Who would have thought a comedian known for his vulgar jokes would speak so profoundly about Original Solitude? This YouTube video clip has garnered over 5.3 million views. The clip specifically addresses this aloneness that leads us to happiness. In Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the Pope describes this phenomenon as Original Solitude, a realization in solitude that opens up our heart to God. All the noise in the world is distracting us from entering that solitude. Louis C.K. definitely hit a nerve:
I watched “The Sweet Hereafter” back in college in 1997 and I remember being deeply moved by the opening scene: a bird’s eye view of a mother, father and child sleeping naked on a mattress on the floor with white sheets withdrawn as if it was a humid afternoon. I never did put words to that feeling. I think I can, now. The beauty that so moved me was nakedness without shame.
In Pope John Paul II (JPII)’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body, he says that it is difficult to envision a state of the human mind without shame. After establishing the concepts of Original Solitude and Original Unity, he tries to reconstruct what it might mean to be in a state of Original Nakedness. It’s incredibly fascinating because it reveals so much about our true human nature (as God first intended), how far we’ve fallen, and where (because of Christ’s sacrifice) we will return. I suspect that as I grow older and watch my body break down and suffer from the ravages of time, it will only serve to make my Original Nakedness more beautiful. There is redemptive value in the body we are born with — that’s what Original Nakedness is all about when read in the light of Christ’s redemptive act.
They were naked, but did not feel shame. (Genesis 2:25)
There is such an economy of words that it is easy to miss the significance of that one sentence. JPII spends several Wednesdays to unpack its meaning. He explains that it is a “true non-presence of shame” (TOB 12:2a). You wouldn’t be able to have a conversation about shame with Adam and Eve before Genesis, Chapter 3 because the very idea did not exist. JPII says that “one should understand and interpret the text just quoted in this way… [because] the emergence of shame, and in particular of sexual shame, is linked with the loss of that original fullness” (TOB 12:2b). JPII refers to the loss that occurred in Gen 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” Before Original Sin created a “boundary experience,” men and women experienced a “fullness of consciousness and experience, above all the fullness of understanding the meaning of the body connected with the fact that ‘they were naked'” (TOB 12:2a). He promises to get back to the multiple dimensions of Original Sin in TOB 26:4-28:6, but wants to focus on exactly what it means to live in Original Nakedness.
In Original Nakedness (living in a state where shame did not exist), there was no boundary separating the inner life of our soul from the outer experience of our bodies. We had fullness of consciousness and experience through our bodies. The body of a man and the body of a woman communicated with each other in a way…
…that is proper and pertinent to the sphere of subjects-persons alone… the human body acquires a completely new meaning… it expresses the person in his or her ontological and essential concreteness.
The whole biblical narrative, and particularly the Yahwist text, shows that, through its own visibility, the body manifests man and, in manifesting him, acts as an intermediary that allows man and woman, from the beginning, to “communicate” with each other according to that communion personarum willed for them in particular by the Creator (TOB 12:4-5).
Take the smartphone market, for example. In the beginning, there was only the iPhone and “the community of smartphone users” saw it as good. The iPhone looked at all the communication devices created by the community, but could not find another smartphone to help it become the best version of itself. So, the community created another smartphone. When the iPhone saw this new smartphone, it said, “This at last is chip of my chip, code of my code; this one shall be called Android, for out of iOS this one was taken!” They had no phone covers, but did not feel shame.
Each smartphone, whether iPhone or Android, would be unique because of how its body experiences the world through its touchscreen, its microphone, its camera and its conversations with other smartphones through its speakers. The inner life code of the smartphone grows with every interaction with the world; its unique customization is realized through the smartphone contemplating about its inner life, its Original Solitude. But smartphones cannot reach its full creative potential unless an iPhone is paired with an Android with the same NFC (near-field communication) frequency. Original Nakedness for the smartphone is the ability for an iPhone to simply “bump” an Android with the same NFC frequency to communicate its inner life code. The sharing of the inner code helps both the iPhone and the Android reach its full potential. Sadly, due to Original Competition, the NFC that existed between them was broken. Only by the grace of the community of users are iPhones and Androids able to talk to each other at all and create compatible apps.
Original Nakedness for humans is the ability for a man and woman to communicate the fullness of their inner life “through the eyes of the body. They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons” (TOB 13:1c). This is where the Theology of the Body has a strong emphasis on the body. Whether you are short or tall, thick or thin, strong or fragile, your body communicates.
[It is] a mutual gift for each other, through femininity and masculinity. In reciprocity, they reach in this way a particular understanding of the meaning of their own bodies. The original meaning of nakedness corresponds to the simplicity and fullness of vision in which their understanding of the meaning of the body is born from the very heart, as it were, of their community-communion. We will call this meaning “spousal.” (TOB 13:1c)
No two musical instruments are the same. Each has its own resonance-signature that is tied to how the instrument was formed. Similarly, the human body has a soul that mutually defines each other; there is no duality of the body & soul. The body & soul exist together and is shaped in life, just as the sound of an instrument matures over time of use. Our perception and interaction with the world is defined by our body, just as how an instrument is played and the type of sound it produces is defined by the instrument’s body. The analogy ends there. Whereas instruments can be mixed and matched to create a symphony, a man or woman’s body can be a gift to another in a way that is exclusive to the realm of persons alone. Instruments are a creation of man. Man and woman, in communion, is an image of God. Instruments don’t have free will, but a person can give up his life out of love. Every instrument may have a unique resonance-signature, but every person has a soul that is a universe unto itself with its own gateway into God’s inner life.
