Theology of the Body – When you read those four words, your first thought might be to associate them with human sexuality. That was mine, too – until I had a revelation in college that totally expanded my view of Theology of the Body (TOB).
I was first introduced to TOB as a young teen. Both of my parents were Natural Family Planning instructors at the time and really into TOB, so at home, the topic of sexuality was presented to me as a beautiful gift from God. Throughout high school, I attended a Steubenville teen conference every summer, and TOB was also presented there to us entirely through the lens of human sexuality.
Obviously, this isn’t a bad thing. Pope St. John Paul II introduced the world to TOB by speaking on human sexuality, and God’s plan for human sexuality has been lost in today’s modern culture. However, to only consider TOB through this lens is to reduce the human body only to its sexuality.
Theology means the study of God – and so when we speak of Theology of the Body, we speak of the ways God reveals Himself through our bodies. And I think it’s obvious that our bodies are significantly more than our genitals.
Halfway through college, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel in one of my wrists. As a college student, carpal tunnel is no fun to begin with; but as a college student majoring in flute performance – my carpal tunnel was potentially career-ending. I saw a physical therapist for a few months, and eventually, I began looking for additional recovery tools because physical therapy wasn’t enough.
One of these things was learning Body Mapping, which is pretty much what it sounds: mapping out your body in your mind. Everyone has their own body map in their mind – it’s how we know where our arms, our torso, and our legs are without even looking at them. As small kids we naturally have a correct body map, but as we grow older, bad stress and tension can lead to us forming incorrect body maps without even realizing it.
After a few weeks of taking Body Mapping lessons, my teacher said something that fundamentally changed my perspective on the human body: “Our bodies were designed to move freely.”
Freely. This means that God’s desire for us to experience true freedom is written into the way our very bodies are meant to move!
And even more than that – what prevents us from moving freely is precisely that which so often stifles and clouds us morally: the effects of original sin.
This realization flipped my entire understanding of the human body upside-down. If God was so intentional as to reveal His desire for us to be free through the way He designed our bodies to move, then what else could I learn about God and His desires for us through the human body?
I realized that my body is a gift because through our bodies, we can choose to become the means through which Jesus reveals Himself to those around us. God, who is pure Spirit, chose to take on human flesh in order that He might give Himself up as a gift for each one of us personally, in a totally radical, tangible way. This is the same for you as it is for me — God calls you in an intimately personal way to receive Him into your whole self, so that you may bring Him to those around you.
For it is through your body that you can care for the Body (of the Church). It is through your body that you can hug your loved ones, sharing in times of joy or in times of sorrow. It is through your body that you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or picking up trash along a road. It is through your body that you can wipe the tears from your best friend’s face, make soup for your roommate who’s down with the flu, or listen to your sibling talk about a difficult situation they’re facing. It’s through your body that you can kneel down and pray to our Lord.
Even in times of physical suffering, we have the opportunity to become like Christ Crucified. When our bodies may feel particularly un-giftable, we can give the gift of our bearing physical witness to our beloved Lord’s sufferings. We are His Body, in times of health, sickness, or suffering. And it is partly through our physical weaknesses that we can allow others to love us, and therefore help them get to Heaven. It can be so easy for many people (myself included) to say when they are sick or injured, “I can push through this. I can still take care of myself.” Yet how much better it is to reach out to a friend and give them an opportunity to love!
Your body is the means by which you love. So, in the words spoken at the end of Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” Be not afraid to let your whole life be a gift to others through the means of the beautiful body God has given you.