theology of the body
I have been waiting impatiently for the “theological timebomb set to go off.”
This was George Weigel’s assessment of The Theology of the Body by Pope St. John Paul II as described in Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (p. 343).
Little did I realize that the timebomb of The Theology of the Body would go off in me this Lent!
Starting in Solitude
I have been thinking this Lent about “original solitude” from The Theology of the Body. I have experienced a lot of solitude this Lent. I am 6,000 miles away from my wife, children, and grandchildren while I care for my aging parents in Delaware. It is the fourth month of my sojourn.
While Delaware is where I grew up and spent the first 20 years of my life, I have no friends left here from my long-ago high school and college years. My brothers and sisters give me tremendous support and comfort, but I am alone with Mom and Dad most of the time. When Dad goes to bed, my yearning heart is filled with an overwhelming desire for intimacy. Amazingly, God meets me in my yearning and offers me… solitude!
This Lent, I have discovered the vibrancy of faith in solitude, something I had avoided all of my life, until now.
How can solitude be so difficult and yet so fulfilling?
From my re-reading of The Theology of the Body in my time alone in the evenings this Lent, I have been amazed to discover that solitude, original solitude, is the bedrock out of which God gave me my unique and unrepeatable personhood. I have the opportunity every moment of my existence as a human being with free will to decide if I want to reach out and encounter God and others from this solitude. If I do reach out, I encounter God as a spring of living waters. I also experience others, particularly my parents, as unique and unrepeatable beings who can share those living waters with me.
What Keeps Us in Solitude?
But when I choose to close myself to God and others, I experience loneliness and sin. I choose this option more than I care to admit. I can blame and compound my projected sinfulness on others and pretend I am better than they are.
What complicates things for me, and for all of us, is our uniqueness. I experience depression, for one thing. This can complicate my life enormously. We all suffer in some way, and our sufferings can further distance us from ourselves, God and others. But suffering can also bring us back to God.
I love the times when I can share my solitude with my wife and family, and with those whom I serve as a deacon. I realize that I am being swept up in the waters of God’s mercy and in communion with the Most Holy Trinity. I may not feel this way, because of my depression or sinfulness, but I know in my intellect that something extraordinary is occurring. God’s grace is springing up in me and in others!
I am 65 years old, and it has taken me a long time to come to these realizations. I had to be broken of my pride and loneliness before God’s transforming grace could begin to change me.
And that is precisely how Pope St. John Paul II portrays our original development in The Theology of the Body. God spent some period of time developing our first parents.
Our First Parents
There are two creation accounts in the beginning of Genesis. In the first account, God makes all of creation, including both Adam and Eve, over six “days”. This is the account we are most likely to recall when we consider our beginnings. This account is described in the first chapter of Genesis, and part of the second chapter. Adam and Eve are created together, but uniquely, “in the image of God”.
The second account of creation is more poetic, and chiefly concerns the creation of Adam, and subsequently, Eve.
In this second account, God develops Adam (and later, Eve) over time. He forms Adam “…out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) Adam and Eve become conscious in their “original solitude” of their essential role in creation. God does this by literally placing Adam in the Garden of Eden “…to cultivate and care for it.” (Genesis 2:15) God thereby establishes a covenant with Adam to transform the earth and the world. Adam now possesses self-consciousness and self-determination.
God then gives Adam another, more critical command. “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
In this command, the reality of death enters Adam’s consciousness. Adam does not yet know exactly what death is, but according to The Theology of the Body, he senses an awareness that his life is dependent on God. This brings Adam to realize that even if he is like God, he differs significantly from God in his capacity to die. Adam’s awareness of his original solitude grows profoundly in knowing his limits.
With Adam’s deep sense of solitude, God decides to give Adam a partner. In this way Adam can more closely resemble God by entering a communion of persons, similar to, and an icon of, the Most Holy Trinity.
But God has to first make sure that Adam grows in his personhood and will be able to make a true gift of himself to this partner. This gift of self must be inculcated into man’s origin so that it defines persons for all time as covenanted with God, tilling the soil and obeying His reasonable commands. Then, they can live with God forever.
So God brings the animals before Adam for him to name them and understand how different he is from them. Adam does not find a suitable partner in his growing awareness of his self-consciousness and person.
Joining of Man and Woman
And this is where The Theology of the Body indicates how something incredible then happened. Not only did God cause Adam to go into a deep sleep so that he could take out his rib and form Eve from Adam’s rib. But Adam returns to non-being. Here’s the quote:
“Perhaps, therefore, the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness, as a specific return to non-being (sleep contains an element of annihilation of man’s conscious existence), that is, to the moment preceding the creation, in order that, through God’s creative initiative, solitary “man” may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female.” (Original Unity of Man and Woman, 8th Wednesday Audience, November 7, 1979)
Adam and Eve are now prepared and formed fully in their original solitude to participate in God’s covenant. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is in their midst. This tree concealed within it a dimension of loneliness, according to Pope St. John Paul II.
In this and other parts of The Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II clarifies how God has worked through our origins, through Jesus and through our gift of self in married sexual love and celibacy, so that we can live for the Kingdom while in our bodies.
Will we choose loneliness this Lent or God’s Holy solitude where we are renewed in our origins, in our inmost bodies, for the water of eternal life, springing forth from Our Lord’s Body on the Cross of our salvation?