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A HERMENEUTICS OF RETRIEVAL: BREATH AND EARTH VOICE IN LUKE'S MAGNIFICAT- DOES EARTH CARE FOR THE POOR? 1

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This article uses the concept of "breath" as a hermeneutic key for applying the ecological hermeneutic of retrieval to suggest ways of reading the Magnificat with an ear to an Earth voice. The principle of voice, articulated by the Earth
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   ABR 63(2015)68   –  84 A HERMENEUTICS OF RETRIEVAL: BREATH AND EARTH VOICE IN LUKE’ S MAGNIFICAT  —  DOES EARTH CARE FORTHE POOR? 1 Anne Elvey  Monash University and University of Divinity A BSTRACT This article uses the concept of “breath” as a hermeneutic key for applying the ecological hermeneutic of retrieval to suggest ways of reading the Magnificatwith an ear to an Earth voice.The principle of voice, articulated by the EarthBible Team,can be understood as a biblical principle, evident in the psalms.Much of the Second Testament, however, seems not to mention Earth directlyandthis raisesquestionsconcerning the application of the principle of voice.Taking the Magnificat as an example, I ask how might the interpreter retrievean Earth voice in a text that seems oriented toward inter-human concerns forsocial justice? I suggestfourways in which the voice of Earth might be re-trieved in this song in the mouth of a woman, Mary of Nazareth, through: i) themateriality of the text; ii) attention to the human body, especially the senses andthe breath; iii) attention to the sustaining capacity of Earth in relation to povertyand riches; iv) the implicit reference to the land in the promise to the ancestors.The overall intent of the articleis to situate the human question of povertyandoppressionas an Earth question. kai\ h0galli/asen to_ pneu~ma& mou e0pi\ tw~  | qew~  | swth~ri/ mou   Luke1:47B REATH , HUMAN AND OTHER - THAN - HUMAN , IS A PHENOMENON THATCONNECTS humans with the wider Earth community of which we are part. 2 William Bry- 1 This article is a revised version of a paper given in the Ecological HermeneuticsSect ion on the theme “Poverty, Ecology, and the Bible,” at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD, 24 November 2013. 2 For ecological hermeneutics, it is critical to recognise the embeddedness of human-kind in, and interdependence with, a wider Earth community. At the same time, theEarth is much more than any human community or their habitats. Inevitably, whenwriting about humans and Earth some distinctions as well as interconnections willbe evident in the choice of language.  E LVEY :B REATH AND E ARTH V OICE IN L UKE ’ S M AGNIFICAT 69 ant Logan in his delightful book,  Air: The Restless Shaper of the World  , writesof the breath of creatures  —  including humans, birds, spiders and insects  —  living in the reserve near his home:In all, the living on the preserve breathe better than ten mil-lion gallons of air in a single day. If you ran a hose nonstop,it would take about ten thousand hours for thatvolume of water to come out. It is then perhaps neither a poetic way of speaking nor an exaggeration to say that the atmosphere isregulated by the living. From air and water, all the living arederived through the medium of breath. Perhaps it is fair tosay that breath is being, and that creatures are the expressionsof its existence. 3 Later he says of breathing: “ It is the body ’ s constant ceremony as long aswe live. ” 4 Luce Irigaray recalls the materiality of the air as a forgotten given of our being andthinking. 5 Breath is, moreover, an important part of language, of the space between words, inhabiting different sounds and cadences, makingspeech and singing possible. 6 I begin with a reflection on breathand speech, because I am interested inthe aspect of an ecological hermeneutics of retrieval which attempts to recoverand “ speak  ” an Earth voice in human words. 7 Concerning theprocess of re-trieval, Norm Habel writes: “ As the interpreter exposes the various anthropo-centric dimensions of the text  —  the ways in which the human agenda and biasare sustained either by the reader or the implied author  —  the text may reveal anumber of surprises about the nonhuman characters in the story. ” 8 But what of texts in which there are no other-than-human characters, where the text seemsfocused on human concerns without any apparent reference to other than hu-mans, even as background?My text,the Magnificat from Luke ’ s infancy narrative , is one such; yet w ithits reference to  to_ pneu~ma& mou in the second line, the textinvites the reader toemploy breath as an interpretive key.In the Magnificat, a woman ’ s breath car-ries the song of reversal. The woman breathes in, and exhales into, the 3 WilliamBryant Logan,  Air: The Restless Shaper of the World  (Ebook;New York:Norton, 2012) 320  –  21.4Logan,  Air  324.5Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger  (trans.Mary Beth Mader;Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1999).6See f  or example David Abram’s comments on the breathing spaces between the consonants of unpointed Hebrew in The Spell of the Sensuous (New York: VintageBooks, 1997) 99.7 On an ecological hermeneutics of retrieval, see Norman C. Habel, “Introducing Eco-logica l Hermeneutics,” in  Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics (ed. Norman C. Habeland Peter L. Trudinger; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008) 7  –  8. 