Lov­ing Our Own Bones: Dis­abil­i­ty Wis­dom and the Spir­i­tu­al Sub­ver­sive­ness of Know­ing Our­selves Whole

January 8, 2023

A trans­for­ma­tive spir­i­tu­al com­pan­ion and deep dive into dis­abil­i­ty pol­i­tics that reimag­ines dis­abil­i­ty in the Bible and con­tem­po­rary culture

An essen­tial read that will fos­ter and enrich con­ver­sa­tions about dis­abil­i­ty, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and social justice

What’s wrong with you?”

Schol­ar, activist, and rab­bi Julia Watts Belser is all too famil­iar with this ques­tion. What’s wrong isn’t her wheel­chair, though – it’s exclu­sion, objec­ti­fi­ca­tion, pity, and disdain.

Our atti­tudes about dis­abil­i­ty have such deep cul­tur­al roots that we almost for­get their sources. But open the Bible and dis­abil­i­ty is every­where. Moses believes his stut­ter ren­ders him unable to answer God’s call. Jacob’s encounter with an angel leaves him changed not just spir­i­tu­al­ly but phys­i­cal­ly: he gains a limp. For cen­turies, these sto­ries have been told and retold in ways that treat dis­abil­i­ty as a metaphor for spir­i­tu­al inca­pac­i­ty or as a chal­lenge to be overcome.

Through fresh and unex­pect­ed read­ings of the Bible, Lov­ing Our Own Bones instead paints a lumi­nous por­trait of what it means to be dis­abled and one of God’s beloved. Belser delves deep into sacred lit­er­a­ture, braid­ing the insights of dis­abled, fem­i­nist, Black, and queer thinkers with her own expe­ri­ences as a queer dis­abled Jew­ish fem­i­nist. She talks back to bib­li­cal com­men­ta­tors who traf­fic in dis­abil­i­ty stig­ma and shame. What unfolds is a pro­found gift of dis­abil­i­ty wis­dom, a rad­i­cal act of spir­i­tu­al imag­i­na­tion that can guide us all toward a pow­er­ful reck­on­ing with each oth­er and with our bodies.

Lov­ing Our Own Bones invites read­ers to claim the pow­er and promise of spir­i­tu­al dis­sent, and to nour­ish their own souls through the rev­o­lu­tion­ary art of rad­i­cal self-love.

Discussion Questions

In Lov­ing Our Own Bones, rab­bi, schol­ar, and activist Julia Watts Belser draws on her own expe­ri­ence with dis­abil­i­ty to offer a pow­er­ful new read­ing of the Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Her chap­ter on Moses’s reluc­tance to serve as a prophet because of his speech imped­i­ment is par­tic­u­lar­ly mov­ing. Here, Belser argues that Moses’ dis­abil­i­ty is part of God’s plan for him and for the Israelites, thus affirm­ing his place as a leader. In this light, his staff can now be seen as an assis­tive device. 

Despite its seri­ous moments, the book remains pos­i­tive and for­ward-look­ing. Belser’s inti­mate, direct tone opens up new avenues for spir­i­tu­al explo­ration. Dis­abil­i­ty — which, as the author notes, will touch near­ly every­one at some point — becomes an oppor­tu­ni­ty for those who are will­ing to appre­ci­ate the unique per­spec­tive it brings.