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Is Christ present to us in time and space? Oliver Davies, in his work Theology of Transformation , traces the history of human self-understanding as embodied beings. Since the Scientific Revolution, a certain set of basic premises have ruled our view of reality. The material world is understood to be a landscape of determinism. Its inhabitants, no matter how complex, are subject to the same laws. To the extent that the human subject is of the world , she too is determined. To escape the reduction of the mental to the mechanical, a particular brand of dualism took root in our modern consciousness.

The mind was conceived as a spectral machine that somehow interacts with the physical existence of the body. Ultimately, this led to the modern turn to the subject—or our capacity for meaning-making—as the sole basis for rationalizing faith. Advances in modern science have upended the fragile foundation of this paradigm and revolutionized our self-understanding as human beings.

As Davies claims, the era of the first Scientific Revolution has ended: science is ushering in a second one. What is the nature of the second Scientific Revolution? The common narrative is that of a materialism triumphant. With advances in neuroscience and genetics, our capacity for deterministic explanations has moved within the subject itself. There is no mind, only synaptic connections between neurons. The self is an illusion, God is dead, and neuroscience reigns. How does science teach us of this unity?

Due to quantum mechanics, we no longer assume that physically described occurrences are completely determined by prior physically described aspects of nature alone. This opens the door for conscious experience to enter into the picture, not merely as a disembodied and disconnected observer, but as an agent. This system of functional and structural connectivity is inseparable from our bodily engagement with our environment.

In this way, we see that modern science demands a radical reformulation of our self-understanding. Mind and body are different—and irreducible to one another—but continuous and indivisible. There is no opposition between spirit and matter. Our human freedom is exercised in and through the very materiality of our embodied existence. In particular, Davies believes that an embrace of the non-reductive materialism of contemporary science can help shift our focus back to our own earthiness, the exercise of our freedom in the embodied act.

Through the second Scientific Revolution, Davies believes theology will be re-oriented the reality of the human experience, where we recognize Christ as a historical presence. More broadly, neuroscience has the potential to make theology truly reasonable. As Fr. Our very nature as unity of body and soul demands the unity of neuroscience and theology in pursuit of truth.

Any other approach is unreasonable, because the method is imposed by the object. If we are to truly understand the human person, we must welcome what the study of the brain reveals about our lives, our Church and our faith. For instance, neuroscience can expand our understanding of what the Church means when she says that we are created in the image and likeness of a Trinitarian God.

Pope Benedict XVI explains this in the following spiritual terms:. However, neuroscience makes clear that it is not only the development of our soul that relies on relationship. Rather, the development of our bodies and minds also takes place through complex interactions and relationships of dependence. This dependence on relationality is not just essential to development, but to the continual dynamic way a human person is brought into being. Throughout the whole lifespan, the human person develops through dialogue between her genes and brain structure and her personal experiences, communities, and cultural context.

This relational view of the human person is continually deepened by novel research in behavioral and cognitive science, enriching the picture of what it means to come to being through relationship and flourish through participation in the life of the Trinity. Similarly, the cognitive sciences can enliven our understanding of personalism. The human person is a mystery to be welcomed in love. All of the major processes of neurodevelopment—the birth and death of new neurons, the formation of new connections and the strengthening of existing circuits—takes place in an experience-dependent fashion.

Personalism also condemns any attempt to grasp or possess the other as a violation of her uniquely first-personal capacity for self-determination. But what is this capacity? We are dependent on God, not radical self-creating individuals. Research into neuroplasticity makes space for self-determination in a way that acknowledges our fundamental dependence and relationality.

But the unity between neuroscience and theology is not limited to high-level theory of the nature of the human person. A similar observation emerges from considering Jesus' relations with the religious establishment of his day. He attended the synagogue and was certainly no religious dissenter. But he denounced or bypassed religious practices and ordinances which put difficulties in the way of ordinary people in their relationship with God. Not only did he preach the immediacy of unconditional divine love and forgiveness, but he also put it into practice through his own accessibility and his going to where the people were.

All this has something to say to the churches about human being-in-relation. It speaks powerfully against churches which confess that nothing separates us from the love of God Rom. There can be no valuable relationship in which each does not desire the well-being of the others. God's concern for the well-being of creation is visible in Jesus' healing of the sick and his exorcising of demons.

