Hello, friends. Quite a few of you may know that the 2016 Theology of the Body Congress--a biannual national conference being held September 23-25 this year in Ontario, California--is ramping up. The organizers asked me to share about my own experience at the last conference, to encourage you all to sign up and go this year (especially while Early Bird registration is still going on, until the end of July). Because trust me, I am going and have had my registration in for many weeks!
I’m going to admit up front I was nervous about attending this conference. If you know my background and c.v., I am not the stereotypical Theology of the Body type (whatever that is, I was pretty sure I wasn’t it). I loved the audiences, even wrote a book on them, but doing that in my particular corner of the world was like swimming upstream against a tidal wave. All I can say was that God laid out that path and gave me a motor boat to hop in and go. But as grateful as I was for the opportunity to research and write on the audiences and the understanding of the human being within them, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be welcomed at this conference. But I went.
First, I had nothing to really worry about--sure, some people knew each other very well, but there were a lot of people there who were frankly like me--newly interested in ToB, connected to the Church in some way, and wanting to learn more. Some were young and simply curious, taking it as an opportunity to learn what it was all about. Others were older priests there because young people kept talking to them about Theology of the Body. Some were couples influenced by ToB in their marriage preparation. Some were people who took courses through the Theology of the Body Institute. There were academics. There were church workers of all types. Really, it was quite the mix.
But after the first day of keynotes and breakout sessions, I wrote my spiritual director and told him to get ready for a whopper direction session the next week, because this conference--to use St. Augustine’s imagery--picked me up, turned me around and put me in front of a mirror to see myself (Book 8.16). One of the speakers (and I don’t remember who) said “when you understand the Theology of the Body, it puts a thumb on your own woundedness.” Wow, was that true. But it was such a profoundly hopeful conference--no throwing stones, just lifelines. And the lifeline was an understanding of the human person created for relationship with God and one another, rooted in the revelation of the Church, as presented by John Paul II.
Attending that conference was like being gobsmacked by a bucket of truth. And that was a good thing, a cleansing thing, a refreshing thing. I don’t use this language lightly, and I don’t mean I agreed with every word that was uttered there (I’m a theologian and we always get into debating various interpretations). But the overall effect was a conference that not only provided a lot of “good thinking” on how to talk about what it means to be created by God as sign and interpreting the language of the body, it also poured light and clarity into my own spiritual life--which I did not expect. I left thinking “They need to have this next year! I need to be here!”
Well, two years later, we meet again, this time in California. A lot of things have happened culturally and politically to challenge any traditionally Christian understanding of what it means to be human. But I hope--and expect--that this conference will offer wisdom, encouragement, enlightenment, and hope, and that wherever you come from, you will consider attending. Look me up. I’ll be there, ready to chat about the academic stuff, the practical stuff, the God stuff! I hope you will be as well.
p.s. Not the primary reason to go, but my books will be there too: Theology of the Body, Extended: the spiritual signs of birth, impairment, and dying, and The Gift of Birth: Discerning God's Presence During Childbirth. Check out the exhibits and the Gracewatch Media/Peanut Butter and Grace table.