Vulnerability, Resilience, and Resistance: A Theology of Divine Love Open Access

Gandolfo, Elizabeth O'Donnell (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/fj2362645?locale=en
Published

Abstract

This dissertation is a constructive theological project that lays out structures of the human condition that dispose humanity to vulnerability, suffering, and redemption. In this sense it participates in the methods of both fundamental and liberation theologies. I argue that the human condition is essentially vulnerable; that there is a dynamic, causal relationship between vulnerability, anxiety, and violence; and that divine love offers human beings existential and practical resources for redemption, experienced as resilience and resistance.

The project is divided into two parts. The first half of the dissertation is an analysis of human vulnerability and its relationship with anxiety, egocentrism, privilege, and violence. Here I posit that the fundamental dimensions of human life that make created existence and happiness possible also threaten the human telos by exposing us to pain and suffering. The anxiety surrounding suffering often causes human beings to collectively mismanage vulnerability in systems of privilege, which exacerbates the problem of vulnerability and leads to greater anxiety and violence. This analysis of the human condition lays the foundation for the theological heart of the dissertation, in which I argue that divine love responds to vulnerability by empowering human beings with resources needed for resilience in the face of harm and resistance to violence and oppression. This redemptive power of divine love has a Trinitarian structure to it, offering 1) the invulnerable power of preservative love, 2) the power-in-vulnerability of solidarity with the human condition, and 3) empowerment for creative transformation in the Spirit of holy longing for abundant life. The project concludes with an analysis of three practices that have the potential to nurture the growth of divine love in Christians, and human beings in general: dangerous memory of suffering, contemplative kenosis, and solidarity.

Throughout the dissertation, my argument is informed by women's diverse and multi-faceted experiences of maternity and natality. I place maternal narratives and practices in mutually critical conversation with Scripture, historical theology, feminist theology, philosophy, and ethics. Drawing on these sources, my constructive proposal suggests that vulnerability is both the site of our deepest wounds and the condition for the possibility of experiencing redemption.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction ……………………………………………………………..……………… 1

Vulnerability: The Beginning of an Alternative Theological Framework 3

Theological Method 8

Sources 8

Methodological Dangers 9

Epistemological Issues 12

The Place of Practice 17

Chapter Outline 20

Chapter One: Maternity and Natality: Icons of Human Vulnerability …………… 26

Finite Embodiment: Vulnerability to Physical Harm 31

(Inter)dependence: Vulnerability to Relational Suffering 40

Material (Inter)dependency: Inevitable and Derivative 43

Psychological (Inter)dependency 48

Perishing: Vulnerability to the Pain of Passing Beauty 56

Beginning the Long Goodbye: Mundane Grief 58

Early Goodbyes and No Goodbyes at All: Traumatic Grief 62

Conflict and Ambiguity: Vulnerability to Failure 66

Conflicting Goods: Something's Got to Give 67

Ambiguous Goods: Lack of Control, Unintended Consequences,

and Impossible Choices 75

Conclusion: The Vulnerability of the Human Telos 82

Chapter Two: Motherhood, Anxiety, and Privilege: The Anthropological

Origins of Violation in Vulnerability……………………………………….... 88

Vulnerability and Anxiety 90

Egological Existence, Vulnerability, and Relational Anxiety 103

Egocentrism, Vulnerability, and Violence 108

Privilege: Socially Mismanaged Vulnerability 116

The Costs of Privilege: Suffering and Perpetration of Harm 125

The Price of Privilege for the Marginalized 127

The Price of Privilege for the Privileged 140

Conclusion: Theological Implications of the Dynamic of Vulnerability

and Violation 148

Chapter Three: The Trinitarian Dynamics of Divine Love: Theological

Assets for Resilience and Resistance …………………………………..…… 154

Do Not Be Afraid: The Invulnerability of Divine Love 158

Feminist Dis-ease with Divine Invulnerability 162

Delores Williams: ‘Nobody in the wide world to look to but God' 164

Julian of Norwich: ‘I protect you most truly' 170

Courage 175

And She Gave Birth: The Incarnation of Divine Power-in-Vulnerability 177

Incarnation: A Coincidence of Opposites 182

Contemporary Feminist Theology: Only a Vulnerable God

Can Help 187

The Natal Body of Christ: Recovering a Place for Nativity

in Christology 192

Peace 201

Making a Way Out of No Way: The Creative Transformation of Spirit 205

Rachel's Lament: The Tears of Holy Longing for Abundant Life 208

Tears of Renewal: Making a Way Out of No Way 212

Compassion 219

Conclusion: You Will Not Be Overcome 222

Chapter Four: To Suckle God with Exercises of Love: Practices of Resilience

and Resistance ………………………………………………………..……… 226

Two Maternal Narratives of Vulnerability, Resilience, and Resistance 228

Memory of Suffering: Naming Vulnerability and Violation 234

Contemplative Kenosis: Re-membering the Self 248

Solidarity: Re-membering Communities of Shared Vulnerability 259

Conclusion: Embracing the Human Condition 267

Conclusion: Contemplating Vulnerability ………………………………...………. 270

Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………… 279


About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
School
Department
Subfield / Discipline
Degree
Submission
Language
  • English
Research field
Keyword
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files