Saturday, August 30, 2008

True Worth

After attending Theology of the Body Institute in which Dr. Janet Smith taught the Love and Responsibility course, I realized that my own past of physical, emotional and sexual abuse had tainted and distorted my understanding of self-worth as well as my ability to show and receive love. For this conversation I speak of love in the sense of the platonic sense. Love of neighbor as a subject created by God not an object.

That day we were discussing how male and female He created them and in our unique creation we compliment on another. We continued to speak of how men find the feminine attractive and women find the masculine attractive and that this attraction is not sinful but is ordered for we were created for love. For love to exist, there needs to be a lover, a beloved and the fire of the love between them. Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, then when we are attracted to the opposite sex, we are in fact attracted to love and attracted to God. We dissected attracted and it was said that attraction and lust are not the same. I had believed this to be true. I had felt that once attracted, that pull, that sensation of delight was sinful and must be stopped at it's first inception or it could lead to a greater sin.

I raised my hand and asked the question, I have found that I find men very attractive. What I mean to say is, when I look upon men, no matter who they are or what they look like I find myself attracted to some part of them that comes from their masculinity. It may be there broad shoulders or the fact that they are so tall. It might be a timber to their voice, but whatever the thing is, I feel a warm sensation of butterflies in my stomach that feels it will float into my throat. It is almost a feeling like a sigh. I have always believed that this was very wrong of me. That I must have some inordinate desire that stemmed from a childhood of abuse. I have believed that this "delight" in the opposite sex, has most likely been some kind of emotional dysfunction that I must try and "fix" or overcome lest I fall into sin.

I shared how I had learned to close myself off, that I had trained myself to avoid eye contact with men that I did not know. If they looked at me, I certainly did not smile at them for that would be opening myself up and would make me vulnerable. I also believed that it would be leading them to sin because I would be then sending a message of interest and that would be wrong since I am married.

Imagine my surprise when I was met with an overwhelming response that my delight was not sinful but rather it was the essence of Pope John Paul's message. That stamped into our bodies is God revealing the mystery of love and he desperately wants us to understand this!

I mention this because it seems to me so many of us are hurting from past abuse and we do not realize that we need smiles and eye contact and yes, even touch. Christopher West mentioned the Manichean demon and heresy. He talked about how it is not sinful for a man to look at a beautiful attractive woman and see her, smile at her and say to himself "That is a very attractive, beautiful and feminine woman". In fact, he mentioned that it affirms a man in his own masculinity to see his feminine counterpart and delight in her being created as feminine. I am not talking about lust, I am talking about recognizing that woman is a site to behold and her creation as woman is a delight!

I had NEVER thought about this concept. Suddenly, I realized that the very need to be loved that I have been carrying around with me was starving me emotionally. I had bought in to a lie that my body was something that would lead men to sin and could not be trusted. I believed that if I even smiled at a man I would be inviting him into an occasion of lust. I had even begun to fear confession. I worried that if a priest heard me speak about anything to do with sexuality, that I would be scandalizing him for surely he would have lustful thoughts about me. My twisted understanding of the body had begun to distort my image of masculinity. I had begun to believe that all men were easily tempted and would be led to feelings of lust with even the slightest of provocations.

I do not say this to sound as if my looks would tempt any man but rather to point out a flaw within myself. For one, past abuses that I had encountered had trained me to keep people at arms length, for my own safety and for theirs. Two, the "ubber" Catholic groups I had encountered had presented the same theme. I was told by a priest that I was to pretty to wear jeans and that I should under no circumstances wear shorts. In fact, he had told me that to be truly modest I must only wear dresses and to make sure they were long. I must say that this directive led me to believe that my body was an obstacle to my own holiness as well as others.

The turning point in this deep seeded belief came during the before mentioned seminar at the Theology of The Body Institute. There was a man and wife at the Seminar. His name was Charlie. They had been married for over 40 years. At one point he stood up and said to the group how beautiful I was and how it gave him joy to see me every day and that he took delight in seeing how beautifully feminine I was.

I began to cry. Why? Well, first of all it goes back to Dr. Conrad Baars' theory that to receive affirmation, it must be from someone that you believe is authentic as well as a from someone in authority. If he had been a handsome young man, I would have made sure to sit on the other side of the room from them on. I would have avoided eye contact as well as conversation except for brief polite greetings. I would never have allowed myself to be alone with him, not even in eucharistic adoration for that would have been to distracting to me. But, because he was sitting next to his wife when he said it and at least 30 years my senior, I believed him. I believed him so completely that tears streamed down my face and I could not stop them. I believe that one moment of understanding has opened a floodgate of healing in my life.

After that night I decided that whenever I saw someone look at me and make eye contact, I would hold that gaze for a moment and smile with all the love in my heart that I could. I would think the words; "God loves you". When I left the Institute and arrived at a Philadelphia airport I was on a mission. I decided that if I saw a man look at me, I would smile with love. One after another I made eye contact and smiled when I felt someone's eyes on me. I can not describe the joy in my heart that I experienced with the events that followed. I remember one man even tipped his hat. I did not see lust, I did not see invitation, I saw warmth and an almost thankfulness behind their eyes.

I came to realize that we all desire to be loved and accepted. It is in our daily activities that we can give and receive love. We can do that by looking upon one another and delighting in their creation and saying you are beauty to my eyes! I delight in your creation!

We need to overcome the heresy that the body is an impediment to holiness. It is this heresy that I believe to have been my own obstacle in believing in and accepting the key concepts and truths taught in Theology of The Body. The enemy has used this heresy to prevent many from entering into the beautiful message message given to us by Pope John Paul II. Consequently, it has prevented me from entering into true healing that can ONLY come from affirmation. My distorted beliefs had convinced me to close myself off from affirmation, the distorted belief of the body.

It is one thing to know about Theology of The Body and it is quite another to be able to experience it. I have know and talked about TOB for a number of years. However, it is only recently, that I have begun to experience it first hand. I ask for prayers as I embark on a mission to uncover this lie from the enemy. I pray my new talk will open the eyes of many who have heard but have not been able to believe.

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