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The Theology of the Body and Music – A Desire for God

I was invited to speak for the Newman Centre at U of T’s Mentorship Series in October on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ve been leading a faith study on the theology of the body at Newman since 2015, but for this short one hour talk, I did something new for me — I played some of my songs reflecting on themes in the theology of the body.

I process through songwriting — an attempt to stop time with the lyric, and to model the harmony of creation with music — and to orient the desire of the human heart towards a desire for God. This talk includes a couple songs I have yet to record as well.

The Newman Centre uploaded video, and I’ve transcribed the talk below:

Introduction: A Paradigm Shift

How many of you grew up in a Christian home? How many of you would say you had open, honest, healthy dialogue about God’s glorious, stupendous, wonderful, magnificent plan for erotic love? Right.

Most of us, I think, have an experience learning about human sexuality in a kind of “corner’ of our religious though. I think about it through my experience attending curriculum night when my son was in JK a few years ago. He was taking me around the classroom, and he was showing me all the things — all of the stations, he was like, this is the pretend kitchen, this is the blocks thing, we’ve got sand over there, he’s showing me everything — and there’s this one table that he didn’t say anything about, and I said, “What’s that over there?” And it’s got this Ikea leaf over top, and a rock and a candle, and he’s like, “I– I don’t know what that is…” It was the prayer table.

Right, and, that “off in the corner” kind of thing — I mean I think that’s the way in which a lot of people in our society and in our culture think about religion, as some kind of side topic or something. But I mean, I think if you’ve grown up with or grown into the faith then we have an understanding that religion is a kind of ultimate, like, it exists at an ultimate level that kind of explains everything. Yet, human sexuality and our understanding of marriage still usually exists off in a corner, as sort of one area of our thinking. I mean, marriage is a sacrament, it’s one of the sacraments, so there’s some bridge, some connection to our religious thinking, but for John Paul II, his theology of the body — which was a giant Bible study on the theme of human sexuality, of being created in God’s image and likeness, male and female — is a lens for understanding the entire catechism, a lens through which, a perspective through which he understood the whole faith.

I think that makes sense. It makes so much sense to me now. But I didn’t encounter this idea until 11 years ago, when I first really heard the message of the theology of the body. That’s part of the reason that I spent 8 years doing a Master of Theological Studies — I’m done, but technically I don’t graduate for a month, so I don’t know if that means I’m done or not — but that’s why I spent 8 years of school studying theology, that’s why I went to the Theology of the Body Institute three times to take course. I just couldn’t get enough.

My wife and I, a couple years before we were married — this was part of our journey towards marriage — we attended one session on the theology of the body during World Youth Day 2008 in Australia. We were like, okay, we’ll go one night and we’ll kind of learn about this stuff. We went all three nights. And then, Christopher West — one of the more popular presenters of the theology of the body, who makes John Paul II’s dense theology accessible — he was coming to Toronto a year later, and it was like, great, I’ll go to this weekend thing, an intro to the theology of the body, I’ll get my fill and then I’ll be able to move on, and focus on other things, after I know all this stuff. And I left there with a sign-up sheet to go take a week-long course at the Theology of the Body Institute, and I came back from there and went to the Regis College open house, and that’s been my journey over the last 12 years!

I want to share a bit of that paradigm shift, that different way of seeing human sexuality and the human body, that changed my life and changed my faith, and give you a bit of that perspective.

The Theology of the Body has been called the “John Pauline lens for the entire catechism,” and I think that makes sense, because if you go to the catechism, right at the beginning of Chapter 1, it begins, “Man’s Capacity for God,” and the first section is “The Desire for God.” Right at the start of Chapter 1, it says:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 27

And then, quoting from the Second Vatican Council, it continues:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

Gaudium et Spes, 19

And I want to dive deeper into love and into communion, because our experience, being created male and female in the image and likeness of God, isn’t just some corner of our human experience. St. John Paul II saw that as central to the human experience, and insofar as it’s central to our experience of desire, it’s central to our experience of desire for God. Insofar as we long for communion and love, that is an experience placed there in our lives by God as a sign meant to lead us towards Him.

This was a promo video from the Made for More event that Christopher West and Mike Mangione put on all across the world. They were in Toronto back in May. I think it’s a great summary of that John Pauline lens, that perspective that we have been created this way for a reason, and if we think carefully about our human experience, that placed deep within us is that desire — and even human desire, Pope Benedict said, every authentic human desire is ultimately a desire for God.