Medical work and forms of other healing maintain that tradition. Relationships continually require an enlargement of understanding. No one understands from the start everything about being in relation. It seems that this was the case even for Jesus. The gospels tell of Jesus' encounter with a Syrophoenician woman who asked for his help Mark ; Matt.

At first he answered that his calling was to Israel alone; but through this woman he came to understand that his ministry was to extend far more widely. Again Jesus, praying in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup of suffering might be taken from him, does not appear as one who is iron-clad in divine immunity, but rather as a person who went forward without the certainty of any such position and trusted in God.

Nor are we required to be invulnerable and certain in our relationships. Rather we are called to be open, learning and trusting. It is demanding to follow the way of Jesus in relationships. Such open being-in-relation, which acknowledges no barriers but seeks the well-being of all, will seldom be popular with the authorities. In political terms, Jesus was crucified because who he was and what he did represented a threat to the power which maintained public order as the Roman authorities saw it, and to the religious sensibilities of the Jewish leaders. Yet one understanding of the resurrection is to see in retrospect that no matter how abandoned and forsaken by God Jesus felt himself to be Mark , God was present through it all and finally vindicated him.

Not even the greatest misunderstanding or repression can separate those who are "on the way" from this sustaining love of God and from the fellowship of the church. In our freedom, of course, it is possible to reject relationship with God and act as if this did not exist. It is equally possible to reject or disrupt relations with other human beings. Such distortion of being-in-relationship is sin. It comes about in relationships as selfishness works its way into action.

Actions which harm others or the natural world are sinful, and we bear our share of responsibility for them. This acknowledgment of human sinfulness has been expressed in a variety of ways in different church traditions and theologies. For example, the Orthodox churches, without denying the fact of human sinfulness, have emphasized the possibility of human perfection through spiritual growth.

This theosis or "deification" depends on both God's grace and the human will. It is related to the human freedom to make choices which will lead in the end to greater union with God. As we are renewed by the Holy Spirit cf. Titus and continue to grow in our communion with God, our lives will show forth more of God's love and care. Protestant churches, on the other hand, have tended to emphasize the deep and pervasive persistence of sin, understood as the distortion of a right relationship with God, with other persons and with the natural order. They have stressed that this condition can be overcome only through justification - that is, the restoration of a right relationship with God - through Jesus Christ.

No one escapes this situation. But a recognition of our common sinfulness may not only prevent feelings of personal superiority but also lead to mutual forgiveness and make spiritual growth possible. A story from the Desert Fathers illustrates such growth:. A brother at Scetes committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go. Then the priest sent someone to say to him: "Come, for everyone is waiting for you. He took a leaking jug, filled it with sand, and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him, and said to him: "What is this, Abba?

And today I am coming to judge the errors of another? One of the complaints against Jesus was that he forgave sins. Only God could do that, said his contemporaries. Yet to those who came to him with at least a little faith Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven. Thus Christians see both in his life and in his death the great affirmation that God forgives us, with all our accumulation of great and petty wrongdoing, all the failures of our relationships in the family, workplace and community, all the omissions, lies and excesses that pervade our human lives.

Jesus told a story about a steward who was forgiven over a large debt and then threw another servant into jail over a much smaller debt Matt. This is clearly not the behaviour hoped for from human beings-in-relation. Forgiveness enables a relationship to continue, but a refusal to forgive brings it to an end.

True forgiveness - by God or by other human beings - never involves what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace". Yet it is gracious and it does make continuing relationship possible. If churches are not to behave like the unforgiving steward, they have to become communities of the freely forgiven - communities of the healed which thus serve as places of healing for others.

Churches of the forgiven are not in a position to reject or withhold relation from others. All this calls for repentance or metanoia as the proper personal reaction to a perception of what sin is really like in its horror and pain.

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Repentance does not bring about divine forgiveness of sin, as if that could be triggered by a human act. On the other hand, God's forgiveness, by which the relationship between God and human beings is maintained, precedes human repentance - although it is in repenting that the existence of forgiveness is discovered.

