Here’s a look into Christopher West’s recent book FILL THESE HEARTS: God, Sex and the Universal Longing.
From CHAPTER 7: OUR BODIES TELL THE STORY
Several years ago a friend gave me a picture book called Magic Eye: Beyond 3D2 that promised to enable the viewer to “see what is invisible.” It was my first experience with stereograms— those amazing 3D images that look like a bunch of jumbled shapes and colors until you adjust your focus and gaze into them. At first it was frustrating. You really have to train your eyes to see in another way, to look through the two- dimensional surface. But once you do, all of a sudden the hidden image “pops” in 3D and you’re inside it. Whoa! There it is! And you wonder how you didn’t see it before, how it was right before your eyes but remained invisible.
Adjusting our focus to see into a stereogram is a great metaphor for what we’re trying to do in this book. Recall that our goal is to learn how to live our lives in 3D: to learn how to aim our desire according to God’s design so we can arrive at our eternal destiny. Our own lives, our own bodies as male and female, and the world all around us is like a stereogram. If we were to adjust our focus when we look at ourselves and the world, what hidden mysteries might “pop,” what might we see that we didn’t know we could see? We look at people and things all the time without seeing into them, and as a result we’re often stuck in a very flat, 2D vision of existence.
NATURE IS SINGING TO US
The intricate design of creation speaks of the intimate designs of the Creator: his plans, his purposes, and his invitation to men and women to enter into his own Mystery, his own Love and Life. All of creation tells the story, but, for the sake of example, have you ever taken Jesus up on his invitation to “consider how the wild flowers grow” (Luke 12:27)? What mystery might he be inviting us into here? I have a Catholic priest friend who’s a bit of a botanist with a mystical flair. He absolutely loves flowers. I once asked him what the attraction was, and he said dumbfounded, “Christopher, have you ever seen a flower?” “Of course I ha— ”— “No, no, no! I mean have you ever really seeeen a flower?” What follows is a window into the mystical view of creation he shared with me that day.
He first asked me to consider why people are so attracted to flowers. Why do we love to see them, smell them, and display them everywhere, especially in our homes and our churches? Why do we like to give them to the people we love? Why does a bride carry them down a petal- strewn aisle on the way to meet her bridegroom? We may answer— because they’re beautiful, of course. Yes, they are. But why are flowers so beautiful? What is a flower? To put it plainly, as my mystical- botanist priest friend said, a flower is one of nature’s most beautiful reproductive organs, opened before the loving heat of the sun, so that, to quote the Song of Songs, its fragrance might be “wafted abroad” (Song 4:16). And that luscious fragrance is “wafted abroad” for one purpose: to attract “lovers” (pollinators). Some plants rely on wind or gravity for pollination, but other plants require insects, hummingbirds, or even bats to carry the pollen— the equivalent of plant sperm— to the eggs of the female plants in order to produce fertile seeds. In turn, when those seeds fall into fertile soil, “the wildflowers grow.”
The goal in all of nature is life! The rhythm of time— day and night, months and seasons— serves the purpose of life. Soil and air, sea and sky, rocks and hills, sunshine and rain— all serve the purpose of life. Every living thing in creation is designed to reproduce. Every plant, every tree, every shrub, every blade of grass tells the story of a seed that found purchase in fertile soil. Indeed nature’s reproductive process is happening all around us all the time. Take a breath. Chances are you just inhaled some pollen, some plant’s attempt to find a mate and reproduce. And in this context I can’t help but think of that schmaltzy ’70s tune:
Love is in the air
Everywhere I look around . . .
Open your window and you might hear the mating cry of the crickets or the birds. Take a walk through the woods and you might hear the love serenade of a croaking tree frog. As Caryll Houselander marvels: “If you ever [saw] a little green tree frog and watched him puffing out with a pomposity worthy of a dragon before croaking, you must have guessed that there is a tender smile on our heavenly Father’s face, that he likes us to laugh and he laughs with us; the frog will teach your heart more [about God] than all the books of theology in the world.” When we adjust our focus and open our hearts to it, all of nature becomes an astounding theology lesson. “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen” (Wis. 13:5).
If God is speaking to us through the natural world, then it’s clear that one of his favorite subjects is mating and fertility, coupling and life-givingness. One has to be blind (or stuck in that flat, 2D vision of things) not to recognize this unending “song”of love and life everywhere. If what I’m saying sounds crazy, “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you” (Job 12:7–8). Listen, and you will hear all of nature singing its own version of the Song of Songs, that biblical “ode to eros” that whispers the secrets of divine love. Yes, it’s true: “The hills are alive with the sound of music / With songs they have sung for a thousand years.”
And nature’s song culminates in us— in the “theology” of our bodies. Our bodies tell the story of divine love. This story is written into the very design of our masculinity and femininity. But we may have to adjust our focus if we are to enter into it.
Let’s continue with this refection to see if the mystery “pops” a bit more for us. Have you ever wondered why almost every language (English being a glaring exception) attributes sexuality to things? Trees, rocks, tables, chairs, ideas, feelings, and virtually everything else is either “masculine” or “feminine.” Without giving it much thought, we typically assume this must be a projection of our own humanity onto the world. But could it be that in the deepest origins of language, men and women were rightly reading something akin to sexuality out of the design of the world rather than projecting their own experience onto or into it? Could it be that our sexuality— our cry for “completeness” in the “other”— is simply a human manifestation of something much larger, something as grand as the universe, something cosmic?
Philosopher Peter Kreeft writes:
Did it ever occur to you that . . . human sexuality is derived from cosmic sexuality and not vice versa, that we are a local application of a universal principle? If not, please seriously consider the idea now, for it is one of the oldest and most widely held ideas in our history, and one of the happiest. It is a happy idea because it puts humanity into a more human universe. We fit; we are not freaks. What we are, everything else is also, though in different ways and different degrees. We are, to use the medieval image, a microcosm, a little cosmos; the universe is the macrocosm, the same pattern written large . . . [And this] means that sexuality goes all the way up and all the way down the cosmic ladder.
John Paul II expresses this same idea when he states that the mystery of marriage— which he calls the “sacramental covenant of masculinity and femininity”— is inscribed not only in our humanity, but also in “the world” in so broad a way that somehow it “embraces the universe.”
At the smallest and largest levels, we witness a kind of cosmic “eros,” an attraction of opposites written into the very design of the universe. Whether it is the attraction between protons and electrons or the gravitational pull between stars and planets, all of creation expresses a certain “yin and yang,” as they say in Eastern philosophy. It’s the code that God has written into the very order of things— the “divinity code,” shall we say.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim his message; day after day and night after night they speak. There is no place where their voice is not heard; it reaches to the ends of the world (see Ps. 19:1–4). What are the heavens saying? God is a lover: a Bridegroom. And precisely as a Bridegroom, God is a creator: a life-giver. Creation tells this story. In fact, in the next verse of the psalm we read that the sun “is like a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber to run his course . . . nothing is hidden from its heat” (Ps. 19:5–6). In this imagery, the earth is the “bride” who, in receiving the heat of the sun, also becomes a “mother,” bringing forth an abundance of life.
THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF SEX
When we open our eyes to it we see that all of creation speaks of the mystery of marriage— of the attraction and union of creative difference. And creation’s story culminates in our creative difference as male and female. As the crown of creation, man and woman tell God’s story more vividly than the sun and the earth or the birds and the bees ever could.
Fill These Hearts blows the lid off the idea of Christianity as a repressive, anti-sex religion and unveils the hidden truth of life- that the restless yearnings we feel in both our bodies and our spirits are the very cry of our hearts for God.