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Spring 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 1 · pp. 121–124 

Book Review

Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma

Shelly Rambo. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017. 188 pages.

Reviewed by Joshua D. Nightingale

In the last few decades, trauma has come to the forefront of the public sphere, appearing in popular films and a variety of academic disciplines. In theological circles, a complex and persistent trauma has replaced generic suffering in discussions of theodicy and in critiques of Christian doctrines that address the problem of pain. Shelly Rambo, Associate Professor of Theology at Boston University, contributes to the conversation surrounding the theological significance of trauma in Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma. Not a newcomer to this conversation, she released Spirit and Trauma in 2010, a rereading of {122} the Fourth Gospel and the role of the Spirit on Holy Saturday in light of trauma studies, relying heavily on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Resurrecting Wounds offers four alternate readings of Thomas’s encounter with Jesus in the upper room (John 20:19–28) in order to explicate a detemporalized eschatology that recognizes both the “ongoingness” of wounds and the faith community’s response. While Spirit and Trauma was a focused book—drawing primarily from one theologian, interpreting one text, and developing a pneumatology of the space between life and death—Resurrecting Wounds contains four disparate chapters dealing with vastly different subjects, loosely connected by various reimaginings of Thomas’s Upper Room experience. Rambo’s images of the Upper Room encounter revolve around Jesus’s wounds, the distance between Thomas’s finger and the wounds, and the community surrounding the wounds (151).

The first chapter engages John Calvin’s commentary on John 20:19–28, highlighting how Calvin erases the wounds of the resurrected Jesus. Because these wounds are (according to Calvin) only a means to the end of Thomas’s understanding of Jesus as Lord, they disappear after he makes his declaration of faith so that Jesus’s body can be truly glorified (29). Rambo gives a balanced critique of Calvin by explaining the context in which he was writing and by illuminating his concerns (33). Rambo emphasizes the communal nature of the flesh and positions it with the spirit instead of against it (40). The resurrection wounds ground Jesus in a historical context and demonstrate an interlaced experience of death and life, flesh and spirit (41).

The second chapter interprets the Upper Room story in light of Gregory of Nyssa’s account of Macrina’s scar. The two stories that Rambo draws from Gregory’s account are concerned with medical issues (a tumor, an eye illness) that are healed by prayer (47). Which raises an important methodological question. How does one select appropriate passages for elucidating trauma? Is the selection determined by the text’s liminality? The presence of death or scars? Or simply by virtue of the fact that a text can be invested with that interpretation? If the latter, then surely the whole realm of “trauma theology” becomes suspect for being a nouveau hermeneutic of suspicion, merely posing as a concern for trauma for the sake of argument. In this schema, trauma is taken advantage of, becomes a faddish catchphrase or vehicle for the author’s true theological ambitions for the texts at play. Chapters 2 and 3 render it unclear if Resurrecting Wounds is a theological response to trauma and its healing or merely the garb for Rambo’s unorthodox interpretative moves. {123}

In chapter 3, Rambo attempts to grapple with the complexities of American race relations in the “Age of Ferguson.” The riots pushed hidden wounds to the surface. Rambo’s application in this context of her insights into the Upper Room event is incredibly forced, as it posits that the postures of white privilege in the United States can be represented in the disciples’ actions (92). On this reading, Jesus confronts Thomas’s complicity in the wounds so that Thomas can examine his own worldview and so that the ongoing wounds can be healed. The Johannine narrative provides little warrant for proposing such a direct and comprehensive analogue to the situation in the United States.

In the fourth chapter, Rambo examines the role of a community in the healing process. She bases her discussion on interviews with members of Warriors Journey Home, a group of civilians and veterans dedicated to the recovery of those who return from war and to the community who receives them (114). This is a challenging read for a Mennonite who identifies with the historic peace churches. It is notoriously difficult for veterans to integrate into civilian life. Many Mennonite churches have enforced the ban and refused communion to veterans who did not repent of their wartime activity. A Mennonite reading this chapter is sure to reflect on whether Rambo’s account might be the better response. Rambo imagines that the Upper Room encounter shows Jesus inviting the disciples to be a community of healing, able to gaze at the ongoing wounds and hold them in such a way that allows for recovery (138). At times Rambo’s language dangerously implies an inevitability to the process of recovery: people gather together in attentiveness, wounds are witnessed, healing emerges (138). Nonetheless, the concrete example of the Warriors Journey Home and Rambo’s theological interpretation of its work are important considerations for Mennonites interested in holistic and integrative healing within their communities.

The first and last chapters of Resurrecting Wounds are excellent explorations of the ongoingness of wounds, of how the faith community might respond with either censure or engagement. The two middle chapters, however, are interpretive stretches that stumble in their execution. While Rambo clearly has a problem with traditional eschatology, she provides no extended critique, and this renders her advocacy for an “inbetweenness” inert (150). Frequently, Rambo fails to introduce and define her jargon. Her language of “crossings,” for example, is an unnecessarily convoluted term for intersectionality (94). Theological topics of every kind are scattered throughout the work: pneumatology, the flesh, hauntology, ecclesiology, resurrection, the soul, memory, civil rights, and others. The sheer range of these topics threatens to spread readers’ attention too thin, especially if they are unwilling to follow her {124} interpretive leaps. Resurrecting Wounds is a daring and ambitious work, but Spirit and Trauma is, on the whole, a much clearer, focused, and rewarding theological response to the reality of trauma.

Joshua D. Nightingale
Graduate student in Theology
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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