The Common Good
July 1994

The Seasons of Incarnation

by Maureen Hartmann | July 1994

Finding God in the stages of our life.

Contemporary Roman Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff accurately points to a "courage for incarnation" that lies at the heart of all catholic Christianity, the courage to mix "heterogeneous elements" and to experience "the divine...made present through human mediation."

With this passage on the Latin American liberation theologian in the introduction to her brief but pithy book, Fredrica Harris Thompsett sets the tone and meaning for her exposition. Courageous Incarnation in Intimacy, Work, Childhood and Aging deals with various social justice issues related to different phases of maturing—childhood, the middle time of life consisting of concerns with work and intimacy, and the aging period. The writer uses the teaching of the incarnation to develop insight into the problems related to those passages of human maturing, and if not to find solutions, at least to raise questions to overcome the barriers to healing.

Each chapter opens with a scriptural passage related to the message examined. She then describes the secular situations of poverty and oppression connected with the themes. For example, under the chapter "Welcoming Children in My Name," she quotes Jesus in Matthew 18:5: "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." She says, "These little ones would help his followers see with the eyes of faith." Thompsett notes that the scriptures demand a respect for children that should motivate members of contemporary society to work toward an end to child abuse in modern culture and childhood poverty in Third World countries.

In "Grow Old Along With Me," she cites the evangelist Luke on Anna and Simeon in the temple as examples of growing incarnation in later years. Theologically, according to Thompsett, old age is a time of growing confidence in God. The writer breaks down some of the prejudice against senior citizens, pointing out that statistics indicate that the vast majority of elderly live on their own and are healthy.

I believe she places these two chapters first to stress that, according to an incarnational theology, we should have the courage to accept these vulnerable stages as having their own importance and validity.

OPPRESSION AND bigotry do exist in circumstances surrounding mid-life. Unemployed people are blamed for their misfortune. Wage workers are subject to demeaning supervision.

Courageous Incarnation cites the Old Testament rules pertaining to the Jubilee Year and to gleaning rights as empowering the economically underprivileged. The author interprets the gospel parable of the workers hired throughout the day in the vineyard originally and creatively. "Jesus’ contemporaries understood a reference to ‘the usual daily wage’ to mean the amount of money it took to support a worker and his family for a day."

Finally, in "Power is Flesh" (on intimacy), she quotes Jesus’ invitation to close friendship with his disciples. In this chapter she again quotes Boff’s passage on "courage for incarnation," summarizing the thought of her book. The seamless garment approach ends "fragmentation" between "heterogeneous" ages and economic walks of life. The valor and richness of the divinity’s relation to humankind is reflected in the unification of differing people and circumstances.

While the chatty, discursive style of the book does not appeal to me, I find that careful reading provides food for thought. The book’s original scriptural exegeses and socially conscious explications will enrich the reader’s spirituality.

MAUREEN HARTMANN is a free-lance writer living in Oakland, California.

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