Now that I have your attention, this approach was an advertising gimmick in the 80’s. The word SEX, blazoned large and bright, drew eyes to the promotion of a product that actually had nothing to do with sex.
Sex gets attention, but just as there was more to the ads, there is also more than just sex to Blessed John Paul II’s teaching about the Theology of the Body.
Beginning in 1979, and continuing for five years, Pope John Paul II introduced his Theology of the Body to the world during his weekly Wednesday audiences at the Vatican. When the world started talking about it, it seemed all that was talked about was sex. The Theology of the Body has a lot of beautiful and powerful things to say about marriage and sexual intimacy, but there was so much more.
In her new book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, author Emily Stimpson explains that JPII presented the body as a vehicle for the soul beyond just sex. Our life is lived in a body, moment by moment as extraordinary opportunities for grace. “What makes it beautiful is how well it does that, how perfectly it images the God who formed it,” she writes.
But what kind of a title is These Beautiful Bones for a book? It hardly has–dare I say–sex appeal. Stimpson explains the title in her introduction. It comes from the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome where four thousand Capuchin monks are buried, or rather not exactly buried. In the crypt, visitors gaze upon piles of old bones. Some are stacked, others are posed and dressed up using tools and other objects as if they were store mannequins rather than skeletons.
The Body Matters
Those bones make a very important point. There is a sign that reads: “What you are now, we used to be; What we are now, you will be.” Stimpson writes that it is all somehow, strangely and overwhelmingly, beautiful. And she’s not nuts to admire those bones. Her writing is engaging and provocative, and clearly not nuts unless you consider seeing life through the eyes of eternity as crazy. She has taken the essence of Blessed John Paul’s Theology of the Body, and unwrapped parts that got lost behind the sex.
Stimpson explains, “In effect, it [the Capuchin crypt] does with bones what John Paul II did with words. It gives us a theology of the body. It also reminds us that while the resurrection of the body is the work of a moment, the redemption of the body is the work of a lifetime.”
The Theology of the Body, Simpson explains, is about our body, serving God in this world and housing our soul for the next. These Beautiful Bones drew me into the beauty—the absolute truthful beauty—of the reality of our bodies. Everything that we do matters, because it can all be done to glorify Him. She reflects on the “normal tasks and difficulties of human life…how we live and love in all the ordinary moments of life and learn to more perfectly image Christ through it all.” And I thought I was just cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry.
Stimpson points out the way we live is integrated into both our bodies and incarnational life, transformed by grace everywhere and always even in the mundane moments of an ordinary day. That is what makes the theology of the body such a practical theology, according to her. In such a light, my bathrooms and laundry never looked so good. Seriously.
The book’s chapters include how the theology of the body relates to food and eating, exercise, the Liturgy and prayer, leisure, technology, suffering, and work. Oh, and sex too.
Work is a Way To Heaven
In her chapter on work, Stimpson notes that work does a body good. She struggled with depression one summer, and it was an infestation of lice from the neighbor children that brought her out of it. The long weeks of work to rid her home of lice began to lift her from depression. The unbearable became bearable when she handed it over to God.
“In the physical work, so different from my usual fare, I found not only distraction, but consolation,” she writes. Simpson points out that it is the combination of body and spirit, which makes our work unlike that of any other creature God made.
“So, we work because God works,” she says. “We create because He creates.” According to Stimpson, the call to work is built into who we are to further the communion of persons. “More than what work we do, it’s how we do our work that matters,“ Stimpson writes.
The Body in Liturgy
I don\’t usually think of praying as something that involves me physically, but Stimpson explains otherwise. In the chapter on the Liturgy, Stimpson shows how the Theology of the Body is essential in understanding all that is happening in liturgy, and in growing in our faith on a daily basis.
\”Who we are, as men and women, as children of God, is directed and shaped by the graces our bodies receive in the sacraments, the worship our bodies give in the liturgy, and the habits of devotion practiced in the home,” she writes. By using our bodies to love and worship God, Stimpson says our souls will feel the effects by becoming more virtuous and Christ-like.
These Beautiful Bones packs a powerful addendum to the Theology to the Body. It illuminates the fact that what we choose to do with our bodies has eternal consequences; whether good or bad. In that way, our flesh and bones are the vehicle of our soul, but also the determiner of its next destination.