One of the great conflicts in human existence has been the clash between free will and individual conscience. It is a never-ending battle that often wages in the soul of any conscious human being.
When I was 19 the temptations of the flesh nearly overwhelmed me in the Augustinian sense of the word.
Southern author Pat Conroy has the most graphic description of the workings of lust in the mind of an 18-year altar boy at Midnight Mass in 1962, in his autobiographical novel The Great Santini. The contrast between the spirit and the body has never been better described.
I read a religious pamphlet that said that people like me could not wear paper bags over our heads. We had to encounter the world, as it was—sinful, imperfect and filled with the workings of the world, the flesh and the devil.
The Catholic Church has not been very helpful in that regard. It only emphasized the negatives. I was to abstain from any impure actions, desires and looks. Prayer seemed to be my only defense…and of course the paper bag.
Yet as I grew older the temptations multiplied as women shed two-thirds of their clothing on the street and virtually all of it on the beach. In denying my body its natural instincts I made it a constant source of temptation, fear and anxiety.
This was years before Saint John Paul II’s revolutionary tract on the Theology of the Body, which in essence taught men how to look at the feminine form…even in their her nude state with respect, appreciation and even joy. He stressed that nudity in itself was good but stressed the proper context and how it was received by any onlookers.
This was basically the point the priest writing in the pamphlet 50 years ago was making when he suggested that I thank God for making them so beautiful. It took me a long while but eventually I came to adopt this attitude in my thinking.
The human body, especially the female body, has had a variegated place in human history. Each page seemed to have the apple juice of Eden all over it.
Modernism has always had its own concerns for nudity and self-expression that lacked the moral framework of John Paul. It has led to a virtual cult of the body.
On the way to early Mass on any Sunday, I have always marveled how religiously devoted the gaggle of runners, bikers and walkers were, as they plied their energies to stave off the inevitable. I have always wondered if they took as much care and concern for their souls as they did for the bodies.
The body used to be referred to as the temple of the Holy Ghost. Now millions flock to health clubs and spas that have become the new temples for the body. According to one critic, to idolize physical perfection is to treat our body as a god. It is a narcissistic self-love that seems devoid of Divine love.
Attitudes toward the human body involve many other aspects. Where freedom is present, nudity cannot be far behind. It is the nature of things. Personal and social nudity seems to have ubiquitously breached the usual parameters of tradition, culture and modesty.
One place to find a lot of nudity is the notorious California Esalen Spa. In her personal memoir spa specialist Sharon Thom wrote in a revealing article Fig Leaf in the Wind, explaining that the freedom of being nude at their resort was a great leveler.
While some nudity is a given in massage therapy, one therapist in training had to bear all for her instructors and fellow students. It was a valid part of the training. It was the most liberating event in her life. You can’t hide behind clothes anymore, because you don’t have any ON!!
As for sports one would be surprised to find how many people have reverted back to the Greek Olympics where all their athletes, men and women competed in the nude. Many people currently play tennis, golf, swim, bike and hike without the need for clothing, except maybe a helmet for bikers.
Naturism is the philosophy of living in harmony with nature without any feelings of lust or shame. Nude Beaches and nudist resorts are the most common venues for social nudism. The World Naked Bike Ride is held annually in cities all over the world. America is fast becoming a series of nudist enclaves where people betray an Edenic return to the Garden.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Burning Man Festival, a postmodern carnival of the absurd where nudity is fully acceptable. The weeklong event is held every year in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada, beginning the Monday before, and ending on, the American Labor Day holiday. And of course National Nude Day is celebrated every July 14th now.
New York Times theater reviewer Ben Bratley commented a few years ago full nudity has been a customary part of the mainstream Western theater since the 1960s and ’70s… But I have never been confronted with as many male chests, buttocks and genitalia as I have in visits to Broadway and West End theaters during the last six months.
Probably the most famous play, where famous actresses have bared all on a regular basis, is The Graduate. The play was written by Terry Johnson. Anne Bancroft played Mrs. Robinson, a middle age woman who seduces much younger Dustin Hoffman, in the movie. While Bancroft used a body double for her nude scene in the movie, actresses who played Mrs. Robinson on the stage didn’t have that luxury. Such theatrical luminaries as Linda Gray, Kathleen Turner, Morgan Fairchild, Anne Archer and Lorraine Bracco are among the actresses who have bared all in this play.