A God who forgives in this way is not one who is concerned to punish. Neither the biblical account of creation nor the understanding of God gives any basis for attributing to God the desire for punishment. Moreover, when Jesus was invited to link sin with disaster, he refused utterly: "No, I tell you! John But such a perspective on one's own actions is very different from believing that God, who is known in relationship and characterized by love, would deliberately send a punishment, let alone a punishment which falls more and more indiscriminately. It is important to distinguish between punishment for an action and the consequences of an action.

Consequences are the natural outcome of certain actions, the end result, to which several factors will have contributed. The outcome may be good or bad for the person or persons involved, but everything will have happened within "the way the world goes", and in the freedom God gave it. To speak of an event as "punishment" from God, however, attributes to God a requirement for retribution - as if divine morality were "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" - and a readiness, in pursuit of this retribution, to disrupt human or natural life by intervening in it.

A case study may make clearer the way in which actual events always involve a complex constellation of causes and consequences, rather than a single cause and effect, and thus underscore the problems and limitations involved in labelling consequences as "punishment". Consider the following situation: A young girl from the hill tribes of northern Thailand leaves her family to find a job in the big city of Bangkok. Her parents urge her to do so, because - as subsistence farmers whose produce commands a very low price - they cannot survive without additional income.

In Bangkok the girl is put into a brothel where many girls are held in captivity by the wealthy owner. Most of the money from the clients goes to him, but the young girl does manage to send small amounts of money to her family at home. The brothel is regularly visited by rich men from Bangkok and by sex tourists from abroad who abuse the girls for their personal pleasure.

The HIV infection rate among the girls is very high, as many of the clients are HIV-infected and pass the virus on to them - and they, in turn, pass it on to other clients. Clearly there are many factors at work here: there is no simple process of cause and effect. Sinful structures in society are involved - economic conditions which virtually force the parents to sell their daughter into slavery, and sinful behaviour on the part of many people, including the brothel owner, clients and tourists who regard the girls not as human beings but as commodities or objects.

At each point in the story, relationships are broken and disrespected. This shows why it is socially, ethically and theologically impossible to link sin directly with punishment. If the girl were infected with HIV by a sex tourist, that would be a consequence, indeed a bad one, but given the circumstances of her background it cannot be regarded as "punishment" for being a prostitute.

If, on the other hand, the sex tourist caught the infection from the girl, that would again be a consequence of the encounter. But who is to say what circumstances have led to his behaviour, or have discouraged him from living out his sexuality in a responsible way in a mutually faithful relationship?


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This is not to deny that some actions are better than others, or that people are always in some degree responsible for what they do. But it does suggest that once the background and all the circumstances of an individual are understood - as God does - then it is evident that the labelling of certain consequences as "punishment" for certain actions is inappropriate.

The World Council of Churches' executive committee emphasized in its statement the need "to affirm that God deals with us in love and mercy and that we are therefore freed from simplistic moralizing about those who are attacked by the virus". Christ's community of care is an environment in which risks can be taken, all members accept mutual vulnerability and stories may be shared in trust and commitment to each other.

All too often the knowledge that a person is HIV-positive results in gossip and rejection. In a community of care, by contrast, "acceptance" moves from a simple avoidance of being judgmental to an embracing of who we are individually and, more importantly, together - the difference between receiving someone into your home as a guest, who remains "other", and embracing someone as a rightful member of the family.

The presence of HIV in our community - particularly, but not exclusively, in the church community - requires this shift in our understanding of acceptance. We are not called simply to offer charity to those whose physical bodies have the virus. Our undeniable belonging to the community challenges us to embrace the fact, however painful, that the virus has come into our body. The parable of the prodigal son Luke is a rich story about acceptance. Its characters depict contrasting attitudes similar to those which many of us hold, often simultaneously, about HIV.

God's love and compassion are certainly not restricted to Christians, nor to those whom Christians might deem "worthy". Yet we often respond like the elder son, who self-righteously resents that God's love, compassion and concern are shared generously with all. It is the younger son who begins with acceptance - of himself, his situation and his need for reconciliation. His action challenges his father to receive him home and to accept him as a son. In mutual acceptance, right relationship is restored and healing begun. Similarly, we must first accept that HIV affects us as a community.