8 Habel, “Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics” 5.  70A USTRALIAN B IBLICAL R EVIEW 63(2015) air/atmosphere of Earth. How does her voice intersect with an Earth voicewhen she sings the reversal of poor and rich? In exploring a hermeneutic of re-trieval of an Earth voice that is not obvious in the text, I bring to my reading of the Magnificat the question: does Earth care for the poor?THEHERMENEUTICS OF RETRIEVALAND THEPRINCIPLE OF VOICETo address this question, I consider first howImight listen to the Magnificatwith an ear to an Earth voice. 9 The hermeneutic of retrieval that Habel outlinescomes in a series of three: suspicion, identification and retrieval. A hermeneu-tics of suspicion concerns an alertness to theanthropocentrism of biblical textsand interpretations. 10 A hermeneutic of identification involves the “ task of em-pathy ” and requires the reader to endeavour “ to come to terms with his or herdeep ecological connections, ” and to acknowledge and take in “ the prior eco-logical reality of our kinship with Earth. ” 11 My focus on breath as an interpre-tive key is one way of affirming this ecological connection and kinship. VickyBalabanski situates the hermeneutic of identification as a necessary step be-tween suspicion and retrieval, one requiring of the interpreter an ecologicalconversion to the other, to Earth as other. 12 Earth is an other with which hu-mans and human communities, interpreters and readers are enmeshed. Identifi-cation with Earth is complex, entailing not so much an identification with another from which humans stand separate but an identification that prompts usto know ourselves other-wise, to know ourselves through a reorientation to- 9 The recovery of an Earth “voice”or “voices” in human words is itself problematic,as Gene Tucker and David Horrellshow in different ways, but it is also akin to a feminist recovery of suppressed women’s voices as Elaine Wainwright argues. SeeThe Earth Bible Team, “Conversations with Gene Tucker and Other Writers,” in The Earth Story in Genesis (edsNorman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst; The Earth Bible 2;Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) 29  –30; David G. Horrell, “EcologicalHermeneutics: Reflections on Method and Prospects for the Future,” Colloquium 46:2 (2014) 156. Cf. Elaine M. Wainwright’s response to Horrell Colloquium 46:2(2014) 166  –69 and the earlier Earth Bible Team, “The Voice of the Earth: MoreThan Metaphor?,” in The Earth Story in the Psalms and the Prophets (ed. NormanC. Habel; The Earth Bible 4; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001) 23  –  28. Iexplore the problems and possibilities of this concept of Earth voice more fully in Anne Elvey, “Retrieving an Earth Voice: Ecological Hermeneutics, the Matter of theText and Reading ‘as ifit’s holy’ (Jennifer Harrison ‘Book Sculptor’),”  AEJT  22:2(2015) 81  –  95.10 Habel, “Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics” 4. 11 Habel, “Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics” 4. 12 Vicky Balabanski, “The Step of ‘Identification’ in Norman Habel’s Ecological Her- meneutics: Hermeneutical Reflections on ‘Ecological Conversion,’” in Where theWild Ox Roams: Biblical Essays in Honour of Norman C. Habel (ed. Alan H. Cad-wallader with Peter L. Trudinger; Hebrew Bible Monographs 59; Sheffield: Shef-field Phoenix Press,2013) 20  –  31.  E LVEY :B REATH AND E ARTH V OICE IN L UKE ’ S M AGNIFICAT 71 ward another frame of reference, where we understand ourselves as enmeshed,and sharing habitation, with many others. Balabanski argues that identificationrequires imagination, self-reflection, critique and, cautiously, a “ self-transcendence ” where transcendence means going beyond “ the narrowly de-fined individualized self  ”; such identification requires an ability to draw con-nections. 13 A hermeneutic of retrieval builds on such identification and ideally employswriting styles that invite from readers sympathetic and empathic identificationwith Earth others, or that shift the perception of the readers ’ anthropocentrismor their habitual identifications with human concerns. Such writing needs to gobeyond discursive language that tells the reader what to think but does not “ turn the breath ” toward empathy, to effective creative language in order to oc-casion a turn in human perception of ourselves in relation to Earth, and so toenable a more attentive and less destructive mode of human dwelling and act-ing within the Earth community. 14 Much as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza ar-gues in a feminist frame, the three hermeneutics (suspicion, identification andretrieval) are not simply applied consecutively but form a circle or web, so thatsuspicion is re-applied to our ecological identifications and retrievals, with anear for example to where in ecological interpretations we are “ colonizing thereferent, ” namely Earth or members of Earth community. 