Orienting Our Desire… (eros)

When we say “love” in English, we use that word in a lot of different ways. Right, we say, “I love pizza. I love my friend. I love my wife. I love philosophy.” We use this word in a lot of different ways. The Greeks, they had four words for love that I’ve found very helpful thinking more carefully about love.

  • storge: a kind of affection, or love of the familiar, the kind of love you feel after spending a lot of time with someone, getting to know them
  • philia: the love of friendship, the kind of shoulder-to-shoulder love of journeying through life together
  • eros: erotic love, romantic love, desire, that desire for union with another
  • agape (or caritas in Latin, “charity”): selfless or altruistic love, willing the good of the other as other, choosing to act in someone else’s best interest, that kind of love — the word most commonly used in the New Testament for love

Benedict says, in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (caritas / agape), he says that God’s love for us is “totally agape,” but he says it’s also totally eros — that God loves us with eros.

Now, I’ll unpack that a bit in a second, but of those four loves — storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (desire), and agape (selfless love) — which of those four are not a part of our childhood experience? Eros. Eros isn’t something that we experience as children. Now, of those four loves, which is the most powerfully felt, which pulls on us and tugs on us the strongest in our experience? I think that’s also eros.

As children, it makes sense that our understanding of the faith would not include eros. It would be hard for it to include eros because it would be hard for us to understand a love that we haven’t experienced. But I think as adults, it’s crucial to be able to integrate our experience of eros with our understanding of the faith.

So, Benedict says God’s love for us is agape, but it’s also eros. He says that God loves us with eros. Now, think about what we learn about God’s love in Scripture. Scripture starts with a marriage, it ends with a marriage, right at the centre you have a book of erotic love poetry. All through the Old Testament, one of the most common analogies used is the spousal analogy — God as a lover longing for union with his beloved, the people of God. Christ’s ministry starts at a wedding. His call for us to “love one another as I have loved you,” how did Christ love us? As we see in the New Testament — as we see in the Gospels, as we see from St. Paul — Christ desired union with us so strongly, He gave up his body for his bride, the Church. He laid down His life in order to bring us back into communion with God.

This longing for communion and love, this desire is central to the human experience. It’s central to God’s desire for communion and relationship with us.

I’m trying something new today, by trying to play some of my own songs, because for this Mentorship Series there was an encouragement to bring personal testimony into it. For me, I process this through music. The first song that I think I’m going to play is a song called Anaximander. Anaximander was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher. He posited that the stars were holes in the firmament through which we could see the fires of heaven. And I thought that was a just a beautiful analogy for the way in which John Paul II understood being created male and female, in the image and likeness of God, as a sign or an icon of a deeper reality of our call to communion — an icon like a window through which we can see something of the mystery of the truth.

Anaximander

Stay where you are, eastward from here.
I will find you, even if it takes years.
I can see you ’til I open my eyes;
There was a time when we stood side by side…

And all the stars aligned as you stepped outside
And I could see for miles into the past.
Who knows which stars still shine?
All we have are signs they’ve left us, their protests against the night

In a garden, at the edge of the town,
Ancient trees know the secrets around.
In your image, the likeness of light;
Anaximander had something right

And all the holes aligned on the firmament’s divide
And I could catch a glimpse into the fire,
To see the other side…
Holes to Heaven guide us through the night;
I’m focused on your eyes

And all the stars aligned as you stepped outside
And I could see for miles into the past.
Who knows which stars still shine?
All we have are signs they’ve left us, their protests against the night

Amidst all these stars, I see what you are…

So, I think that experience of love — that longing and that searching, that ache, that desire for union with another — has been placed there in the human heart to lead us to God. We know how that goes astray in our world, in our culture, this side of the Fall. We know that, so often, we take that desire to the wrong places.

As Benedict says, rather than that desire for union being purified by agape, by willing the good of the other, rather than being fuel to love someone rightly and fully with eros and agape, too often that eros is not connected with agape, is not connected with the good of the other — it goes in the opposite direction.

Christopher West uses an analogy that I find helpful. Let’s use our imaginations. Let’s pretend that I have a piece of paper, and it’s the most glorious, beautiful painting you’ve ever seen. Can I have some ooooo’s? Can I have some aaaahh’s? Okay, our imaginations are functioning. This is human beings, created male and female before the Fall — God’s original plan for human love.

In the Fall, we turn away from God and God’s love, and we turn away from God’s original plan. That piece of paper? It gets crumpled up and twisted. There are three options we have.

