Write In Between

Thursday, May 03, 2007

God's Original Love Story: In the Beginning

The third article in a series on “Theology of the Body.”
To read the first article, go here. To read the second, go here.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than when we gather around a family photo album to enjoy a session of “remember when?” Years ago when my wedding album would come off the shelf, my small children would marvel at Mom and Dad all dressed up and posing with their relatives. Inevitably, a little one would ask: “where was I, Mommy?” I would then explain to that in the beginning of our marriage they were not born yet, but God had a great plan for them to become part of our family in the years to come. While our family’s love story began before their birth, the joys and blessings found in that early beginning served as a template for the loving family heritage that grew with the birth of each child.

In the same way, our understanding of the theology of the body requires a retelling of the love story between God and us. We’ve got to uncover the pre-history, the original plan, the heavenly template, that God had in mind long before we arrived on the scene.

To find the true meaning of the body and sex—we need to probe the depth of God’s plan for our lives, from the beginning. We must, in some way, recapture our loving heritage by turning to these beginnings.

Jesus mentions this beginning when he replied to the Pharisees regarding marriage and the Mosaic Law that permitted divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8). Jesus boldly stands for the Father’s original plan.

Taking a cue from Jesus and the gospel, Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body reexamines God’s plan by delving deeply into “the beginning”: the biblical account of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Through it, we discover the meaning of love, marriage, the body, and sex, as God intended it—before sin entered into the Garden, and before we had to live with the consequences.

A rereading of the first two chapters of Genesis provides the context of original innocence for first man and woman. According to John Paul II, we have “echoes” of that experience our lives, even though sin has entered the world.

Three original human experiences—solitude, unity and nakedness—belonged to Adam and Eve, and, John Paul II says, they “are always at the root of every human experience… They are, in fact, so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice their extraordinary character.” (General audience, Dec. 12, 1979.) These experiences define us as human persons. Let us explore them now.

Original solitude
Christopher West, in his book, Theology of the Body for Beginners helps us understand original solitude:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help fit for him’” (Gn 2:18). The most obvious meaning of this “solitude” is that the man is alone without woman. But the Pope mines a deeper meaning from this verse. This creation account doesn’t even distinguish between male and female until after Adam’s “deep sleep.” Here Adam represents all of us—men and women (adam in Hebrew means “man” in the generic sense). Man is “alone” in that he’s the only bodily creature in God’s image and likeness. Man is “alone” in the visible world as a person.[1]

Adam is most definitely different from the animals. In naming the animals, the man discovers he is different from them both in body and in self-governance. But more importantly, Adam has human freedom. His mind and will allow him to be self-determined. Indeed, he is a self, and as yet, he is the only one created in God’s image.

West continues:
Why was Adam endowed with freedom? Because Adam was called to love, and without freedom, love is impossible. In his solitude, Adam realizes that love is his origin, his vocation, and his destiny. Unlike the animals, he’s invited to enter a “covenant of love” with God himself. It is this relationship of love with God that defines Adam’s “solitude” more than anything else. Tasting this love, he also longs with all his being to share this love (covenant) with another person like himself. This is why it’s “not good for the man to be alone.”[2]

John Paul says, “The body expresses the person.” (General Audience, October 31, 1979). This solitude allows for the discovery of personhood. We see this in little babies all the time. As they grow and discover and use their bodies, they are able to express their personhood better. The relationships they have with others deepen. Their experience of human freedom also grows and allows them to eventually choose for good or for evil.

In the experience of solitude, a person discovers the two-fold nature his vocation: to love God and others. We are made for something more than ourselves.

Original unity
Upon seeing the creation of woman, Adam declares, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gn. 2:23). For this new body (Eve) reflects and expresses a person, whose two-fold vocation is also to love God and love another. Both man and woman share a common humanity that is made in the image and likeness of God.

The unity and union of man and woman overcomes solitude. Recall that, in the theology of the body, the human body is capable of making visible what is invisible. It can reveal divine love. The Catechism states: “in marriage, the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion” (CCC 2360). This communion of persons is true unity.

West, again, expounds:

Becoming “one flesh,” therefore, refers not only to the joining of two bodies (as with animals) but is “a ‘sacramental’ expression which corresponds to the communion of persons” (General Audience, June 25, 1980)… The human body makes visible the invisible mystery of God who himself is an eternal Communion of Persons; of God who himself is love.

