Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: These Beautiful Bones

These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson

Kansas Dad read this book a few months ago and immediately suggested I read it. The first few chapters seek to introduce St. John Paul II's theology of the body. Many years ago, I read The Theology of the Body Human Love in the Divine Plan and understood only a small part of it. Ms. Stimpson's explanations are clear without skimming the surface so much as to be inaccurate or too generalized.

The whole point of the book is to fill a gap in the literature about theology of the body. So far, most of the books, speeches, and resources have focused on what theology of the body means for the intimate physical interactions between men and women, but Ms. Stimpson points out that we must also consider what theology of the body tells us about the choices we make in every area of our lives.

Society today teaches us that our bodies are not part of us, but just something we use to experience pleasure, but the Catholic church teaches that we are not just spirit, but body and spirit. St. John Paul II reminds us that our bodies are the method for our interaction with the world and with other people.
Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.
Rather than quote whole paragraphs of the first two chapters here (many are worth quoting), I'll encourage you to read them yourself. At the end, she says:
Working in harmony with the whole of Catholic tradition (big "T" as well as little "t"), the theology of the body points the way towards new life. It shows us how, even in the midst of a culture that denies the meaning and dignity of the body, we can live lives that anticipate the fullness of redemption.
So now the question for us becomes, what does that life look like?
Then Ms. Stimpson applies theology of the body to the daily issues of work, spiritual parenthood, manners, clothing, food, prayer, and social media. Each receives its own chapter and postscript, any of which could be read in isolation or any order.

I found something enlightening in each chapter. Here's a bit from the one on labor:
More than what work we do, it's how we do our work that matters. It's how we talk to our patients, talk to our secretary, and talk to the quiet old man who sweeps the halls at night--acknowledging them and caring for them as persons, not case numbers or job titles. It's also how we treat those who work for us and with us--with kindness, compassion, and justice, as men not machines...how we make every minute of our workday a silent witness to the God we love.
This was such a great reminder to me that my work as a mother and teacher to my children is important, but so is the attitude I have with them. If I check off every lesson on our schedule but spend the entire day yelling at my children (not that I've ever done that, of course), I have failed in my work.

I loved her chapter on manners, too. It reminded me a lot of The Hidden Power of Kindness. Being kind is such a small thing that often people think we are too busy for it or that it doesn't really matter compared to the big things, but it does. Ms. Stimpson clearly shows how our love for Christ is only as deep as how well we treat others. Our manners:
keep us doing the right thing--honoring others, honoring Christ, and recognizing our own dignity--even when we don't feel like it. And it's doing the right thing, even when we don't feel like it, which is the ordinary path to holiness.
Being kind, always, is extremely difficult, but it also seems remarkably simple. St. Therese summed it up as her "Little Way" and it's really a way that's open to everybody. I don't have to sell everything I own and move to Mexico as a missionary to follow Christ. I don't have to give a lot of money to the Church or to the poor. If I am only kind and anticipate the needs of others, I am serving Christ is a very real way.

If you have ever felt like you should learn more about the theology of the body, but couldn't muster enough effort to actually do so, this is the book you should read. If you've read some about the theology of the body and want to groan a little at the thought of reading more, this is the book for you. It's engaging, immediately applicable, and manages to be completely different from almost all the other theology of the body books without misrepresenting theology of the body (or the Church as a whole).

As an added bonus, the cover is delightful.

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