Too often, Christians pick up that crumpled piece of paper, and they go, “Ugh,” and chuck it away. “There’s something wrong with that, I want to be far away from that.”

Our culture picks up that crumpled piece of paper, and says, “Yo, check this out, take a look! Look at that! Look at that!” John Paul II says, hey, you’re right not to throw that out, but you’ve gotta untwist it. You have to take that crumpled piece of paper and untwist it. That’s not how it was meant to be. That’s not God’s original plan for human sexuality, that’s not how human beings flourish.

So, we still have the creases in the piece of paper when it’s uncrumpled, but we can see something of that original purpose, of that original intent. John Paul II says that, “the human heart becomes a battlefield” (TOB 32:3) in our journey towards chastity — which just means sexual self-control, which is just about orienting our desires toward our design so that we can reach out heavenly destiny. Too often we fail in that battle, but that battle, it’s about a choice about accepting the help from God to live out our human sexuality as it was meant to be, in a way that leads us towards communion with each other and communion with Him, or not.

… according to Our Design (Genesis)

When Jesus is asked tough or controversial questions about human sexuality — when he’s asked about divorce — He points back to the beginning. He says, “In the Beginning, it was not so.” So, John Paul II follows Him back to the beginning, and he starts the Theology of the Body by looking at our design, God’s original plan for human love, before it’s twisted and distorted by sin.

In the beginning, we see, in Genesis 1, human beings created in the image and likeness of God as male and female (Gen 1:27), and in Genesis 2 that gets unpacked. We see the objective truth in Genesis 1, the kind of statement of fact, but in Genesis 2 we see that played out in the human experience.

John Paul II points back to three original experiences in Genesis 2 — “original” not in the sense of having occurred a long time ago in history, but “original” as in foundational, at the heart of the human experience before it’s twisted and distorted by sin. John Paul II says in the Theology of the Body, “the inheritance of our hearts is deeper than the sinfulness inherited.” (TOB 46:6) We’ve got to go back to the beginning and look back to those original experiences to see how we’re truly meant to live out our human sexuality.

He breaks them down into three experiences.

The first is original solitude. Adam — adam in Hebrew is just “human”, it’s not “male” or “female”, it’s just the first human — he is alone. He experiences the solitude in the beginning. John Paul II says, first we see that in the sense that he’s apart from the other animals, there’s something different about him as a human being, there’s something different about being a human being. It’s the discovery of the original person, a human being who’s called into a special partnership with God, who has a self-awareness and a rationality and a special role in creation. The first human sees himself as apart from the other animals. The second sense of solitude is being without spouse, that we aren’t meant to be alone as human beings, but we’re created for communion, we’re created for relationship.

This being without spouse leads into the second original experience, original unity. After Eve’s creation is where you see the Hebrew ish and ishah, where “male” and “female” enter the picture, and you see that original unity of husband and wife — “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones… Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:23) — that ecstasy, that joy, that communion, that union, the marriage and the marital embrace. John Paul II says, yes, we see the image of God in each individual human being — we can see an image of God in each other of us as individuals — but he says, “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion,” (TOB 9:3) as in that moment when the two become one flesh.

Because, we don’t believe in a solitary God; we believe in a God that is a Trinity, a God that is a relationship of eternal self-giving love. Where do we see that image? We see that image in our human sexuality, being created male and female. Okay, now it’s not that the divine is sexual, but rather it’s that the sexual is divine, in some sense, that our created experience of sexuality — which differs from the Trinity — tells us something about the true meaning of love, of being called to be in relationship with another. If God is love, and God is an eternal exchange of love, between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as I think it’s Augustine says, between the lover the beloved and the love in between — where do we see that image in the human experience? It’s in the call of the two to become one flesh, it’s in that experience of original unity.

And then finally, that leads into the experience of original nakedness, where, in their experience of original unity — which is an answer to the original solitude, that two persons are meant to come together as one — that they were naked without shame. (Gen 2:25) John Paul II says, how can we possibly understand this in our experience? He says we can look at our experience, and look at it as a kind of photographic negative, to see what our experience is like to try to rediscover something of the original design.

In our experience of nakedness and shame, we feel a kind of protection that’s necessary from exploitation. We feel a vulnerability and we wonder if the other will receive us rightly. We wonder if the other will fully recognize our dignity. Whereas in our fallen world, there is too often a link and a connection between nakedness and vulnerability and exploitation or objectification — treating someone else’s body as an object when revealed to us — in the beginning, it was not so. He says, if they were naked without shame, there must have been no fear of that exploitation. There must have been a kind of perfect nature or character to that original union, where there was no threat from the other, no need for defence. There was no need for shame. There was safety in nakedness.

