Our Human Experience

Since I’m trying to learn more about John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, it makes sense to read it, right?

There are a lot of good books and resources about TOB that aren’t written by JP2. Christopher West, Josh Evert, Katrina Zeno…there are so many that I almost turned to those books in my new quest to learn about the topic. But I realized it would make more sense to read the original stuff before I jumped into the rest of it.

In case you didn’t know, TOB isn’t even a book. It’s a series of 129 lectures given by JP2 between 1979 and 1984. I’ve been reading one a day since the end of last week. There wasn’t anything that really moved me until the fourth talk, called Boundary Between Original Innocence and Redemption. This talk was given on September 26th, 1979. (Wow, now that I write that, I realize it’s really close to the date when I read it for the first time – September 30th!) In this talk, John Paul II describes how Romans 8:23 is integral to an understanding of the theology of the body.

Just so you don’t have to find the nearest Bible and flip to the scripture, here it is: “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for…the redemption of our bodies.” 

John Paul II explains that this scripture means that our own human experience, with its existence in a body, is related to revelation.

Now, I read this a few days ago, and wrote notes on these two facts. So obviously the Spirit moved through me in some way as I was reading it. But when I sat down to write this post and looked back on the talk and my notes, I couldn’t place what it was that struck me so much. But an article that I read yesterday about marathon running and the spiritual life provides the answer.

An excerpt from the article: “As Catholics, we believe the human person has a hylomorphic nature. Hylomorphism, a philosophical term used by Aristotle, means the body and soul of the human being are intimately bound together. While the human being is alive, the body and soul are inseparable. The hylomorphic view is contrasted to the dualistic view where the body and soul are seen as separate and even opposing entities. For example, this view would see the soul as a spiritual entity able to exist or, if you will, “float” outside the body.”

This idea is nothing new to me. Since my first graduate degree, my research and work has focused on why health must be examined holistically. Specifically, I have looked at how mental health in the form of stress and social health in the form of support systems affect biological determinants of health. I developed this line of research because I believed that our minds and social spheres are not separate from our bodies.

And now, JP2 is helping me integrate something I already believe into my new Catholic faith. The body, despite its numerous limitations, sufferings, passions, weaknesses, and even propensity to death, is also inseparable from our divine souls. We understand and are understood by God precisely because of the experiences of our bodies.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself in interpreting what this idea means. But I do immediately start wondering how to interpret my daily bodily sensations. Does the pain I experience in my calves after a long run point to some aspect of God? Do the fluids that I track during my monthly cycle lead me in the direction Jesus wants me to walk?

I don’t have the answer yet. That’s what reading the rest of JP2’s talks will reveal. Stay tuned!



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