The only personal experience I have had with nudity on the stage was in 1995 when my wife and another couple saw the Broadway play Indiscretions, starring a frumpy Kathleen Turner. It was based on a farce by French playwright Jean Cocteau. In one scene a young man sits happily in a bath basin soaping himself. A young woman, dressed in what might politely be said to have barely covered some of her Victoria Secrets sauntered down a long and perilously high spiral staircase.
As the tensions in our foursome started to tighten in our second row seats, all I could think was, one of two things was going to happen. She was going slip off her Teddy and get in the tub or he was going to stand up. I am not certain I was relieved or disappointed when the latter happened. I looked at my wife and the other couple who seemed to be staring straight through the moment. I found out later the young actors were Jude Law and Cynthia Nixon.
Performance Art is on the periphery of the increasing nudism in Western culture. These artists often use the human body as live sculpture and even architecture. They range from the esoterically astute Serbian Marina Abramović, who explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind to the mildly deranged Karen Finley whose claim to fame is cavorting on stage in her chocolate covered body.
Abramovic’s latest exhibit was at MoMa in New York City a few years ago where pairs of mixed naked couples, stood facing each other in a narrow doorway. To enter the next room visitors had to squeeze between them.
Ever since Lady Godiva, in the 11th-century, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to a legend, rode naked – only covered in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants, especially women have used their naked bodies to protest injustices, alleged and sometimes imaginary throughout the world. Women from the pro-animal PETA in this country to Ukraine’s FEMEN, women are still baring their breasts and other body parts to raise consciousness toward their respective causes. Recently one of the latter was arrested at the Vatican.
To illustrate how far it has gone, there is no better example than in the recent book, The Seven Deadly Virtues. In the chapter, written by on Chastity by Matt Labash, he cited an exhibit during the 2000 Republican National Convention where there was a Q&A session with legendary porn actress Nina Hartley. The politically opinionated Hartley held court, wearing nothing but a serious demeanor.
The reaction of the crowd of mostly men was a mixture of boredom, insouciance and polite acceptance. To paraphrase the late Hannah Arndt American culture suffers from the banality of nudity—over-exposure to the point that God’s greatest creation will lose the human respect it just;y deserves. While not of the above is overtly immoral, nudity’s ubiquity is our cultural reality. We should all make our moral peace with it because it is not going away and there is a shortage of paper bags.
Nearly 10 years ago, my thespian daughter had a supporting role in a play, Going to See the Elephant. She played the traveling wife from a larger urban community with a sick husband. The lead character was an older woman, who was tied to her farm in Osbourne County, Kansas shortly after the end of the Civil War. Though her life was the personification of routine and drudgery, she still had a vivid imagination of someday being able to visit foreign lands.
The title of this 1982 play, which my daughter’s short-lived theater company, The Orange Girls produced was an American idiom that indicated overwhelming emotion, and according to Belle “Maw” Wheeler it was a colloquial term for daydreaming that created a reverie that gave people a respite from the boredom and drudgery of their mundane lives. Presumably the Elephant represented exotic travel to faraway lands…from Kansas, such as India or maybe even Africa.
I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to most places that I have always longed to see such as Rome, Dublin, London and even Malta, I never had any desire to go see any elephant in India or even in the San Diego Zoo.
But recently I had this yearning to see the Russian…Vladimir Tarasenko, who is the latest young phenomenon to skate for the St. Louis Blues Hockey team. Vladimir Andreyevich Tarasenko was born on Dec 13 1991. in Yaroslavl, Russia. Only in his 3rd season, Tarasenko, the team’s leading scorer with 23 goals was just named to the NHL All Star Game. He is also a former Russian league scoring champion and a Russian Olympian to boot.
There seems to be something special about him that inspired my Elephant Moment. Perhaps it was his Russian origins, his size or the cool grace with which he plays the game. Perhaps I think he will be the next Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player in hockey history, whom I saw lace up his skates twice.
I am not what you call a hockey fan by any stretch of the imagination. The last hockey game I attended was probably in the last century. The Blues changed players so often I could not develop any attachment or interest in any special player. I did see the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky when he briefly played here as well as stalwart, Brett Hull whose father I think I saw play when I was young.
Well last night my yearning was satisfied when I saw Tarasenko lead the Blues to a 7-2 victory over the same team, the San Jose Sharks whom they had beaten by an identical score just a week ago.
What impressed me most about him was not just his size, but also the smoothness and fluidity with which he transversed the rink. It was more of art form, germane to the European game than the pure brute strength of North American hockey. In fact virtually the whole team demonstrated the grace and speed with percise passing in stark contrast to the type of goon hockey that has characterized the sport in the NHL for so long.
