Wisdom of the Body: A book review

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I was a little disappointed in this book. It’s not what I had hoped it would be with a real look at the beauty of the body from an orthodox Catholic position. But let’s review this book on what it was rather than what I hoped it would be.

The Wisdom of the Body is almost a self-led retreat to embrace your body with all of its gifts and flaws. Women don’t need to look far to see media that encourages them to hate their bodies. All of us get the messages, we’re either too fat, or too thin, too many stretch marks, too many freckles or zits. Any woman growing up in the western world has seen the ads and the photoshop and at some point in their lives compared themselves to these unrealistic images.

Each chapter includes a reflection, a profile of a female saint or woman from Scripture, a recommended art project, journaling project, dance, yoga and poetry. Sprinkled in are the responses of women in the past who have done these things. The responses really give the reader a bit of a feeling of community, that other women who have done these exercises before had similar responses and has similar feelings about their bodies.

Despite the fact that this book is published by Ave Maria Press, the audience for this book is intended to be much more broad than Catholic. You don’t even necessarily have to be Christian to appreciate the reflections and exercises in this book. This might (especially when I mentioned the word “yoga”) set off warning bells for some of my readers, but I really didn’t see anything problematic in this book. I’m a firm believer that yoga and eastern thought in and of itself is not necessarily bad, God’s light can shine in all sorts of places, just don’t replace it with the Gospel.

I did some of the exercises with my 4-year-old son. He loved the free dancing and the art. I can’t say I really discovered anything new about myself or learned anything else about appreciating my body through the activities, but I was also corralling a child. I might have had a different experience if I had been able to do them on my own. The reflections themselves were pretty and refreshingly body-positive.

I got the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review through my membership in NetGalley. Thank you Ave Maria Press again for this book!  It is available starting March 3 through your favorite bookseller.

John Paul II on Christmas and the Dignity of Humanity

christmas-starAt the dawn of salvation, it is the birth of a child which is proclaimed as joyful news: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk. 2:10-11). The source of this ‘great joy’ is the birth of the Savior; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn. 16:21).

-St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae

Benedict XVI on Marriage and the Family

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Marriage and the family are not in fact a chance sociological construction, the product of particular historical and financial situations. On the other hand, the question of the right relationship between the man and the woman is rooted in the essential core of the human being and it is only by starting from here that its response can be found. In other words, it cannot be separated from the ancient but ever new human question: Who am I? What is a human being? And this question, in turn, cannot be separated from the question about God: Does God exist? Who is God? What is His face truly like? The Bible’s answer to these two questions unties them, and makes one a consequence of the other: the human being is created in the image of God, and God Himself is love. It is therefore the vocation to love that makes the human person an authentic image of God: Man and woman come to resemble God to the extent that they become loving people.

– Benedict XVI

St. Basil the Great on the Dignity of Women

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“And God made human being according to his image.” “The [masc.] human being,” says the woman, “What does that have to do with me? The man came to be, for it does not say the [fem.] human being,” she says, “but by setting forth the [masc.] human being, it implies the masculine.” But that nobody may ignorantly ascribe the name of human only to the man, it adds, “Male and female he created them” [Gen. 1:27]. The woman also possesses creation according to the image of God, as indeed does the man. The natures are alike in honor, the virtues are equal, the struggles equal, the judgement alike. Let her not say, “I am weak.” The weakness is in the flesh, in the soul is the power. Since indeed that which is according to God’s image is of equal honor, let the virtue be of equal honor, the showing forth of good works. There is no excuse for one who wishes to allege that the body is weak. And why is it simply delicate? But through compassion it is vigorous in patient endurance and earnest in vigils. When has the nature of man been able to match the nature of woman in patiently passing through her own life? When has man been able to imitate the vigor of women in fastings, the love of toil in prayers, the abundance in tears, the readiness for good works?

I have seen a woman secretly committing good thefts, doing good works apart from her husband for the sake of her husband, for the sake of the household’s growth, for the sake of the children’s long life. She gives and hides it from her husband’s knowledge, distributing alms for his sake and concealing it from him. For since the Creator sees the things that are hidden, she does not make public her well-doing.

The good woman has that which is according to the image. Do not cling to the outer human being, it is molded [like clay]. The soul is placed within, under the coverings and the delicate body. Soul indeed is equal in honor to soul; in the coverings is the difference.

Therefore you have become like God through kindness, through the endurance of evil, through communion, through love for one another and love for brethren, being a hater of evil, dominating the passions of sin, that to you may belong the rule.

-St. Basil the Great, part 18, On the origin of humanity, discourse 1

St. John Chrysostom: What is true beauty?

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“That He might sanctify it having cleaned it,” he continues, “by washing of water with the word; that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:26-27)

“By the washing or later,” He washes away her impurities. “By the word,” says he. What word? “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) And He has not simply honored her, but He has made her “glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” Let us also, then, strive to attain this beauty ourselves, and we shall be able to create it.