Here the Pope presents a dramatic development of Catholic thinking. Traditionally theologians have said we image God as individuals, through our rational soul. This is certainly true. But John Paul II takes it a step further when he states: “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” In other words, man images God “not only through his humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning.” He even says that this “constitutes, perhaps, the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man.” Finally, he observes that on “all this, right from the beginning, there descended the blessing of fertility.” (General Audience, Nov. 14, 1979). [3]

Here, as we’ve seen before, the greatest dignity of marital love is in imaging the Trinity and becoming co-creators with God the Father in creating new life!

Original nakedness
Of the three—solitude, unity and nakedness—this experience of original nakedness is, perhaps, the hardest one for us to take in. So many of us suffer from sinful distortions our culture has taught us regarding sex; our minds often attach experiential baggage to the words we read. But, once again, we’re asked to go back to the beginning, to try to see with new eyes, to find the “echo” of this original innocence.

Returning to Genesis we read: “The man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gn. 2:25). How many people reading passage relate to it as exactly the opposite? Well, John Paul II knows this but goes on to say that we must understand this idea of original nakedness, for it is “precisely the key” for understanding God’s original plan for human life.

West helps to interpret:

[How] can we understand original nakedness when we…have no direct experience of it? We do so only by contrast; by looking at our own experience of shame and “flipping it over.”

A woman doesn’t feel the need to cover her body when she’s alone in the shower. But if a strange man burst into the bathroom she would. Why? The Pope proposes that “shame” in this sense is a form of self-defense against being treated as an object for sexual use… [not] meant to be treated as a “thing”… Experience teaches her that men (because of the lust that resulted from original sin) tend to objectify women’s bodies. Therefore, the women covers her body not because its “bad” or “shameful.” She covers herself to protect her own dignity from the stranger’s “lustful look”—a look that fails to respect her God-given dignity as a person.

Take this experience of fear (shame) in the presence of another person, “flip it over” and we arrive at Adam and Eve’s experience of nakedness without shame. Lust (self-seeking sexual desire) hadn’t yet entered the human heart. Hence, our first parents experienced a total defenselessness in each other’s presence because the other’s look posed no threat whatsoever to their dignity. As John Paul poetically expresses, they “see and know each other…with all the peace of the interior gaze….” They saw God’s plan of love (theology) inscribed in their naked bodies and that’s exactly what they desired—to love as God loves in and through their bodies. And there is no fear (shame) in love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18.)

A proper understanding of original nakedness leads us to the truth about God’s original plan for our lives: the creation of sexual desire was not a bad thing, but a good thing—something God intends us to use so we can love as He loves. Finally, according to John Paul, such awareness allows Adam and Eve to love fully with the “freedom of the gift,(General Audience, Jan. 16, 1980).”

West writes:

Only a person who is free from the compulsion of lust is capable of being a true “gift” to another. The “freedom of the gift” then, is the freedom to bless, which is the freedom from the compulsion to grasp and possess. It is this freedom that allowed the first couple to be “naked without shame.”[5 ]

So to what is the benefit to knowing these ideas about original solitude, original unity and original nakedness?

First, we learn that God is the creator of sex; it is designed by Him and it is good. This teaches us about our own goodness, our own dignity.

Second, it gives us a radical new context for understanding the power of Christ’s redemption in our lives, especially, our sexual lives. We must understand that modern society’s view of human life and love has distorted what God ordained from the beginning. But thanks to the salvation won for us in Christ Jesus, we can “return” to knowing God’s plan and attempting to live it out by the grace Christ gives us. The Catechism reminds us: Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. (CCC 2336).

And again,

By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. (CCC 1615).

Third, we learn the sublime “nuptial meaning of the body”: the body that is capable of expressing love, whereby one person becomes a gift to another, by making a sincere gift of self, and by becoming this gift, fulfills the meaning of being and existence. And when such a gift is mutually given and received, a third being proceeds from such a union.

One last quote from West:

When we have the purity to see it, this is what the human body teaches us. The nuptial meaning of the body (that is, the call to love that God inscribed in our flesh) reveals what Vatican II describes as “the universal call to holiness.”[6]

Let us turn back to God’s original ideas. Let us make the journey, with the help of Christ, to renew our sexual lives, and to grow in holiness. For God’s love story is our love story.

©2007 Patricia W. Gohn

[1] Christopher West. Theology of the Body for Beginners. West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2004. p. 22.
[2] Ibid, p. 23.
[3] ibid.,p.25
[4] Ibid., p. 27.
[5] Ibid., p. 27-28.
[6] Ibid., p. 30.


Our next topic in this series will probe the call to holiness and a good moral life.

For more detailed presentation of the themes explored in this article, see chapter two of Christopher West’s book, Theology Of The Body For Beginners .

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