Then, in mutual relationships with those whose bodies are infected, healing can begin. Such healing will include the restoration of relationship with ourselves, with others and with God. A community of this kind will provide the environment for a mutual sharing of our stories. This is a process towards real conversion metanoia for all involved, a process in which the whole community, through moments of genuine vulnerability, offers and receives the gifts of each person in love and acceptance.

Sexuality is an integral part of human identity. It is expressed in a variety of ways, but finds particular expression in intimate human relationship. It is "erotic" in the classic sense, that is, it drives one to move beyond oneself into encounter with another in relationship. And while this aspect of human identity finds particular expression in the dimension of physical intimacy, it cannot be separated from its emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social dimensions. A Christian understanding of sexuality seeks to take account of the fullness of all these dimensions, yet recognizes the mystery which God has given to human beings in sexuality as a whole.

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Christianity has traditionally understood sexuality to be a gift of God for the task of procreation. In some traditions this is linked with an understanding of human beings as "co-creators" with God. While the role of sexuality in procreation is clear, a broader understanding of sexuality also values its role in enriching partnership between persons and in bringing pleasure.

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Society has therefore come to recognize a diversity in the types of human sexual relationships and continues to face questions, for example, about the acceptance of non-heterosexual identity. Along with its potential for bringing the richness of intimacy and joy to human relationships, sexuality makes people particularly vulnerable - to each other and to social forces.

First of all, as we have seen, many physical expressions of sexuality can bring one into contact with HIV infection.

Second, the very fact that humans are sexual beings makes them vulnerable to the many and varied social factors which influence moral decisions and actions. Like other aspects of creation, sexuality can be misused if people do not recognize their personal responsibility. Thus societies have always sought to protect people from vulnerability in this area.

Through value systems which classify certain behaviours as socially unacceptable or through more formal means such as the institution of marriage, the expression of human sexual desire has been regulated and directed in ways deemed necessary for responsible and safe community life. Churches have particularly affirmed the role of marriage in this regard. In spite of all these attempts to provide protection and encourage responsibility, the abuse of sexual power and relations remains a reality. This is particularly apparent in the growing commercialization of sex and in sex tourism.

The AIDS virus is fragile. For its transmission it depends upon intimate contact. And there is an interesting connection between intimacy and vulnerability. Every intimate contact makes us vulnerable in all sorts of ways, not only through transmission of infection but also psychologically and in our personal identity. These have, as it were, protected the relationships. That is where the world has lost its sense that close contact between human beings needs to be within an ordered framework This, it seems to me, is a moral and theological understanding which can be expressed in ways which are accessible not only to those with Christian commitment but to all those who think seriously about our human nature and our contacts with one another.

But ideas of what is sexually moral that is, of what is "right" and not "wrong" are formed in a constant interaction between personal and community values. There is continuing debate about the origins of sexual identity , that is, whether it is genetically "given" or learned through social development. But it is certain that belief in, and adherence to, moral behaviour are developed in social interaction. Christian faith and the churches clearly have an important role in influencing how this interaction occurs, and in the development of personal and community beliefs.

In many instances Christianity and other religions have helped to develop, if not determine, prevailing systems of social moral responsibility.

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A case in point, as noted earlier, is the affirmation of the primary nature of marriage in building family and community. At times theological differences must be put aside in light of the imperative to prevent human suffering and to care for those who are suffering. The churches' role in developing moral decision-making skills is a key to this. Orthodoxy is quite clear on this point: the sexual life of men and women is possible only in marriage, the purpose of which is procreation.

Throughout the Christian world, marriage has become so unstable that it now seems almost unnecessary. In Russia , almost half of marriages break up, leaving about half a million children without one parent every year. Sixty percent of men and forty percent of women commit adultery, and infidelity ranges from one-time unfaithfulness to creation of a second and even a third family on the side. It is in this age that children enter sexual relations nowadays.

The young people who do not want to marry entertain themselves sexually, corrupting their own bodies and souls. To speak nowadays about sexual restraint before marriage is something abnormal and even "amoral". Meanwhile, marriage is God's institution, Orthodoxy has always taught that marriage has a great calling and regarded it as God's will and the fulfilment of one's earthly duty, which is procreation and propagation of Christian faith on earth.


