The socially constructed and sanctioned oppression of children, women, and men in and because of embodied or fleshly difference continues to re-emerge as the urgent issue of our time. This predicament constitutes a challenge to Christian discipleship.
Consider that the coronavirus disease and its variants continue to inflict massive suffering, bringing together the peoples of our planet in a tragic solidarity of suffering, death, and loss. At the same time, the dynamics and conflicts of neoliberal capitalism continue to throw us all into a common geo-political space that homogenizes and suppresses us, pits us against one another. The sharpening of the ecological crisis radically clarifies humanity’s fundamental unity indifference and raises the stakes for the ongoing survival and life of all species, including our own. Consider that North Korea’s insistence on testing nuclear weapons and Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine only intensifies geo-political division and hostility. Consider our own American moral and intellectual ignorance about the meaning and function of our republic. Consider that our debased practices of kyriarchy and white supremacy continue to sow arrogance and hatred among us through imperious misogyny, disdain for homeless women and men, disregard for Indigenous peoples, condescension toward differently-abled women and men, dismissive attitudes toward massive rates of incarceration, contemptuousness toward immigrants and asylum seekers, normalization of ‘white privilege,’ and mass shootings of LGBTQI persons, Asians, Blacks, Jews, immigrants, Latinos, and other people of color. Through apathy and silence, indifference and mindlessness, we incriminate ourselves in the oppression of those who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters––those whom we have made ‘least’ and ‘wretched.’
Yet, oppression as perpetrated by those who wield power with brute force or cunning coercion “betrays their fear that another power, other than theirs and greater, has been unleashed.” What is that greater power? Ruah. The Hebrew word ruah is translated in the New Testament as the Greek word pneuma, meaning breath, air, wind or soul. In Hebrew, ruah denotes spirit, breath, wind and is almost always connected with the life-giving attribute of God. Spirit-ruah is andremains paradoxical, elusive, uncontrollable, absolutely free. The Spirit, like the wind, blows where and when and how the Spirit so chooses (after John 3:8).
The French theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet suggests that, “The Spirit is God Different …. [A]t the same time, [the Spirit] is God closest to humankind, to the point of inscribing God’s very self into our corporality in order to divinize it.” If Spirit God Different inscribes the Divine Self into (or divinizes) our human bodies, integrates and embraces all God’s human creatures, then affirmation and embrace of embodied or fleshly human difference is the mission of Spirit God Different. Indeed, from the beginning, Spirit God Different moves among all God’s human creatures––drawing us together, inspiring, prompting, prodding, exhorting, reproving, animating, empowering us to defy disunity and division, rupture and separation.
At Pentecost, Spirit God Different publicly performs and ratifies the Triune God’s respect and love of our embodied, fleshly human differences. At Pentecost, Spirit God Different missions us to live out the command of Jesus to ‘love one another.’ Spirit God Different opens us, teaches us to live in and live out active compassionate, loving solidarity with those whom our society chooses to oppress––those whom our society exploits and alienates, marginalizes and dominates, rejects and denies, attacks and assaults, represses and crushes, murders and destroys. By creating these blessed fleshly differences, Spirit God Different nudges us to reach out to one another, to communicate, to meet one another, to enjoy one another, to act in love for and with one another. Spirit God Different urges us to defend and protect one another from oppression and violence of body and soul, mind and heart; to respect and honor, welcome and embrace one another in all our fleshly difference––for our shining and beautiful fleshly differing bodies are dwelling places of Spirit God Different.
 Anselm Min, The Solidarity of Others in a Divided World: A Postmodern Theology after Postmodernism (New York: T & T Clark, 2004), 93.
 Bernard Cooke, Power and the Spirit of God: Toward an Experience-Based Pneumatology (Oxford: Oxford University, 2004), 26-27.
 Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, transl. by Patrick Madigan and Madeline Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1987/1995), 518, 522 (author’s italics).
M. Shawn Copeland
M. Shawn Copeland
Dr. M. Shawn Copeland is Professor emerita of Systematic Theology at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Theologian-in-Residence at Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, Roxbury, Massachusetts. She is an internationally recognized scholar and award-winning writer––the author and/or editor or co-editor of eight (8) books including Desire, Darkness, and Hope: Theology in a Time of Impasse, Engaging the Thought of Constance FitzGerald, OCD (with Laurie Cassidy, 2021), Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (2018), and Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (2010) as well as 135 articles, book chapters, and essays on spirituality, theological anthropology, political theology, social suffering, gender, and race; and along with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has co-edited two volumes of the international theological journal Concilium: Violence Against Women (1/1994) and Feminist Theologies in Different Contexts (1996/1).
Copeland is a former Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS), an interdisciplinary learned association of Black Catholic scholars. She was the first African American and first African American woman to serve as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA).
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