Elevator pitch, part 3
“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, and thus to be a sign of it.” (St. John Paul II)
This idea is a foundation stone for theology of the body. If you get this at a deep level, you will have beamed yourself into TOB in a big way. So let’s shake it out.
We said earlier that a human person is body-soul. Not two separate things, but a union of physical and spiritual that cannot be broken short of death.
Because the body is enfleshed spirit, and we can see the body, then we can also “see” the spirit when we look at the body. In other words, the body reveals the person. The body is a visible sign of the invisible reality of that human being.
The Pixar movie “Inside Out” could be a TOB primer! In the movie, the character’s emotions are orchestrated by a committee made up of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. Whichever interior emotion dominates the moment determines the physical actions of Riley, the little girl whose story we follow.
When you see these outward physical expressions, do you have any trouble discerning the interior spiritual reality? Any doubt at all?
The body, in its facial expressions, posture and actions, clearly communicates an inward reality.
You could even say that the body speaks a certain language. If you remember being newly in love, you know the exquisite diligence we apply to reading the language of the body of our beloved. Is she happy, sad, or tired? Does he need silence, a hug, or an hour with ESPN? Our antennae practically tremble with the effort to read how the other person is feeling!
As new parents, we learn quickly how to read the body of an infant, because, after all, an infant can’t tell us with the language of words. An infant’s only survival mechanism is the language of the body.
You can easily see how a smile or a grimace or a belly-laugh communicates an interior state. The body, in fact, is always communicating inward reality, because body and spirit are united in a human person.
Our bodies speak a language not only in what they do, but even more profoundly, in what they are. Specifically, our bodies, in their masculinity and femininity, tell us something about ourselves, and about God.
If you consider the male and female bodies, in their particularities, it is clear that they belong together. They fit together. The interiority of the female body only makes sense in light of the exteriority of the male body, and vice versa.
Thinking like a carpenter, would you ever make a tenon without a mortise to join it to? A tenon by itself has an extra part that would make it impractical in any other situation besides a joint with a mortise. A mortise is missing a part that would make it impractical for anything besides a joint with a tenon.
I admit this is a delicate metaphor, but you get it. The very design of man and woman suggests that they are meant to unite, to form a bond. Two blocks of wood butted up against each other are just two blocks of wood. But a mortise and a tenon on two blocks of wood form something new.
Imagine someone raised by wolves who came into civilization as an adult, having never seen any modern contraptions. Let’s give our modern Tarzan a bicycle. Left to his own intelligence, he could figure out what it was designed to do, and would probably be riding it within the hour. “These round things roll. These pegs turn with the revolution of the round things. This platform is about the size and shape of my haunches.” In other words, the structural design of the thing would reveal its purpose, its identity.
It’s not that a bicycle is always being ridden, but it is designed to be ridden. It may hang on a hook in the garage most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is designed to roll, carrying a rider.
In the same way, humans are not always locked in an embrace, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are designed to be for each other, united in family. That purpose, that identity, is discoverable in our structural design.
Let’s face it… God could have chosen a less strange way to allow the species to propagate. He could have fashioned some sort of cellular division that occurred unilaterally, like cloning. But no, we have these (really, you would have to say, sometimes quite inconvenient) body parts that make the continuation of the species dependent on a face-to-face encounter between a man and a woman in love.
Marriage, in other words.
In that profound way, in the union of man and woman, is most truly revealed the divine plan for human love. We are designed to be united, man and woman, in a total gift of self, forming something new.
The marital union, the two-becoming-one-flesh, is the gift of one self to another. The man gives all of himself to his spouse, holding nothing back; she receives him and gives her whole self to him in return. This mutual self-gift is so potent that it bears fruit: a family.
When we contemplate the total self-giving love of spouses, one for the other, we can see a faint reflection of the family life of God. God is a community of persons, the Father loving the Son, holding nothing back; the Son receiving that love and returning it, holding nothing back. The eternal symphony of love between them, we call the uncreated Holy Spirit. The Trinity is, in a sense, a family, a communion of persons.
(Let us be clear that God does not reflect man, in a somehow sexual manner; rather it is humans, in marriage, who reflect the Trinity.)
Why are we male and female? Why do we fit together so intriguingly? Why this particular way of procreating? God has given us a gift, inherent in the language of our bodies, a way to see and know each other, and a way to understand Him, through the self-giving union of spouses. He has given us, in marriage, an image of the fathomless mystery of His own inner life.
Suddenly, we are wonderstruck by the enormity of what the body is telling us!
– – – – –
Our elevator pitch now consists of these points:
- TOB is great news, because it answers the deepest desires of the human heart.
- The soul and body are one. So we can know something about the soul by “reading” the body.
- The body speaks a language that tells about the inner life of the person.
- The language of masculinity and femininity tells us that we are designed to be united to one another.
- When the union of spouses is fully self-giving and fruitful, the union reflects the mystery of the Holy Trinity.