Sojourner Truth, Embodiedness, and the Erotic

Sancta Colloquia Episode 301 ft. The Rev. Dr. Kate Hanch*

In this episode of Sancta Colloquia, my first ever guest, Kate Hanch (@katehanch), allowed me to talk with her (again) to celebrate the 3rd season of Sancta Colloquia. What a crazy and wild ride it’s been since we first talked. So much has gone on, so many conversations had, so much has changed due to growth. This time Kate discussed Sojourner Truth and her influences and deification of the erotic, specifically intersectionality and black feminism. Kate explains who Sojourner Truth was and her vital impact in preaching and embodiedness. Kate shares about Truth’s own embodiedness when she walks away from her slave master with her son; she doesn’t run, Kate stresses, she walks. And there is everything embodied and present in walking, specifically walking away. Kate emphasizes that there is humility in the lives of women that is not humiliation or shame but more about vulnerability and openness to God and to others. In this way, bodies can become as God (deification).  We have bodies and we experience the world and God in our bodies; we experience others through our bodies. Kate explains that sanctification, through the lens of Sojourner Truth’s life and preaching, is an ongoing process and a coming together with the erotic. Kate pushes the erotic energy of connection of this mystical union toward God and toward others. In a world that is (too?) obsessed with the erotic only as sexual gratification of taking from an other, Kate, with Truth, allows for a broader and more robust definition which see the erotic as self-embodiment and not just sexual gratification. Self-embodiment goes hand in hand with self-awareness (being in your body and aware of it, the intentionality of being) and this self-awareness is, for Kate, part of the erotic. As the conversation moves, Kate exhorts the listener toward waking to the image of God within. That this awakeness is about being powered (from the self) and not empowered, which implies that the power is coming from without–your power is coming from within. And you are not merely given a body (embodiedness) but you are bodied: you are a flesh and blood creature experience the divine sensations of the body and this fuels your substantial presence in the world (living into ourselves and enjoying ourselves with our bodies–minds connected to a body–erotic connecting to coming closer to God in sanctification). Sojourner Truth reminds us that we live and love (agape, philos, eros) in our bodies, we receive and take into our bodies, we give from our bodies…we self-give with humility and interdependence.

 

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here:

 

Kate recently defended her PhD dissertation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. It is entitled “Prophetic Humility: A Feminist Theological Account.” She reads medieval women and 19th century black women preachers as theologians, tracing a humility that is not humiliating from their work. Kate grew up Baptist in Missouri. She attended Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City where she received her MDiv. She was ordained at Holmeswood Baptist Church, a Cooperative Baptist Church in Kansas City, where she served on staff before starting her doctoral education. While working on her dissertation, she has taught at the graduate, undergraduate, and continuing education levels through multiple institutions. Her scholarly work is published in the Liturgy JournalThe Review and Expositor, and Perspectives in Religious Studies. She has a chapter entitled “Light from Pre-Reformation Women’s Theological Contributions” in the book entitled Sources of Light: Resources for Baptist Churches Practicing Theology that was released in 2020. She also has two other chapters under contract in edited volumes about women and theology.

Kate currently serves as an associate pastor at a Methodist church in St. Charles, Missouri. She lives in the exurbs of Missouri with her husband Steve. She likes laughing, hiking, and singing along with Weird Al Yankovic. Follow her on twitter at @katehanch or Instagram at @kate_hanch.

Recommended Reading:

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Joy Bostic,  African American Female Mysticism: Nineteenth century religious activism
Margaret Washington, Sojourner Truth’s America
Jeroen Dewulf, The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo: The Forgotten History of America’s Dutch-Owned Slaves
Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition
Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Compiled by Olive Gilbert and Frances W. Titus, With a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her “Book of Life.” Also a Memorial Chapter, Giving the Particulars of Her Last Illness and Death. Battle Creek, Mich., 1884
Nikki Young, “Uses of the Erotic” for Teaching Queer Studies,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3-4
Keri Day, Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives (New York: Palgrave Macmillan US: Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

“Why I Love Preaching”

Luke 1:1-4 (Homily)

When I was little girl, I wrote stories. Learning to read fueled my pint sized writing desire; I didn’t want to be merely a passenger on the story train, I wanted to call those places and beings into existence, I wanted to be the engineer. With a pencil, eraser, and a wide-ruled piece of paper, I summoned into being characters made of glue, talking dogs and cats, story-book ending reversals and what-ifs, magical places, deep woods, vast fields, and majestic horses.

That pencil and wide-ruled paper would give way to multicolored pens and spiral-bound notebooks of college-ruled sheets. I didn’t pass notes in high school; I passed stories with my best friend. Together we spun chapters upon chapters of tales of love and romance, bringing our secret crushes on cute soccer players to life.

As an English major with a creative writing focus in college, I wrote and wrote. Plays. Essays. Poetry. Fiction. Satire. In my spare time, I filled personal journals with angsty poetry and meandering nonsensical musings about life and existence, God and the divine, scripture, human pain and human suffering.

