Imagine, in a lush open green field, you found the most beautiful flower in the world. So beautiful, in fact, that you decide to drop everything that is important to you and then re-arrange your life around this flower. To your surprise, you discover that you are also a flower! And the flower whom you dedicated your life to responds to you in the same way. Even though the green field is lovely, the two of you realize that the image of God is a bouquet. Your purpose in life is to fill the field with flowers so that it would mirror God’s face.
In the John Paul II (JPII)’s Theology of the Body, he develops a truth from Scripture called the hermeneutics of the gift, or the spousal meaning of the body. Our body is meant to be espoused to another person. The analogy of the flower can convey the meaning of our original innocence without the baggage that comes with shame: We are a gift to one another. We are a gift to the world. The world is a gift to us from God, and the field full of flowers is a gift we give back to God.
It’s hard to imagine us being gifts to anyone, reading/watching the news and seeing the violence we inflict on one another, the damage we do to our environment. Before Original Sin, a man and a woman really were a gift to one another just like how two flowers make a more beautiful image in a green field. In the “peace of the interior gaze,” the man helped the woman become fully feminine and the woman helped the man become fully masculine. Together, they created a community that helped the world become more beautiful. Then Adam and Eve broke God’s first covenant with humanity. JPII doesn’t jump into the consequences of Original Sin, but dwells on this original state of grace that is so economically expressed in Genesis 2:23-25. JPII gave several homilies on the spousal meaning of our bodies, and I’m trying to understand his thoughts through this flower analogy.
Just as each flower is unique, so is each person unique (cf. Original Solitude). Just as two flowers could make a bouquet that would mirror their god, so do man, woman and the soul-creating Spirit mirror the Holy Trinity, which is God (cf. Original Unity). Just as covering the flowers with dead leaves and bird feathers would hide its real beauty, so does sin hide our true beauty: the image of God. Before the shame and corruption of sin, our body and soul together communicated our true selves and unique identity (cf. Original Nakedness). Since the two flowers feel no shame, have no reason to objectify and use the other flower, the flowers simply help each other become more flowery. In the same way, while Adam and Eve remained in their original innocence, each person was a gift to the other. Adam did not objectify Eve and use her to support his ego. Eve did not treat Adam as an accessory to help her become great. Instead, he helped her become fully feminine; she helped him become fully masculine — through their bodies. They helped each other to become the best versions of themselves.
There was no shame in our bodies; so, our very nakedness communicated who we were that was lovingly accepted by the other person. The flowers had no need to clothe themselves in leaves or feathers. The flower, in its nakedness, spoke to the other flower. Each flower was unique. Each flower was beautiful. Together, in communion, the flowers could make the green field bloom with its own image, the image of God.
The dimension of gift is decisive for the essential truth and depth of the meaning of original solitude-unity-nakedness. (TOB 13:2c)
This idea that our body is a gift is a very important concept for JPII’s Theology of the Body. JPII develops from Genesis the three theological concepts (Original Solitude-Unity-Nakedness) in order to conclude with how our body is a profound gift. He admits that throughout history men and women do so much violence to each other and to our environment (a.k.a. “historical man”) that it’s very difficult to accept that we are gifts to each other and to the world. Yet, JPII appeals to the beginning of Creation, just as Christ did with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-9). Yes, the world sucks, but that’s not how it was in the beginning. JPII points out that the very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” when looked in the original text (beresit bara Elohim)
also signifies gift; a fundamental and “radical” gift, that is, an act of giving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing. (TOB 13:3)
When one reads the two creation accounts in the Bible (Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25), it is clear that humanity is God’s special creation. If beresit bara Elohim has a connotation of gift, then that means the creation of humans was a gift from God for all of creation at that point. At the same time, after humans were created, God intended the world to be a gift for humanity (cf. Gen 1:28). Keep in mind that all of creation was still in the state of grace (i.e. no sin, no shame, etc.). So, when you apply the connotation of gift in God’s creations to the creation of Eve (cf. Gen 2:21-23), then that means men and women were meant to be gifts to each other.
Yet, when this idea of “gift” is applied to man and woman, it is not like a gift to be used and disposed. No…
None of these beings (animalia), in fact, offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift. (TOB 14:1)
Like the flower who drops everything important in his life to center around the other flower, men and women do not completely realize our essence until we exist for someone. Our essence as human beings is not fulfilled by existing with someone (i.e. finding a spouse), but for someone (i.e. sacrificing for a spouse). Just as the receiving flower responds in kind to the first flower that initiated the self-donation, the act of offering ourselves as a gift is reciprocal. In this perfect state of one-upping each other in self-sacrifice and service, man and woman lived in blissful happiness… it was “beatifying”:
This beatifying “beginning” of man’s being and existing as male and female is connected with the revelation and the discovery of the meaning of the body that is rightly called “spousal.” (TOB 14:5)
Just as the flowers discover that their existence is to fill the green plains with flowers to mirror God’s bouquet, so are men and women created to fill the world… to reflect God’s image. The green field is supposed to be full of flowers in all their naked glory! The world is supposed to be filled with humankind in all its Original Nakedness (i.e. without the baggage of shame). In New Testament wording, our mission on earth as men and women was (is) to fill it with little Christs.
Man enters “into being” with the consciousness that his own masculinity-femininity, that is, his own sexuality, is ordered to an end. (TOB 14:6)
Sex isn’t just for fun. There is a divine purpose to having sex: through our bodies, we channel the creative power of God to increase His image, His presence on earth. That was the original plan, but then Adam and Eve broke the first covenant with God. Everything changes from there.
JPII says this concludes the first part of his reflections on the Theology of the Body. The purpose was to develop some foundational concepts and to establish how the spousal meaning of our body was the intent at the beginning of creation. After Original Sin, the spousal meaning is corrupted. The next part of the Theology of the Body begins to examine the consequences.
- The Spousal Meaning of the Body and Vocation (pathsoflove.com)
- Spousal Meaning of the Body (bigccatholics.com)
- Podcast on the Spousal Meaning of the Body (radiomaria.us)