Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feeling for a theology: a “sense-xegesis” of Mark 14

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am presenting a paper as part of a Colloquium on Theological Interpretation, at Laidlaw College on August 19-20. My title is: Feeling for a theology: an exploration of the place of “sense-gesis” in theological reading.

So here is one small section, in which I use senses, in particular the sense of touch, to help me as I processed the Christchurch earthquake.

My home town is Christchurch and after the February earthquake, I found myself in a state of grief and abandonment. My exegesis of Mark 14:32-34 began with the naming of these feelings and a wondering if they had any connection with Biblical texts.

Jesus in Mark 14:33, feels “deeply distressed and troubled.” He finds a space to pray: Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” (36)

At this point, the sense of touch became important. I began to imagine Jesus holding the cup of suffering. As the narrative unfolds, we realise that this cup is not in fact taken. He continues to hold it.

In the surrounding narrative, touch continues to be important. In the prior narrative, Jesus is taking the cup (14:23) and this physical act provides both a continuity and a (Messianic) content for the contents of the cup. In the following narrative, Judas arrives and Jesus experiences a kiss on his check (Mark 14:45). This physical act, a form of sexual abuse, is a central dramatic moment. The sexuality of the text, foregrounded in the “sense-xegesis” of touch, continues with the young man, wearing nothing (feeling the touch of night air rather than clothing), feeling naked, leaving someone holding (touching) his garment.

Touch as suffering, betrayal, as abusive touch, as naked abandonment is central to this text. It is this suffering which Jesus enters. The Passion narrative is offered another layer of meaning, in which the Son of man chooses to enter, by “taking the cup.”

This provides a way to respond to the earthquake. The text becomes an invitation to prayer, to remain attentive, touching the cup of suffering.

It is tempting in the face of contemporary suffering, to fall “asleep” (14:37), perhaps by not keeping “watch for one hour” (14:37) of television news. It is tempting to seek deliverance as a removal of distress and sorrow. Instead the physicality of Mark 14 invites us to make sense by joining Jesus, sharing our distress and sorrow by holding the cup of intercession.

Posted by steve at 12:54 PM


  1. A “sense-gesis” (great term by the way!) especially of Touch, is highly important, not the least for reaching out to a broken, busted world. I recall days after the February event I was out shovelling dirty, smelly silt for a good number of hours. My overarching thought was: I am worshipping! Through concrete action, through touch. Someone, somewhere, was being made better by my actions. And such actions, I believe, are what is required of us. Touch, in a busted world, makes perfect sense.

    Comment by Ryan — August 19, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  2. At the risk of sounding blunt, isn’t this what people do anyway? I’m not sure what you are saying that is new or different.

    Comment by T. Sauce — August 24, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  3. Hi T. Sauce,

    Not really sure how to respond to your comment. What I put up here is about 20% of the paper I spoke.

    Perhaps those who gave me positive feedback after were just being polite, while you have the gift of bluntness 🙂

    I will be submitting it for the conference book, so I guess if there is nothing new or different as you say, then that will also be made clear through their comments,


    Comment by steve — August 24, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  4. Hi Steve

    Yeah for sure, I recognize it was only a snippet and can’t do justice to the whole, which is why I asked the question in the comments. I’m interested in different ways of looking at doing theology, but get a little frustrated when there isn’t much substance behind what is being said. So I guess I was hoping for an answer that would give some serious piece of theological meat to chew over.

    I hope you can appreciate that I just don’t want to panda to the topic when I’m being a little blunt :).

    T. Sauce

    Comment by T. Sauce — August 25, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  5. Thanks T. Sauce.

    My paper was an attempt to explore how feelings and senses might be part of how we use the Bible. So the bit I put up was using my feelings and the sense of touch to engage the text. In the entire paper, I was exploring every one of the senses. For example, what happens when we smell the Bible”? And I was then exploring the implications. You see, when I pick up a Bible commentary or theology text, I very rarely get invited to engage the Bible using touch, smell etc. So I would suggest that in that sense, what I was doing was new and different.

    And a related question – how do I use my senses in a way that does not simply exiseigeste my senses onto the text. Can I do “serious theological meat” using my senses? And a related question – can “serious theological meat” only be done by people of a certain intelligence and intellectual capacity? If so, what does that say about how we understand being made in the image of God?


    Comment by steve — August 25, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  6. Hi Steve

    Sorry for late reply, I’ve been away with whanau.

    For sure, Biblical Commentaries have, conventionally, relied on a kind of intelligence. Often reading commentaries and scripture are read as if outside of the assemblages they are plugged in to. You are right, the senses are a definite deficit in their accounts. I guess my questions arise in response to a priority of the senses. Is it possible for sense and intelligence to be so easily divorced? A severe Wittgenstein/Merleau-Ponty movement could be made towards a disavowal of ‘intelligence’ althogether; but I’m not sure that would answer many problems meaningfully.

    I think I would say the senses involuntarily present me with the grounds on which the theological meat of your questions is asked of me, but it is in the thinking and wrestling of the intellect that meaning is made, particularly as I find connections from various other arena’s of my living experience.

    Also as a related question; in what way would senses account for beauty? If I taste a bad coffee does that make it bad? Or perhaps in a similar vein, if the bible had been frequently used to hit me during my childhood does that make it bad? Or if the person hurting me with the bible also smells of sweet roses, and tells me they care for me, could senses account for the severe schizophrenia the assailant is succumbing to without rendering the pain of being hurt with sweet roses and being cared for? (Disclaimer: Not a real issue of mine or anyone elses that I know of, just a fictional example).

    I dunno if I’m still on track here with what your talking about. This is at least one of the landscapes I arrived at after reading the post.


    T. Sauce

    Comment by T. Sauce — August 30, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

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