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Churches have not always encouraged open and affirming discussion of issues of human sexuality. But if sound moral decisions are required of people, an environment conducive to making such decisions is necessary, an environment in which openness to honest sharing of experiences and concerns is promoted and the integrity of people and their relationships is affirmed. Apart from such an environment, the vulnerability of marginalized groups to high-risk behaviour is greatly increased. Gay men, who were among the first to be affected by the pandemic and often play a very significant role in care and prevention, have frequently been condemned and marginalized by the churches.

Some have argued that religious communities which have contributed to this marginalization bear some responsibility for the increased vulnerability of these persons, and that both parties must enter into a new relationship to make for more effective prevention and mutual care. Of the many factors related to the pandemic, sexuality has perhaps received the least attention in ecumenical discussion. Our lives and the whole of creation are held within the love of God in Christ. As Christians we live from the promise that nothing can separate us from God's love: no tragedies, accidents or disasters, no disease of body or mind, no personal actions, thoughts or feelings, no global structures of injustice and oppression, no natural or supernatural powers: nothing, not even death, can break God's solidarity with us and with all creation Rom.

We are also promised entry into God's final purpose for our lives and all creation. This is life abundant, a life in which each has enough and justice reigns, a life of fulfillment in which we can explore in security all the gifts God has given us. This promise shines through the Bible, from the varied accounts of creation Gen. This is creation's birthright , the "glory" for which God has destined humanity and all of creation. But within this framework of God's final vision for humanity and creation is another experience.

For we do not live in a world in which there is no death, sorrow, crying and pain Rev. The way to glory evidently leads through suffering: for in spite of all the joy and beauty life has to offer, there is much sorrow, injustice, tragedy and waste. Some of this we can understand as the consequences - for ourselves and for others - of our own acting in the freedom given us by God; some we cannot immediately understand, though we sense that it may belong to a larger pattern of which we now glimpse only a part.

But some suffering, sorrow and injustice we cannot understand at all; and we cry out, "I believe; help my unbelief! But it is not only we who suffer in this world; the world also suffers in this world. The whole creation, for all its beauty and the marvellous order which it reveals, groans in "labour pains" Rom.

Both living beings and nonliving material objects are subject to decline and decay. There is disease and illness. Many creatures live - and can live - only at the expense of others: indeed, many can live only through the death of others. The natural world is racked by equally "natural" disasters. Is this also an expression of the freedom God has given God's "creatures"? And for all their diversity, all living things without exception are united in facing a common lot: their lives in their present form will end in death.

The promise of God is strong and true. But it is hardly surprising that from time to time some of us are overwhelmed, confused or angry in the face of mysteries which test our faith in the faithfulness of God. In such moments we experience the Spirit within us, calling us again to the mystery and "madness" of our faith, speaking for us when we cannot find the words, giving us courage to stand with others despite our own discouragement and fear, calling the church to be what it is: the body of Christ, broken for others in love.

It is the Spirit which calls us to hear God's promise again, and frees us to hear it anew, opening us to hope Rom. Finally we live by hope, for our questions and doubts are held within the larger frame of God's love and promise for us and for the whole of creation. We confess that we are not alone. We suffer with Christ - who is "God with us", Immanuel - "so that we may also be glorified with him" Rom. Christ who has gone before us into glory is the basis for our hope. Christ is present with us in our suffering and struggle, not as one who offers a simple answer to every question but as the inspiration and pattern on our way.

And in our weakness we are sustained by the Spirit who dwells in us Rom. As Christ identifies with our suffering and enters into it, so we are called to enter into the suffering of others. Remembering the Suffering Servant Isa. As Christ has gone before us through death to glory, we are called to receive the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. This is God's promise that God's promise, for us and for all creation, is not destroyed by death: that we are held within the love of God, claimed by Christ as his own and sustained by the Spirit; and God will neither forsake us nor leave us to oblivion.

The early Christian texts envision and express this hope in various complementary ways. Some speak of a new quality and intensity of life, infusing our present existence and transforming it with new meaning John ; Other texts speak of a new existence after this present life - of our being raised to eternal life at the "last day" John or awakening from sleep to new life in a "resurrection body" whose seed was sown at death 1 Cor.

