledge the way we are entangled with the other and relationally flow into and around the planet and all species including our own.

So we come to the gospel and the zoe-centric flows around Jesus as an important man comes to him to ask for healing for his daughter.

Mark’s gospel is full of sudden twists and turns so typically this life-and-death situation must be interrupted.

I’m bleeding currently as I do every month so I read this woman’s situation with horror.  Imagine 12 years of uncomfortable, wearying flow, always worrying about how you stand or how you sit, always dealing with the rawness and the smell and leaving embarrassing traces of yourself on your clothing and perhaps elsewhere. Imagine the laundry of those 12 years! The painful and despair inducing failed attempts to be cured.

 She touches Jesus and is instantly healed.

Unlike the failed doctors, Jesus does not take control of her body or her situation. He is a healer without agency, he is used and perhaps depleted like a river. His openness leads to her healing, there is a moment of connection and flow that he is not consciously the author of.

What can this mean about the nature of God? We are so used to centring the self-determining individual in our discussions of morality. Goodness we think consists of making ethical choices, virtue is cultivated through agency- that is what separates humans from other species.

What if God’s goodness is otherwise, a goodness-by-nature not a goodness-by-choice? What if God is good like a river or a dragonfly or wet soil? If no amount of WORK will ever PRODUCE a value for us or make us more or less the image of God that we already are. Perhaps then also plants, animals and the earth itself cannot be known according to instrumental measures such as somebody’s profit or quality of life.

But even this binary is flawed because the next minute Jesus seizes back his agency and calls out this non-consensual encounter. This human can’t just drain Jesus-as-other but must witness publically that something happened. If sacrament is encounter with God, then she has celebrated a sacrament in first touching Christ, then using her transformation for witness and as a nexus for us also to be called to touch and draw healing power.

I wouldn’t identify as “female” but I am woman enough to be rejected for ordination and I experience this call by Jesus as revolutionary.

He is saying “here she is, this rejected woman, deemed filthy and contaminating. She has drawn my power into herself and now must witness to it publicly.”

No bishops were consulted in the making of this vocation. Her faith has saved her (says Jesus). She is cured of her affliction (says Jesus). Which affliction? Just the bleeding or also the patriarchal framing of her body as unworthy and unimportant? As a disabled student reminded me this week- exclusion hurts more than the disability itself.

Meanwhile the little girl has died. It’s not Jesus’ fault but it’s too late. Jesus shows a naivety about this and is ridiculed for hoping when it’s too late. Binaries are important. Boundaries are important. Nothing can be done.

Boundary-transgressing Jesus calls the little girl back to life, touches and calls her. She responds to the call and is given something to eat. She becomes a foreshadowing image of a later scene in our faith-story, where the risen Jesus eats to show he is alive. She experiences the flow of molecules into her body, to live is to take in and release other.

This little girl, another SHE, becomes a witness to the zoe-centric power of Christ. She’s only a girl, in patriarchal terms not worth much. Jesus in reconfiguring social rules, is good news for those of us who have ever found ourselves on the wrong side of a boundary or trying to navigate a liminal position.

If the power of God is the life of the whole world and not just humans, how do we centre ourselves on that life without fearing death?

How do we open ourselves to ethical relationality and responsibility as mortal but zoe-centric beings?

What is the value of a body and a self or other? What is the life we are called back to today?

Åsberg, C., & Braidotti, R. (Eds.). (2018). A feminist companion to the posthumanities. Springer.

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