Reversal of Expectations #1: Nakedness, Shame & Healing

Two years ago, we did a five-part series on theology of the body and began with four human insights about the body, which indicate its holiness and goodness.

1) First Insight: Philosopher Michael Pakaluk notes that every society recognizes a difference between rape and physical assault (Quoted in Fr. John Harvey, The Truth about Homosexuality, 140).  Why are they different categories?  Both hurt the human body.  The insight here is that rape assaults the sexual organs of a person, which are different from other organs.  To harm these organs causes greater damage (emotional, psychological, spiritual) to the human person.

2) Theologian Christopher West notes that, in every language, there are multiple names for sexual organs—why?  How many names, for example, do we have for an elbow?  An elbow is an elbow.   So, why do we come up with so many names to describe our sexual organs?  Because they’re unique.

3) The pleasure produced by our sexual organs is different from the pleasure produced by the rest of our body.  People get addicted to sex, pornography, and masturbation, but no one gets addicted to massages.  No one watches videos of people getting massages.  Yet they do watch and get addicted to pornography, because sexual pleasure is more powerful than any other physical pleasure.

4) Many advocates of sexual freedom assert that shame was introduced by Christians; if we go to certain cultures where people don’t wear clothes, they feel no shame.  But writer Dawn Eden points out that, even in those cultures, people feel uncomfortable when others stare at their private parts (My Peace I Give You, 8).  Even in cultures where people are naked, they know that their private parts are sacred.

These four reflections point to the fact that sexual organs are deeply personal, unique, powerful, and sacred.  So we shouldn’t treat them like the rest of our body.  These reflections also show how good the human body is and how we should honour it!

Now let’s meditate on what God the Father is saying to us.  In the First Reading, after Adam and Eve distrust and disobey God, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden [They now see the Father differently: They’re afraid of Him, even though He’s not against them].  But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’  He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Gen 3:8-10).

Nakedness is a powerful reality.  For example, if we’re alone, we have no reason to feel shame at being naked.  But, if a stranger walks by, we hide or try to find clothes.  This instinct shows we’re protecting something good!

St. John Paul II reflected on nakedness before the Fall and nakedness afterwards.  Before their sin, the text says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25).  This means that they saw each other the way God sees them, as persons (Dr. Mary Healy, Men and Women Are from Eden, 27).  There was no reason to fear, because the other person loves me.  After their sin, they’re thinking, ‘Why are you looking at me that way?’  They’re afraid of being used by the other or treated badly because of their body.

This is what happens in pornography: We see people as objects.  We actually don’t care about them, their names and lives.  We look at their bodies and their actions and use them for selfish pleasure.  They’re objects.

So, after the Fall, Adam and Eve experience shame at their nakedness, which has a double meaning: It’s negative because they know they’ve lost respect for the goodness of their bodies; it’s positive because they want to protect the goodness of their bodies from being used.

When we wear clothes, it’s not because our bodies are bad; we protect them from being viewed as objects.  This reminds me of the first time I heard the phrase ‘Sun’s out, guns out.’  I couldn’t stop laughing!  A friend who would never show his biceps on purpose told me this as a joke.  The point is that we can be shameless and draw attention to our bodies as objects.  So, when we dress, we want to show the beauty of who we are, without objectifying ourselves.  We don’t want to be a slob, look frumpy, or be vain, but there’s a right balance: Dress well and dress for the occasion.  No details right now because it’s a huge nuanced topic.  For the moment, the question we could ask ourselves is: Are these clothes going to help people see me as a person or an object?  And would people respond, ‘She’s beautiful,’ or, ‘She’s hot’?  There’s a difference.

Everything we’ve said so far is great news!  Here’s even better news: God comes looking for Adam and Eve!  They hide from Him but He doesn’t hide from them; He searches for them!  And He doesn’t ask, ‘Where are you?’ to know their location; He’s God, He already knows.  It’s like a father whose young child hides in the closet; he asks, ‘Where are you?’ so that the child knows he’s there.

Every time we look lustfully at a person, look at something impure on the internet, or even intentionally dress in a sexual way, we push God away.  We start feeling ashamed, dirty, desperately trying to cover our sins, and not let God or anyone else know.  It could also be because of something sexual someone did to us.  But God looks for us because He’s our Father.  He doesn’t want us to hide.  He wants to heal the shame we experience because of our sins or others’ sins against us.

Look at His reaction in the text: “God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’  [Again, He’s asking for their sake, not for His.]  The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’  Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’  The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’  [They both blame someone else for their sins.]  The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals…  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel’” (3:11-15).  God curses the devil, but not Adam and Eve.  He punishes them but the punishment is medicinal.  And He foreshadows that the offspring of Eve, Jesus, will defeat the devil.

One way Jesus defeats the devil is by exposing his lies with truth.  So, let’s seek clarity: Is dressing in a way that objectifies our body a sin?  Yeah, if we do so knowingly and willingly.  But, if we never knew this was wrong until now, then it wouldn’t have been a sin.

What about pornography?  Because human sexuality is deeply personal, unique, powerful, and sacred, pornography is grave matter.  To look at it knowingly and willingly is a mortal sin.  Parents, I leave it up to you to discuss and clarify with your children regarding anything we’ve discussed today.  Thanks.

By the way, I’ve been thinking about doing a short series on healing from sexual abuse.  Please give me feedback if you think that would be good for our parish family.

Today is actually the first of a four-part series on reversal of expectations: Sex isn’t something profane, but sacred.  Next week, we’re considering how God’s judgment is actually a blessing; after that, we’ll talk about how suffering is an opportunity; and finally, we’ll talk about how we have a greater need to give than to receive.

If we experience shame and guilt with regard to sexual sins, it could be good.  It could be a sign that our hearts are close to the Holy Spirit; we’re sorry for what we’ve done.  But, if anything we’ve said today causes discouragement, does that come from God?  No.  If we feel like we want to hide from God right now, avoid that trap.  God loves us, and wants us to come to Him to heal the shame we experience.

Isn’t it amazing that Jesus died naked on the Cross?  Dr. Christopher West writes, “Mercy has been revealed through the body of Christ…  Christ’s naked body proclaims redemption to every man and woman who has ever lived under the inheritance of shame” (Theology of the Body Explained, 93).  Jesus wants us to confess our sins in Confession so we can hear the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins…’  And He wants to heal us with these words: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…  Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing… do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:1,18-19).

“According to St. Augustine, the deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and be seen by that other’s loving look” (West, 93).  Jesus sees us in our shame and loves us.  Because of Him, Adam and Eve’s words, ‘I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’ gets transformed into, ‘I was at peace because I trusted in Your love, so I exposed myself’.

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