Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Book Review: Loving What Doesn't Last by Christina Kukuk

And I don't need other people to believe in the Incarnation--the technical tremor God becoming human. I don't even need the members of my faith community to believe it. But I will tell you it's what keeps me following Jesus: There was a man with a body in whom other people met God. The wholly divine became a child of ordinary human beings so that ordinary human beings might become children of God. God took on flesh first in the womb of a woman. Mary had a baby so that here, in my body, I can be holy now--not just after I'm rid of it. - Christina Kukuk, Loving what Doesn't Last

The Christian faith has long had a strange relationship with the body. This goes all the way back to the writings of Paul, who frequently differentiated between the "desires of the flesh" and the things of the Spirit, strongly advocating for the rejection of the former and the pursuit of the latter. Throughout the centuries, many theological traditions have interpreted Paul's words to a radical degree: the needs, urges, and feelings in our bodies--temporal and flawed--ignored or minimized in favor of what's deemed higher and more heavenly.

The consequences of such thinking has caused much harm and neglect to people's bodies. It hinges on ignoring the fact that large swaths of the Bible take the needs of people's physical selves very seriously, from the Mosaic law to the prophets to Jesus to James and, yes, even including Paul. Why would God bother creating these earthen vessels of ours and even call them good during Creation, if they didn't matter?

In Loving What Doesn't Last: An Adoration of the Body, Christina Kukuk seeks to re-establish a relationship between the flesh and the Spirit in a series of reflections on how amazing our bodies are, and how much they deserve our attention and care.

(Full disclosure: Christina and I have been friends and colleagues for a number of years.)

These reflections are divided into six sections: Birth, Food, Pleasure, Pain, Death, and Water. Each is made up of a series of brief meditations threaded with stories and experiences that bring them to life. Birth, for instance, includes her own experiences with childbirth, reflections on what Mary's experience might have been like giving birth to Jesus, parents losing children to violence, and providing pastoral care to those grieving the loss of a young person. The result is a wide-ranging perspective on what birth means to bodies, for those who go through labor themselves but also for those who love and raise people after the labor is finished. 

Each other section involves a similar approach of concrete stories and spiritual rumination. The section on Food spans hunger, body image, eating disorders, and poverty. Pleasure includes objectification, Song of Solomon, and the gift of sexual connection, both with oneself and with others. Death includes an extended reflection on helping a family through the death of their hard-to-love patriarch, medical students honoring those who have donated their bodies for their education, and Lazarus. 

Kukuk explores each theme with a tenderness reflecting the book's core message: that bodies are good, and worthy of love, and incredible in what they can do and in what they can provide for us. In both poetry and prose, she illustrates that Christianity's long-standing wariness of paying this physical realm too much attention is only to our detriment, and a celebration of these bodies of ours are long overdue.

Loving What Doesn't Last releases on October 19th.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)