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The Power and Vulnerability of Love

The Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological Anthropology

Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    The Power and Vulnerability of Love
    Book Description:

    What is it about human beings that makes us capable and even desirous of inflicting terrible suffering on others (and ourselves)? If human beings—not God—are the cause of evils such as extreme poverty, violence, and oppression, it is imperative that we probe the depths of the human heart to uncover why we, who are made in the image of Divine Eros, fail so miserably to love. Gandolfo constructs a theological anthropology in response to these pivotal questions. Gandolfo maintains that such an anthropology—and a response to these questions—begins with the condition of human vulnerability. Drawing on women’s experiences of maternity and natality, she argues that vulnerability is a dimension of human existence that causes us great anxiety, which in turn sets in motion tragic attempts by individuals and interest groups to eliminate their own vulnerability at the cost of vulnerable others. Yet, vulnerability not only forms the basis for violence but also affords the possibility of human openness to the redemptive work of divine love. Poised paradoxically between tragic and redemptive vulnerability, human beings need existential resources and empowering practices to cope with and manage our vulnerability in more courageous, peaceful, and compassionate ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9420-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    For about two weeks following the birth of my first child, I experienced what is commonly referred to as the “baby blues.” This phenomenon, common to many new mothers, is induced by a combination of hormonal changes, physical exhaustion, and the enormity of the life and identity transformations that a woman undergoes after the arrival of her first baby. Mothers report experiencing anything from a vague feeling of melancholy to full-blown post-partum depression. My own bout with the baby blues went something like this: In general, I was riding high on the joys of new motherhood and the miraculous presence...

  5. Part I. The Vulnerability of the Human Condition

    • 1 The Fundamentals of Human Vulnerability Embodiment and Interrelationality
      (pp. 33-66)

      In all of their diversity, mothers throughout history and across markers of racial, socio-economic, cultural, and sexual difference have experienced and embodied in their very flesh the stark contradictions of the human condition. Existence in this world of ours encompasses life and death, joy and grief, love and loss, harmony and conflict, creativity and confusion. This “coincidence of opposites”³ endemic to human life is part and parcel of what Wendy Farley calls “the tragic structure” of finite existence, in which “the very structures that make human existence possible make us subject to the destructive power of suffering.”⁴ Women’s diverse experiences...

    • 2 The Complexity of Human Vulnerability Perishing, Conflict, and Ambiguity
      (pp. 67-102)

      The basic anthropological constants of embodiment and relationality render human beings vulnerable to the contingencies and vicissitudes of life in a finite, and thus complex and ambiguous, universe. Human beings are dependent on love for physical, psychological, and spiritual flourishing, but Erdrich’s poetic words remind us that love is “an anarchic emotion” with “a wild philosophy at base.” As embodied and relational creatures, we exist in a changing world made up of external forces and factors that lie beyond our immediate control. These forces and the reality of finitude itself complexify human vulnerability. Our bodies and relationships are vulnerable to...

    • 3 The Violation of Human Vulnerability Anxiety, Egocentrism, and Violence
      (pp. 103-134)

      Nearly twenty-two thousand children die of poverty-related causes in our world every day. The vast majority of these deaths are easily preventable.³ This means that, on a daily basis, at least twenty-two thousand mothers, fathers, and other caregivers have lacked the resources necessary to protect their children from early and unjust death.⁴ While vulnerability is an inevitable feature of human existence, the extreme vulnerability of these children and their caregivers is not simply a natural extension or obvious outcome of their universal human vulnerability. Rather, in a world of plenty, it is a grave moral evil—an egregious example of...

    • 4 Violated Vulnerability and the Violence of Privilege
      (pp. 135-174)

      Human beings are social by nature and respond to vulnerability and the anxiety and suffering it produces not only individually, but collectively. The pain relief that Farley claims we seek gets expressed not only in our personal and familial relations, but in the social, economic, political, and cultural structures of human life. Vulnerability is experienced vividly not only by individual egos, but also by social groupings and political communities. Just as individuals seek to mitigate the threat and actuality of vulnerability in their private lives, societies respond to vulnerability with social structures designed to manage vulnerability in shared and public...