John Paul II says that they must have seen each other with, what he calls, “the peace of the interior gaze.” (TOB 13:1) That is, if in our fallen world, the experience is too often seeing the naked human body as an object, the peace of the interior gaze is seeing the naked body as a subject.

The thesis statement of the Theology of the Body is that:

The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God…

TOB 19:4

… that the body makes visible the person. If I pick on Krishna for a second, if I say, “look at Krishna,” we can only see and relate to Krishna through his body. The body makes visible Krishna’s person. And how much moreso does the whole human body make visible the whole person.

John Paul II says, in the original experience without the fear and threat of sin, the body reveals the whole person. The body was seen not as an object, but as a subject. The peace of the interior gaze is looking at the body and seeing the other person as God sees them, seeing the body as a sign of the person.

The body makes visible these invisible realities. It’s what he calls the spousal meaning of the body, that these original experiences tell us that we are created for relationship.

Think about your body for a second. Think about your belly button. What does your belly button tell you about what it means to be human? Your belly button tells you that you came from somebody else. Go down a few inches and think about your body. What do our bodies tell us here about what it means to be human? Our bodies tell us that we were created for somebody else. A man’s body doesn’t make sense on its own; a woman’s body doesn’t make sense on its own.

That we are created male and female, in the image and likeness of God, tells us that one fundamental thing about what it means to be human is that we’re created for relationship, not just any kind of relationship, but for communion, for mutual self-giving, as John Paul II puts it — for making a sincere gift of self to the other, and receiving back a sincere gift of self in return, this mutual self-gift. That is at the core of what it means to be human. That’s why we read in the Second Vatican Council, in Gaudium et Spes paragraph 24 that:

Man… cannot find himself except for a sincere gift of self.

Gaudium et Spes, 24

That is, something of God’s original plan for human love, the original meaning of the human body, and our ache and longing and experience of human desire is, at its core, a sign meant to lead us towards loving each other rightly, to come into communion with each other, and ultimately, to come into communion with God — the kind of union that God wants to have with us.

This is my attempt to make sense of that.

In the Beginning

Stay a minute, hold me in your arms and I’ll be replenished;
You’ve no idea of the power in your stare.
Stay a minute, you hold my heart inside your hands, you don’t know it;
You’ve no idea of the longing in your absence.

But if our hearts align, barriers at the side, we might realize our worth.

In the beginning, there was nothing that could come in between us;
I had a vision of your body and your soul.
Then, in an instant, you were gone, all I had left was an imprint;
A fragment idea, a desire to be whole.

But if you hearts align, barriers at the side, we might synchronize our worlds.

How can the fire keep burning, if I can’t remember what ignited it in the first place?
Show me forgiveness and learning, let me back into the garden where we lay.
How can the fire keeping burning, if I can’t remember where it started in the first place?
Show me forgiveness and learning, let me back into the garden where we lay.

‘Cause if our hearts collide, barriers at the side, we might realize our worth.

In the beginning, there was nothing that could come in between us;
I had a vision of your body and your soul…

… to reach Our Destiny (Sign)

I find it helpful how Christopher West summarizes the Theology of the Body, saying it’s about orienting our desire according to our design so that we can reach our destiny. That is, taking our experience of human desire, and orienting it according to our design — looking back to God’s original plan for human love — so that we can reach our destiny. That is, our human sexuality is a sign of our heavenly destiny. We turn to the sacrament of marriage, and to the vocation of celibacy, to enter into this mystery.

In every sacrament, we see something of the mystery of God being revealed and made visible. Just like, through the body, the mystery of who we are, created in the image and likeness of God, is made visible, well so too in the sacrament is the invisible made visible, in some way.

He says that the vocations of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom and of marriage “explain or complete each other,” (TOB 78:2) they tell us something about our heavenly destiny. Marriage tells us something about the nature of love, that the call to love is the call to make a sincere gift of self to the other. Celibacy, for the sake of the kingdom — that’s not a rejection of human sexuality because it’s a bad thing, but a reverence for it because it’s a good and holy thing — that tells us something about our heavenly destiny.

