AMERICAN Catholic writer Emily Stimpson released her new book, These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, in September.
Well-known speaker and biblical theologian Dr Scott Hahn said it was a “unique combination of deep wisdom, practical insight and personal experience”. Christopher West praised Stimpson for taking Theology of the Body “beyond the bedroom and applying the sacramental worldview to all aspects of life”.
Journalist EMILIE NG spoke to Stimpson last week, and found out that Theology of the Body is about much more than just sex.
You mention at the beginning of your book how you came across Theology of the Body. Can you share a little bit more about how Theology of the Body inspired you to write this book?
I was 25 at the time. It was back in 2002, 2001, and I had just come back into the Church. I was working through, doing a lot of reading.
I was also on the tail end of a long battle with anorexia, and I was doing a little better but still struggling my way through, and I walked into this bookstore and there was this book that was called Theology of the Body by John Paul II and I thought, “Whoa, I need that! I gotta figure out what this Church has to say about my body”.
And so, I picked it up and started working my way through it, through the actual Wednesday audience. And I found it transforming.
It changed how I saw my body, it changed how I saw the world, it changed how I saw food, and then after that I came to graduate school to do my work on my MA here at Franciscan (University of Steubenville), and I really focused my studies, I took as many classes as I could on Theology of the Body.
I just read everything I could, and then I started writing about it. So I’ve been studying, reading and writing about it for 12 years I guess.
You also wrote The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years. Was this new book in the pipeline at the same time as The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide?
It was in the pipeline. I had signed a two-book contract with my publishers, Emmaus Road. So I knew once I finished that, I would have to move on to a Theology of the Body book.
I finished the Catholic Girls Book in May 2011, but I didn’t actually get started on the next book until the following summer, until July 2012. So I wrote it between July and November in about 2012, then sent it off about Thanksgiving this time last year ago and then it just came out a few months ago.
But it was really in the works for a lot longer than that, because for years I had these Theology of the Body conferences, and I’d be interviewing people and writing for the US Catholic press and I’d be saying, “You’ve got to write a book about how Theology of the Body is not just about sex”.
And I would tell my story about anorexia and how it had been so transformative and they would say, “We know, that’s so important – why don’t you write that book?” So it really was seven or eight years of telling other people before I started the writing process myself.
Do you think there is a deeper need for people to see Theology of the Body as anthropology, and not sexology?
People hear the phrase “Theology of the Body”, and people go “Oh, the Church’s teachings on sex!” There’s a big equal sign between those two phrases, the theology of the body equals the Church’s teachings on sex.
And that’s not actually the case. The Theology of the Body is an anthropology, so it’s a meditation on what it means to be a human person.
John Paul II in his Wednesday audiences lays out that anthropology but then he applies it in a particular way to the relationship of man and woman in masculinity and femininity. So he takes the anthropology, and uses it to help answer a particular question.
But throughout the audiences, he also uses that anthropology to have a look at other things, and ultimately what he does is gives us a tool.
He goes, “Here: this is what it means to be you. This is what it means to be a man, this is what it means to be a woman, this is what it means to be a human person. Now take that, and go figure out how knowing that you can live the rest of your life.”
And so my book is partly drawing on what he talks about in the audiences but also doing what he says to do and thinking, “Alright, how do I take this beautiful teaching he’s given us and figure out what that means when I’m driving through rush-hour traffic, or my phone number rings during a dinner with a friend. How do I talk to the waiter who’s serving us at that dinner?”
Theology of the Body is a guide on how to live and love, which is so much more than sex – so, so much more.
Obviously, there have been lots of people writing about Theology of the Body so far, so what separates your book from the vast array of books already available?
Well, I think the people who’ve been talking about Theology of the Body for the past 10, 15 years have done great things, and a lot of people have had their understanding of married love, masculinity and femininity really transformed through their work. But if you don’t let the Church’s teachings on what it means to be a human person seep in and form your thinking on that, the type of healing you’re going to receive if you have certain sexual wounds, is not going to be complete.
I think if we want to complete the healing journey for people, we need to see what the Theology of the Body has to say on all of life. Plus there’s a lot of people, who think “I read Theology of the Body, I’ve got the Church’s sexual teachings, but I’m not married right now, and I’m living chastity, so what else does it have to say?”
My issue is with my body, and with food, and with femininity. People are bringing all sorts of woundedness to their reading of their text. There are so many people who are hurt in so many ways, and a Theology of the Body really has so much to say to all of us, not just to people who are struggling with the Church’s teaching on sexuality or dealing with wounds and from their past.
That’s the thing – a lot of people don’t realise how much the Theology of the Body has for them, and I hope my book can start getting them to think in a different way about them.
And, have you got any plans to come out to Australia?
I would so love to come to Australia. (I have) no plans in the immediate future, but, oh my gosh, if that opened up, that would be fantastic. I had Australians as roommates. I’ve lived with people from all different cultures, but Australians were by far my favourite.
If people want to find out more about you and your work, how can they contact you?
I have a website, emilystimpson.com so you can contact me through that. I blog for CatholicVote.com and there’s always Facebook. I’m on Facebook more than I should be …
Want to win a copy of Emily Stimpson’s book These Beautiful Bones – an Everyday Theology of the Body? We’re giving away two copies on December 2! Just follow @thecatholiclead on Twitter, and watch the news feed on December 2 for your chance to win!