  6. Part II. The Trinitarian Dynamics of Divine Love and Human Redemption:: A Theological Anthropology of Resilience and Resistance

    • Theological Interlude and Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 177-182)

      On the final page ofThe Liars’ Club, Mary Karr recalls a moment of puzzlement on the car ride home from the diner at which her mother revealed the painful secrets of her past, the deep wounds that festered and had such a toxic effect on Charlie and, in turn, on her daughters. Passing by a landscape dominated by East Texas refineries, Karr observes the flickering of fireflies in a field of wild flowers and wonders how it is that such tiny creatures could survive the noxious environment of the oil fields:

      Here and there in the flowers you could...

    • 5 Do Not Be Afraid The Invulnerability of the Imago Dei
      (pp. 183-206)

      The Annunciation is a story of maternal vulnerability met with steadfast divine love that inspires courage in a fearful and humiliated mother-to-be. I imagine Mary of Nazareth as a young woman living in a time of great political and economic vulnerability for her people, along with great social and physical vulnerability for her sex. She had not been socialized to think of herself as anyone special. In all likelihood, she embodied a way of being in the world that is similar to the young peasant women I have met in the countryside of El Salvador—humble and shy, self-conscious and...

    • 6 And She Gave Birth The Vulnerability of the Imago’s Incarnation
      (pp. 207-240)

      Behold the unalterable power of Love’s being: now a single-celled zygote . . . now a free-floating blastocyst . . . now an embryo, fully implanted in the thick and marshy, nutrient-rich endometrial lining of a young peasant woman in ancient Palestine.² The fused cells of Love-incarnate “push long, amoeba-like fingers deep into the uterine lining while secreting digestive enzymes that facilitate its burial. In response, the tips of the spiral arteries break open and spurt like geysers. Thus, life begins in a pool of blood.”³ The incarnate life of divine love begins in a pool of blood—life-giving blood...

    • 7 Rachel’s Lament and Mary’s Flight Love’s Longing for Abundant Life
      (pp. 241-262)

      A tyrant ruthlessly seeks to blot out the light of divine love that burns as brightly as a star in the vulnerable flesh and blood of Mary’s young child. Fearing a messianic rival, Herod orders his soldiers to butcher all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two. Refugees from the massacre, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt in order to protect the life of their son. There they remain until Herod dies, at which time the family returns to Nazareth in Galilee, for the despotism of Archelaus, Herod’s son and successor to the throne, made them fearful...

  7. Part III. To Suckle God with Exercises of Love

    • 8 Practices of Resilience and Resistance Memory, Contemplation, and Solidarity
      (pp. 265-310)

      Divine love, by definition, does not impose itself on human beings as the “answer” to vulnerability, suffering, anxiety, and violence. The lofty aspirations of theological anthropology are not guaranteed fulfillment by divine fiat. Nor can human beings be transformed for love by an act of the will, an intellectual assent to religious dogma, or verbal acceptance of divine love into their hearts. Human beings are practical animals and, as such, becoming one with God in human life requires practice—spiritual disciplines that slowly, achingly give birth to the courage, peace, and compassion of divine love in the midst of a...

    • 9 Conclusion Contemplating Vulnerability
      (pp. 311-320)

      In his contemplative writings, Nicholas of Cusa encounters God in the “coincidence of contradictories,” a reality that lies beyond the wall of paradise, where infinity and finitude, truth and image, God and creation, meet.¹ Nicholas perceives that Jesus resides within that wall, for in him the divine creating nature and the human created nature are visibly and lovably one.² In the language of this theological anthropology, Nicholas would say that the Incarnation represents the divine embrace of human vulnerability, without ceasing to possess the power of divine goodness and love. On the one hand, this theological project has drawn on...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-336)
  9. Index
    (pp. 337-343)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 344-344)