Wanda Deifelt is a Brazilian theologian serving as professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, IA. She is an ordained Lutheran pastor and has served as theological advisor to many ecumenical organizations (World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, Latin American Council of Churches, etc.). Her publications are on embodiment, feminist and liberation theologies, ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, religious pluralism in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the encounter of religion with literature and art.
“We Are Only Temporarily Abled: Rising to Life with Disability”
We have become accustomed to the idea of bodily perfection (even if this is an unattainable ideal), promoted by fields as diverse as advertising, physiculture, plastic surgery, diet programs, or medicine. The notion of what a normal body does and looks like has become normative and falls under constructs of modernity, often emphasizing the dichotomy between body and reason. It also perceives the body as a machine made of bone and flesh that responds to the will of the brain. But what happens when this “machine” does not comply, if it has volitions of its own? How does bodily expectation of normalcy reconcile with the reality of its limitations? What are the consequences of labeling a body as disabled? What are the epistemological shifts engendered by centering theological discourse and practice from a perspective of disability? Does our approach to our own bodies change once we realize that there is no perfect body? How does our understanding of embodiment (the multiple bodies we inhabit: personal, social, ecclesial, ecological, etc) shift once we no longer assume perfection but accept limitation and embrace vulnerability? What are the consequences for ethical engagement if the starting point is not one of independence and autonomy but the fact that we are only temporarily able? These are some of the questions this essay will address.