I watched “The Sweet Hereafter” back in college in 1997 and I remember being deeply moved by the opening scene: a bird’s eye view of a mother, father and child sleeping naked on a mattress on the floor with white sheets withdrawn as if it was a humid afternoon. I never did put words to that feeling. I think I can, now. The beauty that so moved me was nakedness without shame.
In Pope John Paul II (JPII)’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body, he says that it is difficult to envision a state of the human mind without shame. After establishing the concepts of Original Solitude and Original Unity, he tries to reconstruct what it might mean to be in a state of Original Nakedness. It’s incredibly fascinating because it reveals so much about our true human nature (as God first intended), how far we’ve fallen, and where (because of Christ’s sacrifice) we will return. I suspect that as I grow older and watch my body break down and suffer from the ravages of time, it will only serve to make my Original Nakedness more beautiful. There is redemptive value in the body we are born with — that’s what Original Nakedness is all about when read in the light of Christ’s redemptive act.
They were naked, but did not feel shame. (Genesis 2:25)
There is such an economy of words that it is easy to miss the significance of that one sentence. JPII spends several Wednesdays to unpack its meaning. He explains that it is a “true non-presence of shame” (TOB 12:2a). You wouldn’t be able to have a conversation about shame with Adam and Eve before Genesis, Chapter 3 because the very idea did not exist. JPII says that “one should understand and interpret the text just quoted in this way… [because] the emergence of shame, and in particular of sexual shame, is linked with the loss of that original fullness” (TOB 12:2b). JPII refers to the loss that occurred in Gen 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” Before Original Sin created a “boundary experience,” men and women experienced a “fullness of consciousness and experience, above all the fullness of understanding the meaning of the body connected with the fact that ‘they were naked'” (TOB 12:2a). He promises to get back to the multiple dimensions of Original Sin in TOB 26:4-28:6, but wants to focus on exactly what it means to live in Original Nakedness.
In Original Nakedness (living in a state where shame did not exist), there was no boundary separating the inner life of our soul from the outer experience of our bodies. We had fullness of consciousness and experience through our bodies. The body of a man and the body of a woman communicated with each other in a way…
…that is proper and pertinent to the sphere of subjects-persons alone… the human body acquires a completely new meaning… it expresses the person in his or her ontological and essential concreteness.
The whole biblical narrative, and particularly the Yahwist text, shows that, through its own visibility, the body manifests man and, in manifesting him, acts as an intermediary that allows man and woman, from the beginning, to “communicate” with each other according to that communion personarum willed for them in particular by the Creator (TOB 12:4-5).
Take the smartphone market, for example. In the beginning, there was only the iPhone and “the community of smartphone users” saw it as good. The iPhone looked at all the communication devices created by the community, but could not find another smartphone to help it become the best version of itself. So, the community created another smartphone. When the iPhone saw this new smartphone, it said, “This at last is chip of my chip, code of my code; this one shall be called Android, for out of iOS this one was taken!” They had no phone covers, but did not feel shame.
Each smartphone, whether iPhone or Android, would be unique because of how its body experiences the world through its touchscreen, its microphone, its camera and its conversations with other smartphones through its speakers. The inner life code of the smartphone grows with every interaction with the world; its unique customization is realized through the smartphone contemplating about its inner life, its Original Solitude. But smartphones cannot reach its full creative potential unless an iPhone is paired with an Android with the same NFC (near-field communication) frequency. Original Nakedness for the smartphone is the ability for an iPhone to simply “bump” an Android with the same NFC frequency to communicate its inner life code. The sharing of the inner code helps both the iPhone and the Android reach its full potential. Sadly, due to Original Competition, the NFC that existed between them was broken. Only by the grace of the community of users are iPhones and Androids able to talk to each other at all and create compatible apps.
Original Nakedness for humans is the ability for a man and woman to communicate the fullness of their inner life “through the eyes of the body. They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons” (TOB 13:1c). This is where the Theology of the Body has a strong emphasis on the body. Whether you are short or tall, thick or thin, strong or fragile, your body communicates.
[It is] a mutual gift for each other, through femininity and masculinity. In reciprocity, they reach in this way a particular understanding of the meaning of their own bodies. The original meaning of nakedness corresponds to the simplicity and fullness of vision in which their understanding of the meaning of the body is born from the very heart, as it were, of their community-communion. We will call this meaning “spousal.” (TOB 13:1c)
No two musical instruments are the same. Each has its own resonance-signature that is tied to how the instrument was formed. Similarly, the human body has a soul that mutually defines each other; there is no duality of the body & soul. The body & soul exist together and is shaped in life, just as the sound of an instrument matures over time of use. Our perception and interaction with the world is defined by our body, just as how an instrument is played and the type of sound it produces is defined by the instrument’s body. The analogy ends there. Whereas instruments can be mixed and matched to create a symphony, a man or woman’s body can be a gift to another in a way that is exclusive to the realm of persons alone. Instruments are a creation of man. Man and woman, in communion, is an image of God. Instruments don’t have free will, but a person can give up his life out of love. Every instrument may have a unique resonance-signature, but every person has a soul that is a universe unto itself with its own gateway into God’s inner life.
JPII concludes his discourse on Original Solitude, Original Unity and Original Nakedness, and uses them as a foundation to talk about the next truth of humanity revealed in Scripture: the Hermeneutics of the Gift.