These Beautiful Bones

PictureFor the last couple of years, I’ve had a project in the back of my mind. I’ve been thinking of writing a book or at least an article to lay out the idea that the Theology of the Body is not just about sex–it’s really about everything.

About two months ago  I got assigned to write the article, and I found out someone already wrote the book.

Emily Stimpson’s These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body is a book everyone should read–Catholics especially, but it has a lot of value for anyone who professes to believe in Christ. You can sum up the philosophy of TOB in these words from Stimpson:

“Our bodies are us. Your body is you. My body is me.”

“Through our mouth, our hands, our eyes, and our feet, who we are and what we love is made known to others. Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.”

“Thought and feeling, belief and unbelief, virtue and vice–all of it, one way or another and one day or another, writes itself on our bodies. None of it stays hidden. None of it remains invisible. The body eventually expresses it all, enabling us to be present to the world.”

(These Beautiful Bones, p. 27)

Emily Stimpson makes a deeply practical case for applying that truth to every area of life, even areas we don’t see an overt religious connection. If we believe in God, that belief ought to shape every part of our life: work, manners, modesty, food, technology use.

This is a great, great book, drawing connections I hadn’t thought about before. For instance: why do we get so much satisfaction out of building toyboxes, making scrapbooks, gardening, and so on? Because we’re made in the image of God, the consummate creator. Most of modern work, Stimpson contends, is not physically demanding. We were built with a need to work at something tangible, using our bodies. Which is not to say modern work is without merit, but it does suggest that when we get home from work we need to do something active and useful with our leisure time instead of more sedentary screen time.

She also connects the idea of showing who we are by what we do with behaviors we all know are right, but frequently fail to put into practice:

“When we honor one another through the gestures of common courtesy, we don’t honor one another as mere creatures. We honor one another as other Christs. … Moreover, in honoring one another as images of God, we honor God.” (p. 80)

There are times when I think the argument gets carried too far. In her chapter on clothing, Stimpson suggests that going to the grocery store in sloppy clothes and/or unshowered is a sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. I think that’s overstating the case. There are many reasons why I go out unshowered in my workout clothes:

  • I am on deadline and carpool with kid appointments, and the only way to get a workout in and also fulfill all obligations is to skip the shower until late in the day.
  • I am waiting for the lawn to dry before I mow, but the groceries have to be bought, too.
  • I have errands to run in the vicinity of Jazzercise, which is at the opposite end of town, and to come home and shower in the middle will involve unnecessary extra trips, which runs counter to environmental stewardship.
  • I can also think of my husband’s situation: dressing in a suit five days a week, and choosing to go with lounging comfort for Saturday errands.

Stimpson makes exceptions for these sorts of situations, but she implies that they are the exception, and in my life that isn’t really the case. Modesty is important, and it is a good thing to show one’s respect for one’s body by dressing it nicely when possible. But looking nice is a preoccupation of humanity that, in my opinion, is one part image-of-God related and four parts vanity and opportunity for judging others.

Still, the simple fact that she’s making these connections and asking us to think about not only what we do but why–what it means–makes this an incredibly important book for all of us to read and internalize. I highly recommend it.