Do not look in your wife for those things which she is unable to possess. Do you see that the Church had all things at her Lord’s hands? By Him she was made glorious, by Him she was made pure, by Him she was made without blemish. Do not turn your back on your wife because of her defects. Listen to what the Scripture says, that ” The bee is little among such as fly, but her fruit is the chief of sweet things.” (Eccl. 11:3) She is made by God. You are not condemning her, but rather the One who made her; what can the a woman do? Do not praise her for her beauty. Praise and hatred and love based on personal beauty come from impure souls. Search after the beauty of the soul. Imitate the Bridegroom of the Church.

Outward beauty is full of conceit and licentiousness, and makes men jealous, and it often makes you imagine monstrous things. But does it give any pleasure? For the first or second month, perhaps, or at most for the year: but then no longer. The admiration fades away through familiarity. Meanwhile the ills which arose from the exterior beauty still remain; the pride, the foolishness, the contemptuousness. However, in one who is not beautiful, none of this is to be found. The love that began on honest grounds still continues ardently, since its object is beauty of the soul and not the body.

What better, tell me, is there than heaven? What better is there than the stars? Describe any body you choose, yet there is none so fair. Tell me of any eyes you want, yet there is none so sparkling. When these were created, the very angels gazed in amazement, and we gaze with wonder now; but not with the same amazement as we did at first. Such familiarity; things do not strike us in the same degree. How much more in the case of the wife! And if by some chance disease comes, too, all is immediately lost.

Look for affection, humility, and gentleness in a wife; these are the signs of beauty. But loveliness of physical features let us not seek, not chastise her for lack of these points over which she has no control. No, rather let us not chastise her at all nor be impatient, nor morose. Don’t you see how many men, often living with beautiful wives, have ended their lives despicably, and how many, who have lived with those of no great beauty, have lived on to extreme old age with great enjoyment? Let us wipe off the “spot” that is written, let us smooth the “wrinkles” that are within, let us do away with the “blemishes” that are on the soul. Such is the beauty God requires. Let us make her fair in God’s sight not in our own.

– St. John Chrysostom

Walk In Her Sandals: A Book Review

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I know it isn’t Advent yet, but plan now to get some of your favorite girlfriends together this Lent to read this book!

Walk in Her Sandals is a deep and unique look at Christ’s Passion and the events after His death from a woman’s perspective. Each chapter contains numerous reflections on various aspects of Holy Week and beyond. There is something for everyone in this book. There is a fictional retelling of the events of the Passion told from the perspective of a woman who watched it all unfold. There are reflections connecting these foundational events to aspects of our feminine genius. There is a guide to pray through important scripture passages using the ancient practice of lectio divina. There are good reflection questions to discuss as a group. The book features authors that most Catholic nerds are familiar with like Teresa Tomeo, Lisa Hendey and Pat Gohn as well as many more authors that you will want to learn more about.

I was a little surprised to see that one of my favorite parts was the fictional retelling of the Passion. I’m usually not a fan of that kind of thing (funny, because I do enjoy writing it, but that’s another story). Stephanie Landsem clearly did her research bringing stories such as the Last Supper and Pentecost alive. You could really sense that these women could have actually been there, were actually the kind of people you would have expected to see there. I had never heard of her before and I’ll have to look her up and try some of her other books.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to pick this book up again as part of a book club. That would be awesome! I’ll have to tell you about it when I do. Not to say that the book isn’t good to read on your own. I certainly enjoyed it.

I got the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review through my membership in NetGalley. Thank you Ave Maria Press! This book just came out yesterday and is available from your favorite bookseller now.

NOTE: I have been informed by the wonderful people at Ave Maria Press that there will be at least two online book clubs this Spring (just in time for Lent!). One will be held at CatholicMom.com and the other will be at WomenInTheNewEvangelization.com. Join me there!

Beyond Me, My Selfie, and I: A Review of Teresa Tomeo’s Latest Book

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In this technology-saturated world, Teresa Tomeo speaks from personal experience and candid observation on what we all need to do to be better followers of Christ.

It all stems from a trip to Italy. While seeing the sights, she couldn’t help but notice a couple of young people absorbed into their phones. What real reality were they missing while being stuck in the virtual reality of their phones?

The Church constantly preaches that while technology is not in itself morally good or bad, it’s use and misuse can certainly veer either way. In this book, Mrs. Tomeo tackles specifically social media and the ubiquitous selfie. She challenges us all to put our phones down for real face-time with those we love and with He who loves us.

She breaks down this huge issue into 10 manageable chunks. Each chapter starts with an introduction of a specific angle followed by a mini-quiz to help you think about how it applies to you. Then, she explains what the Church in her wisdom says about it and some pointers with how to take it to prayer.

When read with an open and prayerful heart, this book could make real changes to how you use and view technology. It certainly serves as a wake up call to the dangers of social media.

Beyond Me, My Selfie and I is available at your favorite bookseller now. I was given the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review through my membership in Netgalley. Thank you Franciscan Media for the privilege.