Tag Archives: Analogy of the Flower

Desire and Concupiscence

Remember the last time you gave a gift and it was unappreciated, even rejected?  What this person is doing was what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. John Paul II’s exegesis of the first chapters in Genesis revealed a theme of gift in Creation before the Fall. This idea of gift (what JPII calls the “hermeneutics of the gift”) is important because giving gifts for no other reason than love is a very human activity. Ordinary human experience has a theological character. We can come to the knowledge of God through normal human activity. Something as commonplace as gift-giving actually reveals the depth of disappointment in Genesis 3:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;
for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
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.

When I first read that passage about four years ago, being new to the faith, the cynical part of me felt God overreacted to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  It’s just fruit.  Knowledge isn’t bad.  Did God want to keep Adam and Eve in ignorance, to not know what is good and evil?  I was even prejudiced with the little I knew in evolutionary biology: did God want us to stay as Neanderthals?  Why have the tree to tempt humanity, or even give us free will for that matter, if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit?

Those questions stayed unanswered in the back of my mind.  After reading JPII’s reflections on Original Sin in the Theology of the Body, I’ve come to some satisfying answers for myself that I’d like to share.  To do that, I want to bring back the analogy of the flower that I used when I was reflecting on the spousal meaning of the body.

concupiscence-wilted-flower
Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.

What if a worm offers the flowers a type of nectar that would give them the power to define what is right and what is wrong?  By eating this nectar, the flowers would then be able to define morality on their own.  This power makes each flower feel like it is God.  The flower is no longer dependent on God to define what is right and wrong.  Each flower can determine that on its own; they need neither God nor another flower to tell them what is a virtuous life.  They are drunk with this newfound power, needing no one, depending on no one.  Each flower is the master of his or her own universe.  This is how Original Solitude was corrupted.  When confronted by the Heavenly Gardener, they do not repent.  Instead, the flowers blame each other, corrupting Original Unity.  They cover themselves with grass and feathers.  So, the very flowery-ness of their body no longer communicated their inner life to each other, obscuring their Original Nakedness.  As punishment, the Heavenly Gardener made life difficult for the flowers.  So, Creation was no longer a gift to the flowers, and the flowers were no longer gifts to Creation.  The spousal meaning of the body was also corrupted.

The most fascinating part about this section in the Theology of the Body, is JPII’s discussion on desire and concupiscence.  I know the dictionary definition for “concupiscence”: strong sexual desire; lust.  I know what the Catechism says about concupiscence:

The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self.  The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason. (CCC 377)

I know what the Bible says about the “triple concupiscence” referred to in CCC 377:

For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:16; Douay-Rheims version).

But what does concupiscence really mean?

I credit my wife for helping me extend the analogy of the flower.  I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to explain in normal terms what I have been reading.  So, a few nights ago, I shared my thoughts with my wife.  She was patient enough to hear me out and then pointed out how the flower analogy still makes sense.

What happens to a flower when it loses its water?  It wilts.  When Original Sin occurred, the living water (i.e. the Holy Spirit) evaporated from the flower of our soul.  Our souls are like a wilted flower.  Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.  Unfortunately, we usually want a quick fix.  So, we take whatever liquid comes our way: the sweat of promiscuity, the syrup of earthly possessions, the drool of greed.  Only when we wake up to what our soul really needs (the limitless flow of living water that is the Holy Spirit), will our thirst finally be quenched.  “Our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Saint Augustine of Hippo).

The Analogy of the Flower

Imagine, in a lush open green field, you found the most beautiful flower in the world.  So beautiful, in fact, that you decide to drop everything that is important to you and then re-arrange your life around this flower.  To your surprise, you discover that you are also a flower!  And the flower whom you dedicated your life to responds to you in the same way.  Even though the green field is lovely, the two of you realize that the image of God is a bouquet.  Your purpose in life is to fill the field with flowers so that it would mirror God’s face.

Two Flowers Slider

In the John Paul II (JPII)’s Theology of the Body, he develops a truth from Scripture called the hermeneutics of the gift, or the spousal meaning of the body.  Our body is meant to be espoused to another person.  The analogy of the flower can convey the meaning of our original innocence without the baggage that comes with shame:  We are a gift to one another.  We are a gift to the world.  The world is a gift to us from God, and the field full of flowers is a gift we give back to God.

It’s hard to imagine us being gifts to anyone, reading/watching the news and seeing the violence we inflict on one another, the damage we do to our environment.  Before Original Sin, a man and a woman really were a gift to one another just like how two flowers make a more beautiful image in a green field.  In the “peace of the interior gaze,” the man helped the woman become fully feminine and the woman helped the man become fully masculine.  Together, they created a community that helped the world become more beautiful.  Then Adam and Eve broke God’s first covenant with humanity.  JPII doesn’t jump into the consequences of Original Sin, but dwells on this original state of grace that is so economically expressed in Genesis 2:23-25.  JPII gave several homilies on the spousal meaning of our bodies, and I’m trying to understand his thoughts through this flower analogy.

