Sunday, June 28, 2015

TOB: What is original nakedness?

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We continue here our explorations into St. John Paul II’s series of Wednesday Catecheses, which eventually became known as Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB, for short). To see other posts on this topic, click here.

I will admit upfront that original nakedness, the third of the original experiences that John Paul II explains in the TOB, has always been the least clear to me: we have seen man alone, in front of God and the rest of the world, understanding both his created nature and his unique place in creation; and we have seen Adam and Eve together, understanding that man does not live or know himself in isolation, that his finitude and bodiliness are in fact good. What more does original nakedness “bring to the table,” so to speak?

Let’s first recall the context of original nakedness: the three original experiences are a meditation by the saint on the subjective experience of Adam and Eve in the state of original innocence. The experiences are not step-wise or successive, but in fact a circumencession: all three are present in the beginning in some sense, albeit in more or less explicit ways at different points. Original nakedness is intrinsically related to original solitude and original unity insofar as it is part of the human experience, and insofar as it too, like the other experiences opens up another dimension of what it means to be imago dei.

"Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" by Lucas Cranach the Elder is in the Public Domain.
Which dimension is that? Our first clue is the word John Paul II uses to name this experience: nakedness brings the body almost immediately to mind and thus should be a clue that it may have something to do with the immanent experience of man as embodied. Once again, we are being reminded that the body is not something “other” than myself, that in fact I am my body, and my lived experience occurs, so to speak, nowhere else. Original nakedness, then, reminds us of a certain transparency the human being should properly have (even if it has been now distorted) to himself, to others, and to the world.

This does not however mean that in original nakedness we’re laid completely bare to one another, such that there could be no interiority in either Adam or Eve that the other did not see. This would be a violation of man’s integrity, and a violation of his freedom: though there is a proper transparency in original innocence, there is also a proper boundary with the other, such that Adam and Eve can choose to reveal themselves to each other in time. We must not mistake the exteriorization of things for original nakedness; rather it seems to me that original nakedness is another way to look at what intimacy really means.

Though intimacy has become a bit of an epithet for sex or other physical closeness, I think we all know that one can be physically close to someone and not be truly intimate. That’s because intimacy is in fact first a kind of knowing. It is a knowing that sees the other person not just for his body—or for any one-dimensional aspect—but rather sees him as a whole, in all of his humanity—that is to say, as a subjective/objective whole. Intimacy is also, as we know, something that takes time. This temporal aspect is, it seems to me, intrinsic to intimacy because to see and treat someone holistically means to acknowledge that there is an interiority about him that I cannot know unless he reveals it to me himself. Human beings are not machines whose parts can be separated and (literally) objectified—we are persons whose experience is expressed in and through the body in modes we can choose to share.

The intimacy that the experience of original nakedness is, then, helps us understand what knowledge truly is—it is not a running list of facts and figures, but the space in which we can let someone reveal himself and in which we can reveal ourselves. Obviously the bodily aspect of intimacy has a great deal to do with this, but physical intimacy is not the entire telos of original nakedness, and we risk abridging John Paul II’s vision if we cut it off at that point. We must remember that the original experiences, and the Theology of the Body itself is not simply about the relationship (conjugal or otherwise) between male and female, but about man in the world as incarnated imago dei.

Original nakedness is then a way of knowing and being known as God knows and is known. It is God who respects the wholeness of creature so much that he allows him the freedom to say yes to God or not. And it is God who reveals himself to his creature gently and appropriately, such that his creature can come to know him—in time—intimately. If God gives the gift of identity in original solitude and community in original unity, then he gives the gift of his vision and care for his creation in original nakedness.

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