On September 30, the Theology and Ministry Library hosted an event entitled “Coping and Hoping with the Help of Jeremiah.”
At the event, Dr. Jaime L. Waters discussed the themes of Jeremiah in light of the health and racial injustice of this past year. Waters earned her BA in philosophy and theology at Boston College, her MA in religion at Yale University, and her Ph.D. in Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Waters is currently an associate professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University, and her courses emphasize ancient and modern perspectives on the Bible. Waters has published on the topics of sacred and liminal space in her book Threshing Floors in Ancient Israel: Their Ritual and Symbolic Significance. Waters has been performing research on the book of Jeremiah largely during 2020 and 2021—a time of suffering and uncertainty.
The event began with Waters describing Jeremiah, who lived during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. His prophetic career coincided with a tumultuous period of instability, suffering, destruction, and exile during war and destruction.
Waters transitioned to how the book of Jeremiah includes many critiques against corruption and injustice in society. Waters related the problems in Jeremiah’s time to the issues in America pertaining to racial injustice as well as health injustice during the past year.
Waters’ stated that the physical, emotional, and mental toll of the pandemic shows the “fragility of healthcare systems, and has exacerbated health disparities that were already prevalent in the US and across the world.”
Waters explained how the Hebrew Bible describes the exclusion of disabled people by marginalizing the blind and the lame, showing how these groups are often overlooked in society. Waters used Leviticus 21 as an example, which states how people with various disabilities and diseases were prohibited from entering the sanctuary.
Despite these negative attitudes, Waters explained how several chapters of Isaiah emphasize the healing of and guidance toward people with various disabilities.
Isaiah 35 emphasizes the healing of disabled individuals and Isiah 42 portrays God guiding and aiding the blind down unknown routes. Waters then stated how Jeremiah’s vision of a renewed society after exile does not speak of healing blind and the lame, but simply includes them, highlighting how Jeremiah also offers an inclusive society.
Waters related this marginalization of the blind and the lame to the injustice in America today. “Like health disparities in this country, racial injustice has also been a plague and both reached a breaking point in 2020,” she said.
In addition to the health inequalities many Americans are facing during COVID-19, Waters described the renewed engagement surrounding racial injustice and police brutality sparked by the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
Waters wrapped up her presentation by stating, “Jeremiah’s texts on divine healing can offer solace and his image of an inclusive restoration may offer an instructive model when working towards racial justice and justice more broadly.”
Waters suggested that rebuilding is how we should address our health and racial crises and stated that America’s goals require inclusion. Waters stated how marginalized people must be seen, recognized and heard in order to obtain justice in society.
Waters then gave the audience an opportunity to think about what resonated with them during the presentation and their thoughts on hope and healing.
One Zoom participant asked, “do you have any thoughts on how we can extend or share the lessons from Jeremiah that could impact the discussions taking place locally and nationally on racial inclusivity when so many are moving away from religion?”
“It’s one thing to recognize problems and challenges in society, but some of those solutions can only be really effective if the affected people are part of the conversation," Waters replied. "Thinking about who’s impacted by these problems and what voice do they have in the solutions is important.”
Waters concluded her presentation saying “change requires the people affected to be involved.”