Thursday, August 18, 2016

Theology of the Body Will Never Strike Me the Same Again

Ok, this is definitely a processing post. Maybe someone will have something to say in response.

Within an hour of arriving in Poland, my daughter and I made our way to our first host family's home. A teenage girl met us, led us through a gate, through a courtyard, into the apartment building and up the stairs. And more stairs. And more stairs. They lived on the top floor.

It was hot that day, at least relative to most of the rest of our stay. I was wearing my airplane outfit (and, yes, I took my son's tongue lashing for making him wear his heaviest clothes so he wouldn't be cold in the plane. We roasted.). The first thing I did was change out of jeans and long sleeves into my skort and a tshirt. There was no AC, as is typical for almost everywhere in Poland. I felt so much better after changing.

We spent a lot of time walking, and this was clearly not so unusual for the typical Pole, either. I was especially struck by the volumes of people hiking in the Tatra mountains. I was told the crowds were more immense than typical, in part because so many people had waited, as we had done, until after World Youth Day, to venture out for their holiday or Wandering time. But it was something to behold to see people of every imaginable age, families, older folks, nuns, teens, children, babies in carriers, middle aged and out of shape adults -- just everyone -- climbing these mountains. Sweating. Panting for breath, or not.

It's just stunning to me.

It was hot, sweaty, difficult work. If you needed to pee, the bushes were there for you. This was not about physical comfort. And yet a bazillion people seemed to really want to do this, seemingly because they knew it could bring some strength to their souls, their relationships, their community, their lives.

It was like they knew there is some connection between body and soul.

If you are in America and among Catholics and you say "Let's talk about the body," my gut tells me that everyone will immediately think: Sex. Modesty. Purity. Shame. Sin. Lust.

And right now my gut thinks there's something messed up there. Something truncated, something obsessive, something puritanical, something that shows we have given our bodies over to be comfort slaves.

I did notice a bit how women in Poland dress, even though this isn't something I typically notice. I would call their approach "practical." When there is no AC and you have a less than sedentary lifestyle, you wear clothes that are comfortable, allow movement, and show a bit more skin than is typical for a woman of similar age in the US. I saw very little that was unbecoming. I also sensed a general lack of an atmosphere where women worried about being judged by each other or about being looked at by men as meat. Everyone lived in the same temperature; everyone walked somewhere during the day. What was normal and unremarkable simply seemed very different than in my circles in the US.

I spoke with one of my new Polish friends about this a bit. She mentioned that she was part of a community of women where, interwoven into the fabric of prayer, Scripture, life in Christ together, was also this element of revealing the glory of God by physical appearance. Not by measuring skirts from the floor up or by how many finger from the collarbone were allowed to be seen, but by understanding what colors and styles look best, bring joy, and encourage women in how to not look like frumpy bags. Why? Because embracing and enhancing physical beauty is also part of coming alive in Christ -- this too is how we honor God with our bodies.

The women in question also walk long, sweaty hikes without portajohns in order to seek God.

And it is very interesting to me that young American Christians who are brave might ask someone to pray that they could win their struggle to be pure. But I've never heard someone wrestle in the same way asking for prayer to overcome addiction to materialism and comforts. Why is that?

St. John Paul II hiked those Tatra Mountains.

I heard one American give a talk while at World Youth Day. Do you know what the topic was? Modest dress, and chastity.

I'm... just...

There's a gap here.

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