Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Physicality & Solidarity

February 9, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

This week, I’ve been thinking about the things that actually increase our sense of solidarity with our neighbors who are suffering and experiencing injustice. While a sense of obligation can get us started, it's our physical experience of life that connects us most deeply to others. Take a look at the lessons and then you'll find my collect and reflection.



Science & Nature

The Five (and More) Senses

Alina Bradford

An article detailing the five senses and identifying one extra one.

Consider how your spirit is expressed through each of the senses.

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Spirituality & Psychology

The Moral Lens of Justice

The Rev. Dr. William Barber

Repairers of the Breach

Sermon in which The Rev. Dr. William Barber issues a call to his listeners to be repairers of the breach by exercising dissent in times when immorality against the poor is rampant

Consider how this sermon draws us toward our neighbors.

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What compels us toward solidarity with others?


Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Isaiah 58:6-7

Four out of the five senses appear in this week’s scriptures. Some more than once. In the text from Isaiah, Israel has returned to their homeland after unspeakable oppression. Forced marches. Families ripped apart. Slave labor. Brutal murders. It has been an unspeakably painful season in their history.

Now, Isaiah speaks to them about focus. What matters to God, he says, is not fasting and piety isolated from life. No, the fast God expects is to help their own beloved community–those who are hungry, still oppressed, homeless, naked. And, for some, the most difficult of all: your own kin, he says. Take care of your kin.

The work of belonging to God is physical. When you are living in the center of God, you can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it. It’s not high and lofty, detached from reality. It is right in the middle of everything.

Take a look at this week’s science and nature lesson. Which of your senses do you lead with when you engage the needs in front of you in this world? Which ones could you use more?

It’s not neat. It’s not buttoned up, this walk with God we talk about. It takes our bodies working together with our spirits.

I am doing a partial fast this week; I’ve done them a number of times. I notice things when I do them. My body requires more of my mind’s attention. I get hungry. I get anxious. I get tired. I push through. I press on. I fail. I get up and go at it again.

Isn’t this what living our faith should feel like? The fast God requires should make us hunger with those whose bellies ache from starvation, should make us freezing cold and despondent with those who have no place to lay their heads, should make us burn with anger with those under the rod of oppression.

So, then, the question becomes, what do we do with all of this visceral connection to suffering? Self righteousness has a short shelf life. Simply naming the problems is easy–we all can do that on a bad day.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:9b-12

Isaiah has a pretty clear answer. We stop pointing fingers and speaking evil. And we act. Listen to the verbs he uses…loose, undo, free, share, break, bring, cover, offer, satisfy, repair, restore.

To stop pointing fingers does not mean we make nice in the face of injustice. It does mean we learn to tell the difference between loud clanging symbols and true dissent, true advocacy, true work. Our bodies can help us. When we can feel, sense, see, hear the suffering of another, we are more inclined toward them than away from them.

In today’s spirituality and psychology lesson, The Rev. Dr. William Barber delivers a forceful message. Forceful, yet utterly compassionate. He named his nonprofit, “Repairers of the Breach.” The work of justice is not intended to divide us, to draw lines between the righteous and the evil ones. True justice restores us to the unity our hearts desire. It replaces our sin with wisdom. It awakens every cell, every pore of our bodies and souls like rain poured into parched land.

The physical nature of solidarity draws us together. When we let oursleves feel and see and smell and touch the reality of another, the illusion of separateness falls away.

Justice is physical. Every cell, every pore in our bodies rails against ignoring the pain of others. The question is, will we listen to our bodies when they speak?