On rejection versus reverence, I think it’s helpful to think about Lenten resolutions, and I’ll throw in another helpful Christopher West analogy in there. He says, “I like beer. I don’t like pickles. I’m going to give beer up for Lent, not pickles.” When we give something up in that way, it’s not because we reject it as a bad thing, it’s because we recognize it as a good thing. That’s the approach to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, that is, in our heavenly destiny, communion ­— the communion of saints, the communion with God — it’s not a sexual communion. Our human sexuality, marriage, is meant to be a sign of that ultimate union and communion, which is a spiritual communion. So, the vocation of celibacy for the kingdom reminds us that marriage is not an idol, it’s not the end goal. Rather, it’s an icon, it’s a window, a window to see through. It’s a sign of our heavenly destiny.

We see this in the sacrament of marriage, especially in Ephesians 5, where St. Paul links the marriage of creation with the marriage of redemption, where St. Paul puts together that “great mystery”, which John Paul II calls the “great sacrament,” that Christ, as bridegroom, gave up His body for His bride, to bring us in communion with God, that He love us so much that He laid down His life for us, to bring us into the marriage of redemption, the heavenly marriage, that union, that communion. I’m going to let Jason Evert explain this one.

Human Love and the Desire for God: The Mystery of the Whole of Human Existence

One of the greatest 8 paragraphs that I’ve ever read in my life is Pope Benedict’s, just a weekly Wednesday audience in November 2012, called, “The Year of Faith. The Desire for God.” In it, he quotes from the catechism, where I started, “the desire for God is written on the human heart,” and he says that, in every authentic human desire, we see that desire for God and that, especially we see that…

… in the experience of human love, an experience that in our age is more easily perceived as a moment of ecstasy, of leaving oneself, like a place in which [we] feels overcome by a desire that surpasses [us]. Through love, a man and a woman experience in a new way, thanks to each other, the greatness and beauty of life and of what is real. If what is experienced is not a mere illusion, if I truly want the good of the other as a means for my own good, then I must be willing not to be self-centred, to place myself at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial. The answer to the question on the meaning of the experience of love then passes through the purification and healing of the will, required in loving the other. […]

Thus the initial ecstasy becomes a pilgrimage, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 6). Through this journey one will be able to deepen gradually one’s knowledge of that love, initially experienced. And the mystery that it represents will become more and more defined: in fact, not even the beloved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart. In fact, the more authentic one’s love for the other is, the more it reveals the question of its origin and its destiny, of the possibility that it may endure for ever. Therefore, the human experience of love has in itself a dynamism that refers beyond the self, it is the experience of a good that leads to being drawn out and finding oneself before the mystery that encompasses the whole of existence.

Notice, he doesn’t say that the experience of human love gives us a good foundation for marriage prep, or a good dating guide. It’s not just in a corner over there, but rather it brings us before the mystery of the whole of human existence — that, especially that experience of human love, among all other human experiences, brings us, in a special, profound and holy way before that mystery.

I process this through music because I’m a musician, but I think music makes sense in this context. St. Augustine says, “singing is a lover’s thing.” He says, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. That restlessness, that ache, that longing — that’s why so many songs are love songs, because through music and through that search for beauty, we’re ultimately digging into that desire, that desire that’s been placed there in our hearts by God to lead us to Him.

I’m going to try one more song, one last song. I’m going to do something risky, and play a song I’ve never played before — because I finished half of it last night. This is my latest attempt to make sense of all this.

Break Out

I have seen all the animals
And I’ve given each a name,
But I long for someone who sees who I am
And I’ve yet to find one who feels the same.

I have wandered through the city,
And I’ve journeyed through the plains
For the missing piece, the one who calls me by name;
Flesh and bone, we’re not alone, you feel the same…

I will give you all that I am
For just one moment in your land
I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
Won’t you be my light?

I am broken, but I want to be whole;
I am restless inside the ache.
It’s the shape of someone who knows who I am;
It’s the shape I see when I see face to face.

I have named all the negatives,
All those things that weigh me down.
Oh, please tie them up, and send them far away
Sacrifice and die to self and rise again…

I will give you all that I am
For just one moment in your land
I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
Won’t you be my light?

I was meant to live by your side
Would you be my sister? Would you be my bride?
I will give you all that I can
I would give my life

Oh, I am just an aching for you…
Ah, I am just an ache now…
Oh, stretch me ’til I break out…
Oh, I am just an aching for you…
Oh, stretch me ’til I break in two…
Oh, I am just an ache now…
Ah, all of creation too…
Ah, take me to the morning view…
Ah, I can see right into you…

Oh, I am just an ache now…
Ah, stretch me ’til I break out…

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