Boy, am I glad that I wrote up session four soon after hearing Christopher West speak! Not so for this session, which is a distant memory and chicken-scratch notes. My apologies if this summary is slightly spotty or incoherent, and apologies too for the two-week break on this series.
I actually missed a day of Bible study when my son was sick so I knew I needed to skip a week somewhere so I could try to catch up on the video, and then we went on vacation, and a double post day just wasn’t happening with the Eat Well, Spend Less series running Monday-Wednesday for two weeks.
So. Excuses, excuses. It’s Lent, doggone it, and I should be talking more about God and slightly less about His creation and nourishment He provides.
Are you ready to make Holy Week radically holy, by the way? I usually challenge you to do something further, extra beyond your Lenten sacrifices already, to really make this week bring you closer to Christ’s walk.
I’m thinking I should probably cut the dark chocolate compromise I allow myself on the "no sugar" sacrifice. Might kill me, but at least Heaven will be one step closer!
On to Christopher West
If you missed the first two parts of this series, which is just my notes and summary of Christopher West’s video-taped talks and workbook on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, find them here:
**Anything in quotes that is not otherwise credited is from Christopher West, either the text of the study guide or loosely transcribed from his talk.
Part Three begins with this from Scripture:
"For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." Matthew 19:8
"By starting with Christ’s words, John Paul makes a specific statement about our humanity."
To understand who we are and what humanity is destined to be, we must look to Christ.
"Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear." Gaudium et Spes, 22
"The first man and the first woman must constitute…the model…for all men and women who in any period unite with each other so intimately that they are ‘one flesh.’" Theology of the Body, 10:3
Christ shows us that our humanity must equal love. We are made to love others as surely as we are made to eat and breathe and sleep.
West calls the way our society deals with this the "flat tire syndrome." He says, "We’re all driving around town (the world) with flat tires and wonder why we are frustrated. [We can get around, just not well or smoothly.] Christ came to fill the tires so we can get through life properly." That’s why the first miracle is the wedding at Cana:
The wine in that story stands for God’s love for us. God’s love is agape love, perfect, self-giving love. In the beginning, eros, sexual love, was also perfected because it was always totally open to God. Adam and Eve (doggone them!) lost that for us, and the first miracle to restore the wine symbolized Christ’s mission to come and restore God’s agape love in the world.
The Original Experience of the Body
The three experiences in Genesis are:
West calls these the "meat" of John Paul II’s 129 talks over five years, and points out that all are experienced in the body.
Original Solitude: "Alone" in the World as a Person
"Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’" Genesis 2:18
"This means not only that man is "alone" without the opposite sex, but that the human being (male and female) is "alone" in the visible world as a person. Adam realizes he is ‘different’ from the animals. He is made in God’s image. He has freedom – the capacity to choose between good and evil."
We are the only created being with this freedom: the ability to disobey, given to us so that we can freely love Him. If love is not a choice, it is not love.
"Basing himself on the experience of his own body, the man…could have reached the conclusion that he is substantially similar to the [animals]." Instead, he "reached the conviction that he was ‘alone.’" Theology of the Body, 6:3
"The body expresses the person. It is, thus, in all its materiality…penetrable and transparent, as it were, in such a way as to make it clear who man is (and who he ought to be)." Theology of the Body, 7:2
"Our sexual bodies don’t make sense without the other. The two are created to love in life-giving union."
Original Unity: Called to Live in Relationship
Man "cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of himself." Gaudium et Spes 24
"Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." Genesis 2:24
West is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean everyone is called 100% to marry, only that all of us are called to give love as Christ loved. We had some good conversation in the first and second parts of the series about how Theology of the Body applies to single people, and my fellow Bible study members assure me that session four and five really begin to hit on this in the text.
Here’s where we got some good discussion going and I thought of a lot of questions:
"[Married couples’] unity in ‘one flesh’ is worlds apart from the copulation of animals. Unlike the animals, man and woman have the capacity to love (FREEDOM)." Bodily, I was struggling to see how this is different than animals. I understand how spiritually, we are different, intellectually, we are different, but this is Theology of the Body…so how is our love-making physically different than animals’?
We determined that it’s simply that freedom to choose – when our instincts of physical arousal kick in, unlike the animals, we do not have to follow them willy nilly and complete the act every time. It’s not instinct totally in our bodies, but because of our will, our freedom to choose, we can be physically aroused and still choose not to copulate, but animals can’t. Does that make sense? It struck me with truth!
"Becoming ‘one flesh’ refers not only to the joining of two bodies but is a ‘sacramental’ expression which corresponds to the communion of persons." Theology of the Body, 31:2
West calls this "communion of persons" one of the "key phrases" of John Paul II’s talks!
We "can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning." In other words, man "becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion…On all this, right from the beginning, the blessing of fruitfulness descended." Theology of the Body, 9:3
Therefore, our fertility, the ability to come together to create life, is an integral part of our imaging God. He is not only LOVE, but FATHER. "Our union gives some glimmer into the life-giving love of the Trinity."
It’s important to note, again, that just because one is called to be single doesn’t mean they’re not living out their humanity or not made in the image of God. Single people still have the physical capacity to create life, and we’ll see coming up that it’s a very holy thing to be single for the Lord!
Original Nakedness: They Knew No Shame
"And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed." Genesis 2:25
This is not a cursory detail! "John Paul II calls this the "key" for understanding God’s original plan for man and woman! (see TOB 11:2) Wow! In our day and age, it’s incredible to think about walking around naked, feeling no shame, not feeling out of the ordinary, dirty, or wrong. (And, I have to point out, since it’s snowing in Michigan this morning, not cold, too!)
That nakedness without shame is our original intent "demonstrates the perfect unity in the human heart between eros (physical love) and agape (life-giving, self-giving love), between human love and divine love. Arousal was never selfish, not Adam trying to obtain pleasure with Eve for his own sake, but seeing her as a mystery to be revealed in love."
"There is no shame or fear in love; they experienced sexual desire only as the desire to love in God’s image." "Perfect love casts out fear." 1 John 4:18
"Nakedness reveals the spousal meaning of the body which is the body’s ‘power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.’" TOB 15:1
"The fact that ‘they did not feel shame’ means that the woman was not an ‘object’ for the man, nor he for her." TOB 19:1 "They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the interior gaze." TOB 13:1
"’Nakedness’ signifies the original GOOD of the divine vision. It signifies…the ‘pure’ value of man as male and female, the ‘pure’ value of the body and of sex." Theology of the Body, 13:1
Points to Ponder
- What is the difference between eros and agape? How were the two connected in God’s original intent for humanity, and how has the devil and original sin corrupted this vision?
- Why is fertility a blessing? Why can a single person still image God even though his/her fertility is not utilized physically?
- How is nakedness without shame the "key" to understanding the theology of the body?
- How and why are we different than animals: spiritually and physically?
Remember that you can find all of the series notes right here anytime.
May your Holy Week be challenging, surprising, and delightful as we enter into Jesus’s sorrow and sacrifice.
Keep up with the last four sessions, plus notes on why some are challenging Christopher West, and even JPII about this issue! Sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed. You can also follow me on Twitter, get KS for Kindle, or see my Facebook Fan Page.