Working our way very systematically through the second chapter of Genesis, we have discussed Adam in original solitude and Adam and Eve in original unity. This post will look at the original couple in their original nakedness. Don’t worry – we’re almost out of original experiences.
Before we continue, let’s remember why we’re talking about these original experiences in the first place. When Jesus was asked about divorce, he directed us to go back to “the beginning.” These original experiences are not irrelevant after original sin; they are a deeper part of our experience today than our experience of our own fallenness. In fact, John Paul these things are so intrinsic to our everyday human experience that we don’t stop to think about them at all. Original solitude is obvious – of course we’re people, subjects, not objects, with thoughts and ideas and tasks and decisions. Original unity – yes, there are male and female people, and we know that we belong in a community, not alone. Theology of the Body gives us an opportunity to stop and reflect that we are “fearfully, wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. ~Genesis 2:25
Now, original nakedness. Does that mean that you were originally naked? Yes, you did make your first appearance in your birthday suit, but that’s not what original nakedness means. Actually, I used to think about small children when I thought about “naked without shame,” because they have that beautiful innocence we want to capture in naked-baby pictures to embarrass them with in front of their future girlfriends. But John Paul says that children do not experience original nakedness, because their nakedness is full of naivete and even ignorance – they are not sexual, and they don’t have the capacity to perceive the full depth of another person in his or her beautiful body and soul. And that’s what original nakedness is all about.
When Adam looked at Eve for the first time, he saw her physical naked body in its feminine perfection. But in the last two posts we have discussed how the body reveals the whole person, so when Adam looked at Eve, he saw … Eve. He saw another “I,” a unique image of God, a body and soul capable of dreaming and creating and learning and loving in the way that only Eve ever could. And that’s what someone should see when they look at another person, especially their nakedness. They could see a completely unique, wonderful person with the potential to know me and love and be loved by me in a way no one else ever can. Your body says that about you, and mine about me. Unfortunately, we don’t always achieve such perfect vision, but that’s a topic for another day. Right now, the point is that we can.
When a man and a woman look at each other in this way, without the blinders of sin, they are experiencing a glimpse of the vision God has of each of them. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” They see each other with their physical eyesight, but with more than that. They see each other with “all the peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons.” (TOB 13.1)
Here we find another aspect of the uniquely human meaning of the body in its capacity for communication. An animal body is able to say “Over here, don’t run into me,” or, “I hear a predator!” or, “It’s mating time,” but it isn’t able to say, “I love you,” (sorry to pet lovers who disagree), tell you a joke, discuss Philosophy, apologize, or divulge a secret from childhood. It can’t communicate anything truly personal, because there isn’t a person there communicating. Have you ever considered that the only way your know your spouse, your mom, and your best friend are through your bodies? Our bodies are amazing in their capacity to communicate a complex, unique person.
So nakedness in this context means seeing the body and understanding the full human, personal meaning of the body. What about shame? “They were naked but did not feel shame.” I said earlier that this does not mean the child’s lack of shame and self-consciousness. It also doesn’t mean shamelessness, as in someone who doesn’t respect sexuality or privacy, has no objection to sexual immorality, or wants to expose himself, herself, or others in the wrong context. There is no experience any of us have had which perfectly represents original nakedness without shame, because that experience lies on the other side of the boundary of sin.
John Paul describes the original sin of Adam and Eve as “the first test of ‘obedience,’ that is, of hearing the Word in all its truth and of accepting Love according to the fullness of the demands of the creative Will.” (TOB 11.4) When they rejected Love and disobeyed God, they entered into knowledge of good and evil, and “they knew that they were naked.” All of us inherit this knowledge – we know that we are naked. Didn’t Adam and Eve know that they were naked? Of course they did – they saw each other in their nakedness and saw each other through their bodies. After they sinned, their bodies took on a different meaning to one another. Adam experienced femininity differently, and Eve experienced masculinity differently. Their increase in “knowledge” really represents a lack of understanding of one another, a loss of the full mutual vision they had at first.
When they realized that they were naked, Adam and Eve hid from one another and hid from God. What were they hiding from? We know that our bodies, especially in their nakedness, are capable of expressing the fullness of our personhood, our uniqueness, the goodness we were created with and for. That is how each of us longs and needs to be seen by another person. But a sinful, broken person can’t see us that way – not perfectly. So we are afraid. I’m afraid that this man looking at me might see me as an object for him, or miss the beauty and goodness, or reject me. He might not love me and acknowledge me as his equal. And no matter how much I try to pretend that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, it matters a lot, on a deeply personal level, because we are created for each other. (All of this is equally true of a man seen by a woman, by the way.) So, we all put on clothes and cover up our nakedness to make sure that we aren’t disrespected. We are setting up boundaries, separating men and women with clothing, but we are also creating the possibility of a healthy level of communication and, sometimes, an appropriate situation for nakedness. A situation where we can see each other with proper vision and give each other the love and respect and admiration that we all deserve.
You might be wondering, what’s so special about the naked body? Why do the parts we cover up particularly express our personhood and humanity and personality? Why do they need the most respect? Those questions will be discussed in the next post about the spousal meaning of the body.