The Christian body has never been one,” writes Mayra Rivera. Those of us involved in ecumenical conversations, church committee meetings, or denominational politics of all kinds understand as much. But Rivera’s playful language here (likely riffing off of similar wordplay in the work of French theorist Luce Irigaray) signals more. The body is not one, in the flesh. What texts articulate theologically about corporeality, carnality, and incarnation is far from homogenous. And this multiplicity matters for our ecological, social, political lives.
Rivera, who teaches theology and Latina/o studies at Harvard, is known for her lively prose, her attention to the rhythms of ordinary lives, and her theological engagement with postcolonial theory. Her first book, The Touch of Transcendence: A Postcolonial Theology of God, reflected on difference, divinity, and relationality in an argument for what she called “relational transcendence.” She located a sense of glory in the everyday circulations of touch, flesh, and planetary creatures.
In this new book, Rivera “elaborates a view of corporeality woven by its carnal relations to the world—spiritual, organic, social—describing folds of body and flesh, flesh and world, body and word.” She folds, unfolds, and refolds ideas while reading biblical and classical texts, critical theory, and contemporary reflections on materiality, gender, and race. Rivera’s work is richly philosophically and theologically complex, worth engagement, and demands an attentive reading. Its prose and poetics write “a stance toward knowledge, a style of writing, and the creative dimensions of thought.” In its creativity, this book defies genre and glimmers with beauty throughout.