JPII concludes his discourse on Original Solitude, Original Unity and Original Nakedness, and uses them as a foundation to talk about the next truth of humanity revealed in Scripture: the Hermeneutics of the Gift.
Imagine a heart pendant. On one side, it has an image of you. It is complete on this side and no one can tell that something is missing. Yet on the other side, half the face is gone. You only show this side to people you trust. The majority of the time, people see only the side that is whole. When you find your spouse, the partial face he or she has fits the missing half that you possess. Sometimes, it takes a while before they are a perfect fit. Still… the complete image is God.
That missing half is by design. John Paul II (JPII) teaches in the Theology of the Body that our Original Solitude (cf. Gen 2:18) reveals our uniqueness as a creation, represented by the side with the complete image on the heart pendant. When we examine our interior life through contemplation, prayer, or deep discussions with close friends, we are examining that half-missing face. Seeing the irreplaceable value of that side of the pendant is what Original Solitude is all about. Yet, our journey doesn’t stop there. Beyond the beauty of truth in our aloneness is our completeness through a sincere gift of ourselves (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24:3). This sincere gift of ourselves might mean giving oneself to a religious community, becoming a priest, being a celibate secular apostle (i.e. Opus Dei) or, like for most people, getting married.
When we find the half that completes our image of God, we experience what JPII calls our Original Unity and exclaim with joy “at last!” (cf. Gen 2:23). The implication for marriage is nothing less than participating in the inner life of God Himself:
Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, “from the beginning” [cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:1-12] not only an image in which the solitude of one Person, who rules the world, mirrors itself, but also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons. (TOB 9:3)
The “inscrutable divine communion of Persons” is the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Just as the Father and the Son fully gave Themselves to each other and resulted in the Third Person (the Holy Spirit), similarly man and woman give themselves totally to each other to create children. Since a man and woman’s ability to create new souls is deeply linked to the Trinitarian life, that special relationship is elevated to the level of Sacrament (outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible reality). Marriage, sex and procreation are sacred because they constitute a paradigm for the inner life of God:
… right from the beginning, the blessing of fruitfulness descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Gen 1:28). (TOB 9:3)
If creation is a gift given to man… then its fullness and deepest dimension is determined by grace, that is, by participation in the inner life of God himself, in his holiness. (TOB 16:3)
In talking about Original Solitude and Original Unity over with my wife, we came up with a short-hand way of explaining how marriage mirrors the inner life of God:
Man + Woman + spirit of procreation = Father + Son + Holy Spirit => The Holy Trinity
=> Power of Creation
=> Inner Life of God
Sex, as our modern age has redefined it, is cheapened when compared to its original meaning found in Genesis 2:24. God doesn’t just tell us to only have sex with our spouses (the ethical dimension), He also reveals to us, as JPII shows, that sex is deeply linked to knowledge of God’s life (the sacramental/theological dimension):
[The phrase “and the two will become one flesh” has two dimensions:] “an ethical dimension, as is confirmed by Christ’s response to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 (see also Mk 10), and also a sacramental dimension, strictly theological, as confirmed by the words of Paul to the Ephesians, that likewise refer to the traditions of the prophets (Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel).” (TOB 9:5)
JPII describes the sacredness of the sexual act in a way that only a holy bishop can: untainted by the world’s redefinition, illuminated by God’s original intentions…
When they unite with each other (in the conjugal act) so closely so as to become “one flesh,” man and woman rediscover every time and in a special way the mystery of creation, thus returning to the union in humanity (“flesh from my flesh and bone from my bones”) that allows them to call each other by name, as they did the first time. This means reliving in some way man’s original virginal value… they discover their own humanity… sex expresses an ever-new surpassing of the limit of man’s solitude. (TOB 10:2)
Genesis 2:24… thereby indicates… that each union of this kind renews in some way the mystery of creation in all its original depth and vital power. Procreation is rooted in creation, and every time it reproduces in some way its mystery. (TOB 10:4)
Saying “sex is sacred” is a platitude. It’s sacred by definition if we say “sex within marriage allows us to relive our original virginal value at Creation” or “sex allows us to discover our true humanity” or “sex, each time, allows us to surpass the limits of Original Solitude.” I’m sure it’s been said elsewhere, the procreative act of sex mirrors the Creative act of the Holy Trinity.
The beauty of JPII’s Theology of the Body is that it’s not just about sexual morality. He develops other ideas and I’m excited to explore them. Next up, Original Nakedness.
Have you ever felt alone? Despite the love from family and friends, or because their love is lacking, you feel as if no one really gets you… they don’t know what goes on inside. There is an internal dialogue that no one else hears. You might even be the kind of person who wants to avoid having that internal dialogue because it’s too lonely, too painful. Or quite the opposite, you talk so much to yourself that you’re afraid you might be crazy.
John Paul II (JPII) speaks about this phenomenon in his Theology of the Body. He looks at Scripture and develops a theological concept called Original Solitude that describes this condition of “aloneness.” He teaches that the recognition and acceptance of your Original Solitude is a stepping stone to your true identity and purpose in life.