Write In Between

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Coming Attraction: Theology of the Body

This article is first in a series

Ultimate love, sex, communion, faith, hope, and healing are part of my everyday life as a Catholic wife and mother. Sound good to you? Let me whet your appetite for more.

My continuing graduate studies in theology led me to attend a weeklong course offered by the Theology of the Body Institute, where the subject matter was “theology of the body.” Most people ask, “What’s that?” Just having the word “body” in its theological title makes it sound almost sacrilegious in our modern body-obsessed society. Guesses vary: is it some “new age” practice involving yoga? Or is it health-related? Does it involve the Body of Christ? Is it new lingo for sex education? While the phrase “theology of the body” is not yet in many Catholics’ vocabulary, it will be as more and more learn about it.

Catholics who know their vocabulary tend to think of theology simply as “the study of God.” Their idea of theology is usually close to the American Dictionary definition: “the study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.” That would be correct as applied to “theology of the body.”

Our body has something to teach us. It’s designed by God to be a “theology”… to uncover (or discover) God and to study and come to know his truth and love, as well as ourselves and the people we love. What we see in the mirror, the visible body in its objective reality, in some way, points to what we don’t see, the invisible… the intangible-but-just-as-real body-soul integration of who we truly are. Deep down we may see glimmers of this, but we often get so caught up in our visible world that we don’t encounter the invisible—the deeper truths and deeper beauty—of our lives.

“Theology of the body” is about encountering those deeper truths… the ones that lead us to intimate communion with members of the opposite sex, and how those desires, properly channeled, lead us to experiencing God’s most intense love in marriage.

This theology was presented as a series of 129 talks delivered by Pope John Paul II, given at his weekly general audiences in Rome between 1979 and 1984. “General audiences” mean that this teaching is for all of us, the general public, if you will. While it is theological, biblical, and philosophical, it’s not only for theologians, bible scholars, or philosophers. (Indeed, they will be studying these teachings for years to come!) Nor is it a separate branch of theology such as Christology (study of Jesus Christ’s words and actions), biblical exegesis (study of sacred scripture), ecclesiology (study of the Church), Mariology (study of the Blessed Virgin Mary), eschatology (study of the last things such as death, resurrection, heaven and hell.) It’s a vibrant thread that runs through all of these. But don’t get lost in terminology. “Theology of the body” is for everyone. If you have a body, you qualify to know these truths. You don’t need a college degree to unlock them.

“Theology of the body” is a profoundly coherent and rich teaching on “what it means” to be a person with a body—literally, a man or a woman—and how are we to live and love as men and women in relationship with God and one another. It’s truly the basics of human life… the kind of stuff that gives the fullest meaning to our lives: finding love, giving love, receiving love, knowing love, making love, being loved, and being healed by love. Um, pardon me, did you say ‘making love?’ Yes I did, it’s ALL in there. The stuff of life that meets you right where you live is part of the “theology of the body.”

If you’ve ever gone looking for a divine plan for your life, but stumbled along in the search, have courage! “Theology of the body” proves that there is a divine plan for our lives and that this plan is no secret. We can KNOW this plan and live it out. In fact, it is so obvious that it’s right under our noses, so to speak, in our bodies.

Our bodies reveal God’s not-so-secret plan for our ultimate fulfillment: our bodies are designed for making love and giving love in such a radical lay-your-life-down-for-your-lover way that it sweeps us off our feet—right into the arms of the Trinity. (That is not a misprint.) John Paul II actually preached extensively and wrote a book about the gift of giving yourself so totally away to your spouse in sexual union—that it is a sign of the eternal exchange of love between the persons of the Trinity. Not only is it a sign, it’s a call to the highest love life we’ll ever know.

“Theology of the body” is an interpretative key—a guide—to finding meaning in life and in love. It explores our human past, which, in turn, helps us understand our present situation, so we can have a hope and vision for our future. It’s not only a new love language to communicate with, but it shows us the path of grace to finding true love and then releases the power to live it. It’s a total transformation package. Transformation of our minds and hearts will transform the way we experience life and love in our bodies.

This theology is “hot.” It burns with holy desire from the Holy Fire that comes from God alone. As we encounter its flame, we will be purified so that we may experience a deeper life and more love than we’ve ever known.

If you want to know more, stay tuned. I plan to write a short series of articles to introduce this subject. This first article is just the coming attractions.
Of course, if you wish to “read ahead,” books, DVDs, or audios CDs from leading experts on “theology of the body” are available here: http://www.ascensionpress.com/shop/Scripts/prodList.asp?idCategory=45 If you are a reader, I recommend Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West as a good place to start. If you want a more academic read, try Christopher West’s Theology of the Body, Explained.

Copyright 2007 Patricia W. Gohn

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