Just as each flower is unique, so is each person unique (cf. Original Solitude).  Just as two flowers could make a bouquet that would mirror their god, so do man, woman and the soul-creating Spirit mirror the Holy Trinity, which is God (cf. Original Unity).  Just as covering the flowers with dead leaves and bird feathers would hide its real beauty, so does sin hide our true beauty: the image of God.  Before the shame and corruption of sin, our body and soul together communicated our true selves and unique identity (cf. Original Nakedness).  Since the two flowers feel no shame, have no reason to objectify and use the other flower, the flowers simply help each other become more flowery.  In the same way, while Adam and Eve remained in their original innocence, each person was a gift to the other.  Adam did not objectify Eve and use her to support his ego.  Eve did not treat Adam as an accessory to help her become great.  Instead, he helped her become fully feminine; she helped him become fully masculine — through their bodies.  They helped each other to become the best versions of themselves.

There was no shame in our bodies; so, our very nakedness communicated who we were that was lovingly accepted by the other person.  The flowers had no need to clothe themselves in leaves or feathers.  The flower, in its nakedness, spoke to the other flower.  Each flower was unique.  Each flower was beautiful.  Together, in communion, the flowers could make the green field bloom with its own image, the image of God.

The dimension of gift is decisive for the essential truth and depth of the meaning of original solitude-unity-nakedness. (TOB 13:2c)

This idea that our body is a gift is a very important concept for JPII’s Theology of the Body.  JPII develops from Genesis the three theological concepts (Original Solitude-Unity-Nakedness) in order to conclude with how our body is a profound gift.  He admits that throughout history men and women do so much violence to each other and to our environment (a.k.a. “historical man”) that it’s very difficult to accept that we are gifts to each other and to the world.  Yet, JPII appeals to the beginning of Creation, just as Christ did with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-9).  Yes, the world sucks, but that’s not how it was in the beginning.  JPII points out that the very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” when looked in the original text (beresit bara Elohim)

also signifies gift; a fundamental and “radical” gift, that is, an act of giving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing. (TOB 13:3)

When one reads the two creation accounts in the Bible (Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25), it is clear that humanity is God’s special creation.  If beresit bara Elohim has a connotation of gift, then that means the creation of humans was a gift from God for all of creation at that point.  At the same time, after humans were created, God intended the world to be a gift for humanity (cf. Gen 1:28).  Keep in mind that all of creation was still in the state of grace (i.e. no sin, no shame, etc.).  So, when you apply the connotation of gift in God’s creations to the creation of Eve (cf. Gen 2:21-23), then that means men and women were meant to be gifts to each other.

Yet, when this idea of “gift” is applied to man and woman, it is not like a gift to be used and disposed. No…

None of these beings (animalia), in fact, offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift. (TOB 14:1)

Like the flower who drops everything important in his life to center around the other flower, men and women do not completely realize our essence until we exist for someone.  Our essence as human beings is not fulfilled by existing with someone (i.e. finding a spouse), but for someone (i.e. sacrificing for a spouse).  Just as the receiving flower responds in kind to the first flower that initiated the self-donation, the act of offering ourselves as a gift is reciprocal.  In this perfect state of one-upping each other in self-sacrifice and service, man and woman lived in blissful happiness… it was “beatifying”:

This beatifying “beginning” of man’s being and existing as male and female is connected with the revelation and the discovery of the meaning of the body that is rightly called “spousal.” (TOB 14:5)

Just as the flowers discover that their existence is to fill the green plains with flowers to mirror God’s bouquet, so are men and women created to fill the world… to reflect God’s image.  The green field is supposed to be full of flowers in all their naked glory!  The world is supposed to be filled with humankind in all its Original Nakedness (i.e. without the baggage of shame).  In New Testament wording, our mission on earth as men and women was (is) to fill it with little Christs.

Man enters “into being” with the consciousness that his own masculinity-femininity, that is, his own sexuality, is ordered to an end. (TOB 14:6)

Sex isn’t just for fun.  There is a divine purpose to having sex: through our bodies, we channel the creative power of God to increase His image, His presence on earth.  That was the original plan, but then Adam and Eve broke the first covenant with God.  Everything changes from there.

JPII says this concludes the first part of his reflections on the Theology of the Body.  The purpose was to develop some foundational concepts and to establish how the spousal meaning of our body was the intent at the beginning of creation.  After Original Sin, the spousal meaning is corrupted.  The next part of the Theology of the Body begins to examine the consequences.