But all strands of the early Christian tradition affirm the bedrock conviction that God, through the power of the Spirit, gives new life in Christ, a life which is stronger than death. The experience of faith in the face of suffering despair, the search for healing and salvation, the expectation of death, the hope of resurrection. My spiritual education always reinforced, during adolescence, the importance of faith as the certainty of certain foundations, a specificbase and structure. Too have faith was always, at that time of my life,' trust and total surrender "into the hands of God" and the acquisition of principles and values, concepts and affirmation that guided me, and made me a multiplier, interested in "speaking of , Jesus" to friends and strangers.

For five years I-have been living in a house in a peaceful area in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro , a fishing village. The house is spacious but its constructions simple and rather crude, not at all sophisticated. It is hard to fathom the process of construction and the logic of the builder. It is the kind of house that has been enlarged and renovated bit by bit - through momentary decisions, using space without ever having followed a plan, probably.

The work I have done on the house has taught me to pay great attention to this detail. It is difficult to make any changes in the furnishings of the house, but when I contemplate -making the space more efficient or adapting it to some new situation - out of a creative impulse or aesthetic sense; when I want to change the use of the basics in order to emphasize other characteristics and details which habit, boredom and repetitive action have made to disappear from sight,; then the task becomes even more difficult.

I can remember a children's game with a large number of small pieces and gears that had to be put together into a shape and sometimes made' to move. A variety of solutions using basic elements Classical theology and the classical way of doing theology reinforce the importance of affirmation and certainties, of bases and foundations, of the security that springs from consensus. In the biblical tradition, a national, institutional, messianic theology, produced' during the era of reconstruction after the return from exile, affirmed faith in the foundations and in security as a way of overcoming times of instability and vulnerability.

To the present day, biblical images, repeated in theological textbooks and in the poetry of traditional hymns the hands of God, the Rock, the Foundation, Mount Zion that is never shaken, the anchor that holds against all the forces of the sea' and the tempest ,- reinforce the experience of the Sacred as relationship; to the immutable. But can theology be conceived as a risky and contingent activity - as in the declaration of faith by the father who went to find Jesus to cure his daughter: "I believe, help me in my lack of faith" Mark ?

To find a genuine expression of faith inn the face of abandonment and doubt, it is worth looking back to the expression of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job. The Psalms also portray these instants of faith in the midst of crisis and lack of prospects or meaning: "Why do you not, hear me Lord? Why do you turn away? Sometimes they used the metaphor of prostitution, which meant Hoeing to other forms of security, trying to maintain political and economic power through bogus alliances, turning away from the pure gratuitousness of "serving Yahweh" and "surrendering into his hands" in complete trust.

It is appreciably different to emphasize the base, the structure, as what is relevant, significant, essential. Value resides in the structure, the foundations, and therefore in their invariableness, immutability, inflexibility and rigidity - like the stone, the rock, Mount Zion that is not shaken. But what a difference it would make to recognize the Importance of structure and foundation precisely because of the rich possibilities they offer to open up - on that structure 01 base - to new creations and interpretations, to successive epiphanies and expressions that inspire and sharpen sensibility, that stimulate vision, that call for a posture, renewing commitment, enabling a permanent "conversion" or metanoia, All of this is far from the inflexible and repetitive speeches which do not convince precisely because of the monotony of their forms and methods.

Doing theology in the 20th century has been a arduous task and has for a number of reasons grown n. Despite the diversity of readings and responses, we live on the other hand with a great deal of accommodation to the processes of globalization, There is also a great silence about and a certain complicity with the imposition of nee-liberal models and global solutions , not only in economics and politics, but also in culture, Communities of faith, theological seminaries and ecumenical centres are slow to stay in tune and maintain a sense of timing with the changes.

There are crucial issues, and the situation of AIDS with its impact on societies and cultures is only one example of the difficulty of response, experimentation, the construction of languages and visions.

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Theology from the standpoint of the body that suffers and dreams and delivers itself up to the Mystery. It is hard not to speak in the first person singular. I do not think this implies reductionism or exaggerated individualism. Every time we pay attention to individual experience, we can identify elements that are more general, collective. That is the case with the suffering body.