I remember so clearly when I first “met” Christopher West. I had picked up a CD of one of his talks after a Jason Evert talk at a neighboring parish. I was stuffing envelopes in our parish office, pregnant and wondering if this “Theology of the Body” stuff was really worth fiddling with, when I found myself listening to a voice that was speaking right to me.
It didn’t take me long to become a true Christopher West fangirl. I lucked into a copy of his “Naked without Shame” CD set and listened to it raptly. Our poor pastor heard all about everything I was learning in a play-by-play that I think nearly forced him to read Theology of the Body for himself. I did get myself a copy of Theology of the Body, and I read it, side-by-side with West’s companion.
That began in 2004, nearly ten years ago. I was a new Catholic, newly married, and, during my introduction to TOB, a new mom.
John Paul II spoke to my heart, but Christopher West interpreted it in a way that made it make sense, that made it resound with me. He gave me glasses and pointed the way, a guide on the way. Over the years, I’ve read his new books eagerly, and when I first received the review copy of his latest, Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing, it was all I could do not to pause everything in my life and just immerse myself in it.
Christopher was kind enough to grant a fangirl an interview, and here you have a discussion that’s exclusive for The Integrated Catholic Life™. Enjoy!
Christopher, your new book seems to tie in a few of your passions. Tell us about how you came to this idea and what we can expect in Fill These Hearts.
I’ve been in dialogue with a team of creative thinkers and artists for several years, all of the “JP II generation.” We’ve all been impacted by art and music as much as by our study of theology. We were especially inspired by JP II’s Letter to Artists in which he insists that the Gospel cannot be presented in all its splendor without the help of art. That was the inspiration for a live event we put together called Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing. We incorporate live music (Indie folk-rock act Mike Mangione and the Union), movie clips, YouTube videos, and other artistic works into a contemporary exposition of the Gospel. Typically presented in theaters rather than churches, it’s an attempt to step out “into the main streets,” as Jesus said, “and invite everyone to the wedding feast” (Mt 22:9). This book is named after that live event and tries to take the same approach in written form.
This book seems to be “debunking” a mistaken notion of Christianity as a list of rules opposed to everything we really desire.
You’re right. It makes me sick inside that Church teaching is so often thought of as a list of prohibitions rather than as a path by which to pursue the satisfaction of the deepest desires of our hearts.
As one of my mentors, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, put it, Christianity “is either the reasonable quest for the satisfaction of all the original desires of the heart, or it is a dangerous, divisive, harmful waste of time.”
The Greeks called those deep desires of the heart “eros.” Fill These Hearts explores the ancient but largely forgotten idea that the restless, erotic yearning we feel at the core of our being is actually our desire for God, for “the wedding feast” that Christ promises in the Gospels.
I try to show that true satisfaction of our hunger lies not in repressing eros, nor in indulging it lustfully, but in learning how to direct our desire according to God’s design so we can safely arrive at our eternal destiny: bliss and ecstasy in union with God and one another forever.
The Gospel in a nutshell is this: there is a banquet that corresponds to the hunger we all feel inside; there is a sweet wine that corresponds to the thirst we feel inside; there is a balm that corresponds to the “ache” in our hearts. Life, yearning, suffering, love, our cry for intimacy and union – all begin to make sense when the Church’s teaching is properly framed and presented as the beautiful invitation that it is.
What was the most enjoyable part of writing this book? You’ve written so many, is there something about this one that makes it memorable to you as the writer?
I really enjoyed mining treasures from various movies: Shawshank Redemption, Babette’s Feast, one of the Spiderman movies, even Toy Story 3 makes an appearance. I often find myself amazed at how insightful these moviemakers can be. A good movie scene can illuminate a deep truth about the human heart in a way that academic theology can’t.
Art is the language of the heart. And that’s why even secular art can become the occasion of a sacred experience.
There’s a reason we have favorite songs, favorite movies, favorite stories. They speak to us at profound levels of the heart, and we need to give ourselves permission to take comfort in those things, to see them as signs of hope, little moments where heaven is breaking through to our hearts.
Christopher, you were studying Theology of the Body before it was popular. You met with JP2 and even shared with him some of the work you are doing. At what point do you think you’ll be “done” writing about TOB? Do you have more topics in the works for us, your avid fans and readers?
When John Paul II died, someone asked me: “Gee, what are you going to do now?” – as if somehow, because the author of the TOB was dead, my work would also end.
It was an honest question, but it betrayed a real failure to see what the TOB is and what John Paul II has bequeathed us. The Church will be unpacking John Paul II’s TOB for centuries.
And it is so important to understand that TOB is not just about marriage and human sexuality. The “theology of the body” gives us a frame in which to understand the whole “body of theology.”
So, will I be branching out in future works? Yes, but not in the sense of leaving TOB behind. Rather, I’ll be applying TOB to all kinds of areas of our faith and our lives. So, in that sense, I’ll never be “done” writing about the TOB.
I have to assume that someone who writes as prolifically as you do is also a reader. When you’re with your family in a bookstore, where do they find you when you disappear for a few minutes (or an hour)?
Ah, yes, you are correct. I’ve been known to get lost in Barnes and Nobles. You can find me either in the theology section or the art section. If I’m not there, then I’m in the bargain book section, or maybe sipping a frappe in the café.
Sarah Reinhard’s a Catholic wife, mom, and author whose nose is probably in a book if she’s not scraping something off of her shoes. Her latest book is A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism and she’s online at SnoringScholar.com.
Visit Sarah’s blog: http://SnoringScholar.com/
Check out her books: http://SnoringScholar.com/my-books/
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