Books can have a profound influence on our lives, molding how we think and the ways in which we approach the world. As someone who enjoys reading, I could name dozens of such works, but one that always seems to rise to the top is John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, not only because of its great depth and insight, but also because, well, this late pope essentially convinced me to get married.
It’s hard to influence someone more than that!
A short bit of backstory: Before I met Megan, I was seriously considering a life of celibacy, either just as a personal religious practice or potentially in a more formal manner (i.e., communal monastic life). Even though I had been in and out of relationships since I was 18, the idea of the celibate life had always appealed to me, no doubt helped along by disappointments and such.
In the months prior to meeting Megan I was in a state of mind and life where I knew I had to make a choice, and as far as I could tell the celibate life was the way I was meant to go, the plan that God had for me. For too long I had vacillated between marriage and the monastery, without much intention. And since I knew that love is, finally, an act of the will, I came to realize that I had to stop my half-heartedness and pick a path to walk, praying that I was following God’s will in doing so.
It was in this mindset that I came across JP II’s A Theology of the Body. I had a vague notion of what it was about from various sources, hearing that it was profound and life-altering. Well, I was in the market for something life-altering, something that I hoped would help me discover the path I should walk. And so I began to read.
Since I already felt inclined to the celibate life, my preconception was that reading this would probably galvanize that into a life-long decision. After all, this is written by a pope who is celibate himself, so I assumed that what I read would lead me further in that direction. Well, you know what they say about assumptions…
At the end of the day, A Theology of the Body convinced me to get married. Perhaps I am odd in this respect, but it was almost as if a switch flipped inside of my head and my heart to where I could let go of my prior disappointments and wounds and even hopes and plans and launch out into a new life desiring not only what I wanted, but what God wanted for me. Once I realized that the married life was something for me, I simultaneously realized that I could no longer approach this aspect of my life half-heartedly; I had to go for broke.
Initially I had no notion of what would happen; I was honestly, for the first time, content to simply live knowing that this was the path I was going to take, to not have to wonder and fret and rehash regrets and all those other things that come with relationships. To walk in the path that God has for you, while not a safe thing by any means, is a place of real peace, even if everything else seems chaotic. I still didn’t have a plan, I still didn’t know what I should do, but then again that may have been the first time in my life where I wasn’t planning or worrying or trying to make things happen the way I wanted them to; instead, it was just openness to life and to love and to God’s will in my life.
Providentially, it was only a couple weeks later that I met Megan. It’s somewhat strange but true, for from the moment I saw her and was introduced I knew (perhaps now mostly in retrospect but even then primordially) that I was going to marry her. The first meeting was actually a battle of the old life and the new, for this recognition brought with it a moment of crisis. It sounds silly, but I knew that if I started talking to her it would mean I would start to like her, and then eventually I grow to love her, and that sort of openness to love is a terrifying thing. My old life wanted to run, anything to get away from such raw openness and vulnerability. But the new life wanted to say hi and be open to love in all its beauty and flourishing.
But God is perhaps not without a sense of humor. This all-out war was raging inside of me, and I am always inclined towards the dramatic. So naturally I half-expected this meeting to be- let’s be honest- epic, like something you would see in Lord of the Rings. You know, the smoke clears from the battlefield and the warriors emerge, bloody yet victorious, their broken armor gleaming in the sun as it peeks over the horizon.
Instead, Megan remarked about how I must have recently cut my hair…
And a little over a year later we were married.
3+ years later I have found my mind returning to the Theology of the Body, both in almost a nostalgic sense but also because a book that profoundly shapes your life is one you want to return to again and again. And since it has immensely altered the scope and shape of my life, I thought it would be a valuable experience to work my way through it again, sharing my thoughts and insights along the way.
Since I cannot separate this work from my own experience (nor would I want to), I wanted to see if I could develop a sort of brief running commentary that intersperses aspects of that experience (both past and present) as applicable so as to better understand not only the theology of the body but also to better integrate it into my own life and marriage.