The influx of several European players is largely responsible, including several Russians. They have taught the North Americans how to really played the game. This reminded of one of late comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s best lines: I went to a boxing match the other night at the Garden and a hockey game broke out!
Last night’s game was almost uninterrupted by penalties and there were no fights at all. The crowd was energized and very much alive but not angry, drunk or rowdy.
While Tarasenko did not score a goal for me, he did assist on the first two scores and was always lurking around the maw of the goal for a scoring opportunity.
I went to the game with an unusual combination of multi-generational family, including my younger son, my youngest granddaughter and my only son-in-law. While we had the complete family out for dinner the evening before, this evening had a special meaning for me.
There was a diversity of family relationships, each with its own innate character and hierarchy. While I was the patriarch of the 11 family members at dinner, this night I was not only the “patriarch”– in reality the family matriarch rules the family–I was a father, grandfather, and father-in-law. My son Matthew was a son, uncle, and brother-in-law. Tim was a father, a son-in-law and a brother-in-law. Olivia…now 12 was a daughter, granddaughter and niece.
Even though I was “plugged up” to protect what little natural hearing I have left, I was able just to feel our special family aura in my soul.
At the first period intermission, my son and I went on a hunting expedition—there were no elephants in the trade center that night— to see the exhibit on the third level, dedicated to the St. Louis Browns, a team with which I have had a strong posthumous relationship.
Over 30 years after they left for greener pastures in Baltimore, a few others and I founded a Historical Society (1984) in their honor. Four years ago I joined with announcer Bob Costas, St. Louis Cardinals’ owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and the late Tom Phelps, in funding the exhibit as part of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. This had been my first chance to actually see the exhibit and my name on the plaque that joins the two-glassed cases that is stocked with Brownie history, legend and lore, including two of my short histories of the team.
The entire evening was one of those moments that I will treasure until the end of my days. I guess I had one of Véronique Vienne’and Fr. Richard Rohr’s Naked Moments. (see last Post) I owe it all to the Russian.
At a local restaurant before the end of the year we met a young server, a twenty-four year old woman who had spent the last few years living in New York City. She had gone there to write the great American novel.
She proceeded to tell us about her story, which was a love relationship between a woman of Hopi Indian decent and her husband, set in Montana. Unfortunately I don’t remember any of the manuscript’s details except that she did not have any title for it.
In early December as irony would have it, I was reading one of the two novels I had purchased during our summer trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Local author Philip R. Craig had written both of them.
In his Vineyard Prey, he had a long paragraph about the Hopi Indians and their concept of time. Their language did not include any words or concepts for small segments of time, such as seconds, minutes and hours.
The language only had concepts that events were not happening any more, were still happening or may happen in the future. They also held that people are no longer here or are here or may be here in the future. Craig’s protagonist, J. W. Jackson opined it was a good language to hide in with perfect honesty. I passed this all on to the aspiring young novelist, thinking she might be able to conjure a title out of it.
In discussing this whole idea with my younger son, he taught me about the difference between Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos means living by the clock that is always being manipulated by appointments, schedules etc while the second one measures not in seconds and minutes but in moments, which may be brief or last a long time.
In these pages I have already confessed that my life has been ruled by the arbitrary concept of time that we use to organize our lives. My mother had me early for every date, appointment or event that I was scheduled to attend. I wish I had some of those wasted moments back or at least had the foresight and understanding to have treasured them.
Now in the twilight of my life I regret having wasted so many magic moments in anxiety, fear and distrust.
This is not to say that living by Chronos is a bad thing. For millions of adults it is a superior way to function in a fast-driven society that holds a premium on punctuality and good manners. It is also the best way to stay gainfully employed.
However too much of even a necessary thing can lead to a rigor mortis of the soul where one never really enjoys his sojourn on this earth and quite frankly in my case enjoys events after they have happened. That’s why my memories have become so important to me as I have entered my uncharted waters of growing old.
My son also mention the idea of living in the moment…not after it. I will admit that anticipation of a moment can be exhilaration…only if it is not accompanied by an anxiety about the moment failing to live up to its promise.
I started reading Véronique Vienne’s short book, In The Art of the Moment in which she explores ways to get the most from life, one moment at a time. Her signature essays—short and sweet, yet insightful—are invitations to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment.
She tells us to feel the excitement of being here right now! She encourages her readers to savor the fullness of life in brief, joyful installments. Don’t wait for a second chance to get it right, she says. Each moment is both the last time and the first time because no two days are ever alike.