15 For Habel, “[ d]iscerning Earth and members of Earth community as sub- jects with a voice is a key part of the retrieval process. In some contexts theirvoices are evident but have been traditionally ignored by exegetes. In othercontexts the voice of Earth and Earth community is not explicit, but neverthe-less present and powerful. ” 16 The question Habel and his colleagues address,concerning whether “ Earth voice ” is metaphor or more than metaphor,pointsto an important question about the relationship between Earth and human lan-guage, that is a question of the materiality of language and texts themselves. 17 That metaphor is lively is in no small part due to the liveliness of that to which 13 Balabanski, “The Step of ‘Identification’” 22–  23, 31.14The concept of turning the breath comes from the great post-Holocaust poet PaulCelan[ “The Meridian,” in Selections (trans. Rosemarie Waldrop;ed. and with an in-troduction by PierreJoris; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) 162] who writes: “Poetry is perhaps this: an  Atemwende , a turning of our breath. Who knows,perhaps poetry goes its way  —  the way of art  —for the sake of just such a turn?” 15 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza,  But She Said: Feminist Practices Of Biblical Interpre-tation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992)52  –  76.JonathanSkinner , “Thoughts on Things: Poet ics of the Third Landscape,” in  ECO(LANG)(UAGE(READER)): the eco lan-guage reader  (ed. Brenda Iijima; New York: Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs andNightboat Books, 2010) 39. 16 Habel, “Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics” 5. 17 Earth Bible Team, “The Voice of the Earth” 23  –  28.  72A USTRALIAN B IBLICAL R EVIEW 63(2015) it refers. 18 That the retrieval of an Earth voice occurs in human speech acts andwritten texts might prompt us to consider their materiality, their status as “ bits ” ofEarth, including atmosphere/air, albeit mediated by way of human and oth-er-than-human labour. 19 Further, as Habel suggests when he refers to “ nonhuman figures communi-cating in some way  —  mourning, praising, and singing, ” the principle of voiceis in effect already a biblical principle. 20 Earth itself is responsive. 21 There is inplay, especially in the Hebrew Bible, a biblical animism, thatreadersshouldnot assume is outside the background of the Gospel narratives (and other Sec-ond Testament writings). It makes more sense to assume that an understandingof land, sea and sky, and other animals, as potential (and potent) respondents toeach other, to humans and to the divine, is part of the scriptural ethos inheritedby the first century CE writers and their hearers. 22 The ecojustice principle of voice, therefore, is not simply a metaphor enabling biblical interpreters to at-tend to an Earth community of which humans are part, as if Earth had a voicelike a human subject, but the principle of voice is also a biblical principle, evi-dent in the psalms (for example, Ps98:7  –  9), which can be read as expressing abiblical animism where Earth has subjecthood and agency.Drawing on David Abram ’ s The Spell of the Sensuous , Heather Eatonwrites: “ To experience the Earth as a ‘ speaking ’ subject, a living entity, is toengage all of the senses (Abram 1997). To articulate this is to move into the realm of poesies; vivid and intense imagery being the only metaphoric lan- guage that can contain and mediate these experiences. ” 23 Eaton ’ s appeal to the 18 Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: The Creation of Meaning in Language (trans.Robert Czerny, Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, SJ;Routledge Classics;London: Routledge, 2003) 48. 19 See Anne Elvey, The Matter of the Text: Material Engagements Between Luke and the Five Senses (The Bible in the Modern World 37; Sheffield: Sheffield PhoenixPress, 2011)and “The Matter of Texts: AMaterial Intertextuality and Ecocritical Engagements with the Bible,” in  Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches (ed. Axel Goodbody and Kate Rigby; Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press,2011)181  –  93. 20 Habel, “Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics” 5. 21 See, for example, the discussion in Brian J.Walsh, Marianne B. Karsh and Nik An- sell, “Trees, Forestry, and the Responsiveness of Creation,” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment  (ed. Roger S. Gottlieb; New York: Routledge, 1996)423  –  35. 22 See the discussion in Karen J. Wenell,  Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space inSecond Temple Judaism (London: T & T Clark, 2007). Michael Trainor(  About   Earth’s Child: An Ecological Listening to the Gosp el of Luke [The Earth BibleCommentary Series 2; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012]10  –  11)similarly argues that “Luke’s inheritance of the Genesis accounts of creation … [is] reflec ted in his portrait of Jesus.” 23 Heather Eaton, “Ecofeminist Contributions to an Ecojustice Hermeneutics,” in  Readings from the Perspective of Earth (ed. Norman C. Habel; Earth Bible 1; Shef-field:Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)66.
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