Even as I left college and joined the masses moving to and fro on Wall Street, my poetry and prose came with me. A few weeks before the events of 9/11 traumatized my city in devastating ways, I started writing stories again. A clay pot by the name of Eli, his buddy Marc, and the Potter would not only keep me company on the dark nights where I couldn’t process the horror I had just witnessed from the distance of 1.5 miles, but they would be the midwives through whom my processing of terror and suffering of fragile humanity and an apparently silent God were born.

In seminary, I’d find ways for my inner iconoclast to come out. A thesis and three supporting points was boring. I’d submit epic poems to answer the question of predestination, or spin a tale about why confirmation was an important step in the Episcopal church. And at night, I’d curl up with my boys, sometimes reading to them and sometimes allowing my spoken words to pull them into imaginary worlds before they drifted off into to their own.

As they grew, bedtime stories became story installments on 5×7 index cards taped to the inside of lunch-boxes. No longer was I escaping into fantasy worlds I created for myself, I was creating escapes for my boys from the structure of elementary school. An anxious day, a stressful day, a bad day could be paused for a few minutes; just enough time to rest and dive back in after lunch. Time and space were held back, barricaded against by words gathered as a fortress creating and holding a place for my boys to breathe.

Now I stand here. And I get to use not only my training and authority to educate you in things of theology and religion, but I get to put my hand once again to the pencil and the sheet to create for you worlds vastly different from the one you are all too familiar with, where for a few minutes you can suspend disbelief. This story telling is part of our Episcopal identity that is as deep as it is wide. We put great emphasis on every part of the service being a moment of potential encounter between you and God in the event of faith. From the first song to the last and everything in between is structured to make that encounter possible. Not least of which is the event of preaching.

In preaching I get to use my words to create for you a moment in time and space for you to get caught up and caught in. I get to use my words to pull you into the rich and verdant possibility of encounter with God in the event of faith. I get to bring eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand with a God who loves deeply and fully. I get to call into being a moment so filled with conflict and comfort, where you are encountered and altered so radically that if you are listening even just a little bit, you can’t help but leave a little bit different.

I get to tell you stories about words so imbued with fertility that they spontaneously generate worlds of life (from the smallest plant to the largest mountain and every living thing between). I get to bring you face to face with a mighty, divine power who is deeply impassioned over people and the world that bushes burn, waters part, rains cause floods, food falls from the sky, and the earth quakes. I get to place you among the crowd of people enslaved, freed, and on the run; who cross a sea between walls of water, roam painfully through miles and miles of dessert, are fed from the sky, look to snakes for healing, and struggle with faith and belief that the promise uttered way back when is still valid, will still be fulfilled.

I get to point to the prophets of Israel who were so filled with the spirit and divine presence, that they couldn’t be silent anymore and spoke up, calling their people around them to wake up, hear, and return to the truth. I get to seat you at the stage of the greatest and most romantical story of love and desire between two people that Romeo and Juliet blush. I get to recite for you the poetry and songs of a people overcome with love and gratitude, hope and confidence, and sometimes fear and despair. I get to expose you to wisdom so ancient and so true, that there isn’t a fortune cookie or a horoscope in the world that could ever hold a match to it.

I get to ask you to be quiet as we all silently shuffle into a cave where a sleeping baby lies in a manger; “ancient wisdom born a wriggly infant to save the world,” I whisper to you. “Long awaited hope fulfilled.” I push you into the rushing and pressing crowds who are eager to see and hear and touch “This man who told me everything about me” (cf. Jn 4). I then prod you in front of a horrific instrument of death, and ask you to look up and see the painful death of Christ, this man who is God. Over the jeering, mocking, and taunting crowd, I holler, “This is what love looks like: sacrifice!” And three days later I get to bring you to another cave, an empty tomb, and let you feel and get caught up in the energy and fear of the women fleeing to go tell the disciples: Jesus is risen! And unlike before, now is a time for loud and ruckus noise! “Rejoice! Lift your voice! Love won! Life triumphed over death; light obliterated the darkness! Hallelujah!”

As a faithful tour guide of this great story, I then walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the fits and starts of the early church comprised of people trying to figure out what just happened exactly, people like you and me. And I get to show you—each of you—where you’ve been grafted into this story since the beginning of time, where you along with all people of all history, are the intended recipient of this great work and act of love of God. I’m not here to give you another syllabus decorated with lists of expectations and to-dos; I’m here to call you out of all of that for a handful of minutes in order to tell you about what I think is the greatest story ever told, to write and speak you into it. I’m here to recreate that story for you in this time and space; to make that story come alive in this place at this moment.

I’m here to hand the story on to you …just as [it was] handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about [the great story of God’s deep abiding love for God’s world and God’s people, for you, God’s beloved child]” (adapted from Luke 1:1-4).