Saturday, September 11, 2010

To the Pure All Things Are Pure

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St. Therese as St. Joan of Arc in a play

I've been sort of bad at checking my gmail, yesterday I came across an email that Sr. Helena sent me earlier this month which was forwarded from another sister in her congregation, Sr. Lorraine. Sr. Lorraine has been following and responding to the whole Theology of the Body related debate concerning how far through Christ are we able to overcome concupiscience. An illustration of this controversy would be all the criticism Christopher West has gotten this past year relating to this point. His response to some of the criticism he has recieved can be read here for those unfamiliar with what I'm referencing. Basically my take on this issue is that while some criticisms of West's work have been constructive and have helped him refine his approach to interpreting and presenting TOB, some critics misinterpret and misrepresent his work or aspects of his work. There are some relatively minor points of Christopher West's work where I'm not sure where I stand yet, I need to conduct more research, but I feel that he is pretty much on the mark in regards to the issue of Christ's power to overcome lust.

Christ gives us real power to redeem the way we perceive the human body, and real power to overcome lust. This isn't to say that the temptation to lust will not always be there, just that through Christ there is real power to achieve a real change in our hearts from lust towards love, in our vision of the human body from distortion towards reintegration. This issue really involves me as an artist who represents the human body (often unclothed!) in my work. There are those who believe that it is never appropriate to make or view art which has as its subject the unclothed figure, thinking that the naked human body will always be an occasion for lust. I believe that presenting the human body in a respectful way that seeks after the whole truth of man who is made in the image of God (and who's body speaks of this in its inscribed call to self-gift and communion with the other) is healing in that it aids reintegrating our vision of the human body which has become distorted through pornography (which instead of seeking after truth pursues and presents lies about the human person and sexuality). Now this doesn't mean that an artist representing the human body, even with the best of intentions, doesn't need to be discerning in the way they present their subject and the means through which they display their work for the human body is a loaded and sensitive subject, this is process is on-going for me and I feel I have a lot more to learn. More on this later.

Back to the email, Sr. Lorraine, trying to clear her head of this TOB debate, went to read the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. But there's no getting away from TOB, in her reading, much to her surprise she came across this passage, concerning the the saint's trip to Rome:

I prayed Our Lady of Victories to keep far from me everything that could tarnish my purity; I was fully aware that on a voyage such as this into Italy I could easily meet with things capable of troubling me. I was still unacquainted with evil and so was apprehensive about makings its discovery. I had not yet experienced that to the pure all things are pure (Titus 1:15), that the simple and upright soul sees evil in nothing since it resides only in impure hearts, not in inanimate objects.” (Story of a Soul, chapter 6, pg. 123).

This blew Sr. Lorraine away in the way it summed up what this whole debate on purity of heart is about. St. Therese was concerned about all the art with naked people, and then came to realize how one who is pure of heart can perceive the human body in purity rather than have it be an occasion for lust. St. Therese is famous for her child-like faith, perhaps there is connection with child-like purity in seeing the human body?

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I'm grateful for Sr. Helena forwarding this to me, perhaps St. Therese should be special patron of mine now?

St. Therese of Lisieux- Pray for us.

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