12 May 2010

The Metaphysics of Sex, Part 1

General Audience of November 21, 1979

It has been far too long since I’ve posted. This lapse started innocently enough. First we went out of town. Then my grandmother died. After that my husband had finals. And suddenly, it’s been over a month since I wrote a proper post. I’d read more, but I hadn’t had time to reflect and write.

The last thing I learned from John Paul II in ToB is how the community of persons in Genesis foreshadows our understanding of the Trinity. Exciting stuff! The next thing I read about is also tied to the community of persons, although a bit more subtly. This week JP2 gets a bit more intense. He starts to talk about sex.

The first thing he reminds us of is the fact that masculinity and femininity are two incarnations of the same metaphysical solitude before God and the world (166). When we see in the Bible that man experiences original solitude, it is before man goes to sleep and awakens as male and female. The fact that solitude predates gender means that solitude is something we all have access to. John Paul says that people reconnect to their metaphysical solitude every time they merge masculinity and femininity – in other words, every time they have sex. John Paul suggests that this metaphysical consequence of sex imposes on us an obligation to understand the fullness and depth that belong to sexual unity.

I think this is really interesting. So often we hear arguments in pop culture about how sexual piety is just prudishness and how the sexual revolution removed any stigma or notion of moral consequences from sex. This has always rung false for me. I think anyone who has had sex can agree that it’s not something cavalier, like a jaunt out for ice cream or a trip to the mall. The idea that sex carries with it an inalienable fullness and depth resonates with me. It just feels true.

After suggesting that sexual intimacy has an innate meaning, John Paul of course takes us back to the ‘beginning,’ to Genesis, to see what the Bible has to say. “A man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Well, at first glance this looks like a simple statement of logistics. But John Paul reminds us what comes before these lines. Adam looks at Eve and says she is “flesh from my flesh and bone from my bones” (Gen 2:23). If we connect these two verses, we see that every time man and woman become one flesh they are returning to the time before man became male and female. Every time a man and woman have sex they relive the mystery of creation wherein man went to sleep in solitude and woke up as a community of persons. No wonder John Paul can claim that sexual unity is defined by fullness and depth. It is intrinsically tied to the metaphysical mystery of our being. What a powerful, beautiful idea.

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