After attending Theology of the Body Institute in which Dr. Janet Smith taught the Love and Responsibility course, I realized that my past experiences with men had tainted and distorted my understanding of self-worth as well as my ability to show and receive love. For this conversation I speak of love in the sense of the platonic sense. Love of neighbor as a subject created by God not an object from which we seek to use possess.
One of the days we were going over attractions between men and women. We began to dissect how male and female He created them and in our unique creation we compliment on another. We continued to speak of how men find the feminine attractive and women find the masculine attractive and that this attraction is not sinful but is ordered for we were created with a complementarity.
We began to really delve into the differences between attractions vs desire for they are not the same. Up until that point, I had not believed this to be true. I had felt that once attracted, that pull, that sensation of delight was sinful and must be stopped at it’s first inception or it could lead to a greater sin.
I raised my hand and shared that I have a strong attraction to men. For years I had found myself very attracted to all things masculine. I would find myself meeting someone and immediately I would notice something about them that I found attractive, and a sensation of a deep sigh would well up inside of me. I had carried a deep guilt with me because I had believed that it was very wrong of me to have this sensation. I believed that this “delight” in the opposite sex was inordinate desire that stemmed from a childhood of abuse resulting in some kind of emotional dysfunction that I must try and “fix” or at least work very hard at to overcome lest I fall into sin.
I had decided that the best way to handle this would be to close myself off. Over time, I had trained myself to avoid eye contact with men that I did not know. If they looked at me, I certainly did not smile at them for that would be opening myself up and would make me vulnerable. I also believed that it would be leading them to sin because I would be then sending a message of interest and that would be wrong since I am married.
Imagine my surprise when I was met with an overwhelming response that my delight was not sinful but rather it was the essence of Theology of the Body. How beautiful the words were to read on the page expounding on how our sexuality, was stamped into our bodies and is actually the way in which God was revealing the mystery of love and he desperately wants us to understand and enter into this mystery!
I mention this because it seems to me so many of us are starving for affection, love, completion and communion with another. It seemed that I did not realize that I needed smiles and eye contact and yes, even touch. Christopher West brought up the topic of the Manichean demon and heresy. Specifically, he talked about how it is not sinful for a man to look at a beautiful attractive woman and see her, smile at her and say to himself “That is a very attractive, beautiful and feminine woman”. In fact, he mentioned that it affirms a man in his own masculinity to see his feminine counterpart and delight in her being created as feminine. I am not talking about lust, I am talking about recognizing that woman is a site to behold and her creation as woman is a delight!
I had NEVER thought about this concept. Suddenly, I realized that the very need to be loved that I have been carrying around with me was starving me emotionally. I had bought in to a lie that my body was something that would lead men to sin and could not be trusted. I believed that if I even smiled at a man I would be inviting him into an occasion of lust. My twisted understanding of the body had begun to distort my image of masculinity. I had begun to believe that all men were easily tempted and would be led to feelings of lust. I say this to point out a flaw within myself. For years I had kept men at arms length, for my own safety and for theirs, not realizing that there could be good and righteous men out there who do know how to love their sisters in Christ.
Some of the “ubber” conservative groups I had encountered had presented the same theme. I was told by one priest that I was too pretty to wear pants and to do so would be immodest. I must say that this directive led me to believe that my body was an obstacle to my own holiness as well as others.
The turning point in this deep seeded belief came during the before mentioned seminar at the Theology of The Body Institute. There was a man and wife at the Seminar. His name was Charlie. They had been married for over 40 years. At one point he stood up and said to the group how beautiful I was and how it gave him joy to see me every day and that he took delight in seeing how beautifully feminine I was.
I began to cry. Why? Because I could believe him. For one, he was sitting next to his wife when he said it so I did not have to feel like he had a hidden objective. For another, he was at least 30 years my senior and had a fatherly air about him. I believed him so completely that tears streamed down my face and I could not stop them. I believe that that one moment of understanding has opened a floodgate of healing in my life.
After that night I decided that whenever I saw someone look at me and make eye contact, I would hold that gaze for a moment and smile with all the love in my heart that I could. I would think the words; “God loves you”. When I left the Institute and arrived at a Philadelphia airport I was on a mission. I decided that if I saw a man look at me, I would smile with love. One after another I made eye contact and smiled when I felt someone’s eyes on me. I can not describe the joy in my heart that I experienced with the events that followed. I remember one man even tipped his hat. I did not see lust, I did not see invitation, I saw warmth and an almost thankfulness behind their eyes.
I came to realize that we all desire to be loved and accepted. In addition to this, Christ calls us to demonstrate this loving affirmation to others to bring them into the light. (Pope Benedict XVI discusses this in his Homily at New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral earlier this year).
It is so hard to love others as well as we love ourselves. But to try to reach Jesus without this love for others, would be like trying to reach heaven by hopping there on one foot, while with love of neighbor we will truly fly to Him.