Each brief chapter in her book is a reminder that time is not running out. One does not have to rush to experience a sense of joy, wonder, and adventure. It is there for the taking, whenever one is ready for it. Anyone can claim the now while washing the car, taking a child to volleyball practice, buying a new pair of shoes, or daydreaming about opening a small bookstore across the street from the hardware store.
One of course cannot make a living in or for the moment. Moving to Colorado and joined a community of Lotus Eaters would only turn the moment in a life of of neglect and debauchery.
Moderation must govern our affair our inclination to smelling the roses, relishing spontaneity, random adventures and off-the-cuff improvisation and sharing your vitality with random strangers, while experiencing wonder and the enormous pleasure of the BIG WOW.
One can even raise each moment to a higher plane than its Horacian imperative to seize the moment and suck out the marrow of life as Robin Williams’ character in The Dead Poets Society professed. As the Catholic prayer, The Morning Offering teaches one can sanctify one’s daily actions, thoughts and feelings and offer them to God in thanks of the precious gift of life.
A friend recently introduced me to some of the ideas of the highly controversial Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr. While some of his ideas on God as Universal Consciousness seem way off the Catholic radar, his consistent attempts to penetrate the mystical truths of the Catholic faith are an invitation to take one’s faith to a higher level.
His writings are deep and may even border on the mystical but for a novice without any historical, metaphysical or theological background, they can easily lead someone greviously astray.
But as Dante had his Aeneas to guide him through the nether world of eternal life, caution should accompany anyone making a conscientious journey through some of Father Rohr’s ideas.
One of Father Rohr’s ministries is working with men, beaten down by a society that seems to have marginalized them. While this is laudatory, his advocacy of homosexual marriage seems to work at cross-purposes because the reason so many men become homosexuals is because of the breakdown of the family unit and I would add the feminist movement of the 1960s.Young boys need strong, caring fathers to teach them how to love and respect women.
These historical factors have confused me as to their true sexual identity causes many to be more comfortable with their own gender than the opposite sex. That’s where he should be offering his insights in my opinion.
But this is not to deny that there is some apparent wisdom in his concept of seizing the moment, or as he calls it in his 2009 book, The Naked Moment. I see a lot of fascinating ideas that can easily be absorbed into my Catholic faith.
As Reviewer Rick Heffern put it in the liberal Catholic paper, The National Catholic Reporter, Rohr’s book, subtitled Learning to See as the Mystics See, extols the spiritual benefits of learning to live comfortably with paradox, with the process of conversion, with learning to change our minds as life comes at us with its messiness and disorder.
He claims that if your religious practice is nothing more than to remain sincerely open to the ongoing challenges of life and love, then you will find God — and also yourself.
It’s a bold claim, but Rohr offers sound reasoning to support it. Great people, he says, keep adjusting to what life offers and demands of them.
Rohr also rests his thinking on his belief that God’s love is so ingenious and victorious that I find God is willing to turn the world around to get me facing in the right direction. God seems to be totally into change. I know this every time I see how divine grace maneuvers around my sinfulness and human events, and how the entire universe itself is continually changing states from solids to liquids to gasses to seeming emptiness.
Rohr presents the Christian contemplative and mystical traditions as enduring examples of ways of living animated by non-dualistic thinking. By that he means that we cannot always divide the world into them and us, black and white etc. As St. Paul instructs us we see the world but through a glass darkly. To me that is hardly 20-20 and does compel us to cut sinners…including ourselves some slack.
In a critical review of Rohr’s somewhat fuzzy Orthodoxy, The Oxford Review’s Bryce Andrew Sibley underscores that Rohr is fond of the theology of John Duns Scotus. It is fair to say that between Scotus and St. Thomas, and therefore between Scotists and Thomists, there exists a significant difference with regard for human reason.
In stark contrast to Thomists, Scotists manifest a marked distrust of the native intellectual powers of the soul. This leads them, in some cases, to a greater trust in the will and the emotions, not only in theological discourse but also in the spiritual life. Romanticism can be traced back to this way of thinking.
While I applaud Father Rohr’s attempt to join the great mystics of the Church, mysticism is a dangerous road that is potholed with vanities, serious errors and despair. One can barely penetrate a mere scintillia of God’s divine essence or wind up babbling to himself in an empty parking lot.
It has been my experience that one must put everything, including Catholic Orthodoxy to the Test of Reason. A search for God has to be as of the mind as it is of the heart. Reason and Faith (Ratio et Fides) are God’s inseparable dancing partners.
Rohr has failed that test because he leads too much with his heart and not enough with his reason, thus exposing the historic weakness of a Christian liberalism that tries to unilaterally dance around the permanent things with clever movements and esoteric lexicology.