Hundreds turn out to hear Christopher West speak on theology of the body
by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — Bernadette Myers and Tonja Kernell have both heard author and speaker Christopher West’s presentations before. But his message strikes a deeper chord every time.
It proved true again when West spoke to hundreds of people at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall on Oct. 29.
The two women, both members of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, were among the attendees, who ranged in age from teenagers through long-married couples.
“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity,” said Myers. “He brings out the different aspects of the Catholic faith — the Christian faith.”
Both women have children, and they believe West has a message that can help make things clear and meaningful, especially in today’s culture.
And they were impressed with the combination of music, art, dance and discourse that combined to create “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing.”
The presentation was a multimedia reflection on Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body, which treats the question of what it means, according to God’s plan, to have been created male and female — and basically what it means to be human.
“Think about a time in your life when you were pierced by beauty,” West told the crowd at the beginning of the night. They were there to unfold the beautiful teachings on this topic, he said.
West is an internationally known “translator” of the late pope’s teachings, and his presentation brought those teachings to life, partly through the music of folk-rock band Mike Mangione & the Union, sand painting, and other forms of expression.
“There’s a hunger, there’s an ache, there’s a longing for something,” said West.
“I want us to get in touch with that ache.
“God put that there to lead us to him.”
West explained to the audience the ancient Greek concept of “eros,” which was not tied only to sexual fulfillment, but to a yearning for what is true, good and beautiful.
He then identified three different “gospels,” or paths taken to address that hunger.
First, there’s the starvation diet, he said, which places the desire in a negative light and leads to denial.
Given the choice between starvation and the “fast-food diet,” the second gospel, “people are likely to choose the “greasy chicken nuggets,” said West.
Because the fast-food gospel provides “immediate gratification for the hunger we feel.”
There’s a third option, though.
“Tonight I’m here to give you hope,” West told the crowd. There is the “banquet.”
Pope John Paul II described the human body as “gratuitously beautiful,” West said. Bodies are not only biological, but theological — made in the image of God, he said.
“There’s a code written into our bodies,” he said. “Perhaps we could call this code the ‘Da-Vinity’ Code,” he said with a laugh.
He pointed to desire as the biblical framework for this idea — and spoke about desire for spousal union.
He pointed to the words in the Bible that speak of the desire of the bridegroom for the bride and those that relate the desire of the bride for the bridegroom.
“How do we know that God wants to marry us?” he said. “Our bodies tell the story.”
When elementary school-aged children recite, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage,” they probably don’t have any idea they’re actually talking about some pretty serious theology — theology of the body, he said.
The sand art, which captured the audience’s attention on a large white screen, started with the story of creation and moved through the fall of humanity. It showed death, and then the embrace of a man and woman, which was transformed into the image of Jesus on the cross with Mary at the foot of the cross.
“It’s all about God and his love for the church,” said West.
Kate Woulfe has a friend who was involved in the production of Fill These Hearts, and she attended with her husband Larry.
She enjoyed the sand painting, in particular, while her husband was drawn to the message West shared about the human body. Both enjoyed the evening.
“The band was awesome,” added Larry Woulfe.
Myers also loved the sand art and the way it seemed to trace the Bible from creation through Revelation.
“It was like reading the Bible but seeing it in art form,” she said.