Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why I'm Going To The 2016 Theology of the Body Congress (And Maybe You Should)

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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Giveaway! Three copies of The Gift of Birth: Discerning God's Presence During Childbirth

Friends, it is my pleasure to announce that The Gift of Birth: Discerning God's Presence During Childbirth is published and available for purchase!  Hurrah!

Many of you know this has been in the works for a while.  Those of you who have read Theology of the Body, Extended, this book is a more practical, popular version of the exploration of childbirth as a sign created to point to God.  It is rooted in John Paul II's Theology of the Body and Ignatius of Loyola's work in spiritual direction.  In fact, it is structured to read a (short) chapter at a time as an evening spiritual reflection or "retreat at home" reading.  It is written for women who are anticipating childbirth or processing their previous experience(s) of childbirth, and for all those who minister to pregnant women.  I'm excited this is finally out (I'd say "born" but that is too awful a pun, even for me)!

We are celebrating and trying to spread the word a bit by running a book launch giveaway!  Gracewatch Media is providing three copies to give away...all you have to do is share the book through one social medium, like facebook (with a link to this blog post or the Gracewatch book page), and that earns you one entry.  Another share (say, on Twitter) and you get another entry.  If you have a blog and want to write a blog post with one of those links, you get ANOTHER entry. (And Pinterest, and google+, etc.) And you could, theoretically, do all of these once a day and it would count!  (But no more than that, please.)  Record your shares on the Rafflecopter widget below, and we will get Rafflecopter to randomly choose an three entries as book winners on April 17!

Good luck and share away!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Why is the Theology of the Body important to you?

A friend asked me to write on this, and my first response was "heck yeah!," and my second response was..."oh no...that's a whole new book!"  There is so much in the Theology of the Body, and often it is so misunderstood.... Since I have written on this extensively (Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Gifts of Birth, Impairment, and Dying, The Gift of Birth: Discerning God's Presence in Childbirth, in the background (or foreground!) of many articles, and certainly a deep part of the current book I am writing, Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself: Five Tricks of the Heart about Assisted Suicide), I think I will do the less wordy thing and go for bullet points instead.

But first, a little candor: I am also a theologian, and part of my "stealth mission" is to introduce John Paul II's anthropology and the potential within it to a wider academic audience. The Theology of the Body is more appreciated in ecclesial circles than some academic circles.  Mind you, good people can disagree on the value of a given argument (get a Thomist and Augustinian in a room and watch them go), but I honestly hold that most of the people who tell me they don't like the Theology of the Body haven't read it, or have encountered some twisted stereotype of it that has badly informed their reading.  We need to be clear what the audiences are about: that God created human beings male and female as a form of incarnational revelation, a sign that we best perceive in relationship that points to our destined relationship to God. The Fall skewed our ability to see and live out this sign, but it remains the reason why humanity was created--and we can see it, with God's help. The audiences are rich (and occasionally difficult), but truly the tip of the iceberg.  We live in a world that is desperately asking what it means to be human any more.  There is wisdom here to answer that question.  So the Theology of the Body is important to me, but I think it could be important to everyone, academic or not.

OK, a few bullet points about the importance of the Theology of the Body (or ToB):

  • Revelation and sacramentality.  So many efforts theologically to recover a thick sacramentality of the human being...and John Paul II's is one of the very best.  The idea that before there even existed the scriptures, there existed the human body--this is a radical notion that changes the way we see and treat the body, not as a machine or vessel or functionary, but as the visible sign of God's revelation in the world.  Many Christians want to say the body is important.  John Paul II's work reminds us why.  p.s. I find it very interesting that many of my Protestant friends and colleagues in Theology (I went to an ecumenical divinity school) are deeply and favorably intrigued by this notion.  It could be a point of ecumenical dialogue....
  • John Paul II's gift to spiritual direction.  I am trained as a spiritual director, and so much spiritual direction is informed by the groundbreaking work of Ignatius of Loyola, the saint who founded the Jesuits and famously proclaimed that we must learn to see God in all things.  The Theology of the Body is about seeing as well, precisely, it is about perception of the divine in human bodies and their relationships.  There are so many insights in ToB that work brilliantly with spiritual direction: the meaning of shame, fear, self-giving, receiving, God in the everyday, vocation, avocation, discernment of spirits, the work of the Holy Spirit.... OK, I'll admit, it's probably the next book!
  • It lends itself to a theology of childbirth.  You guys.  Women make up half the human race and we basically have no theology of childbirth.  How did that happen?  I won't "go there" right now, but although John Paul doesn't say much about childbirth, he opens the door to it and all the possibilities are right there.  If the man and woman are created and told to be fruitful and multiply, and the body exists as sign, then doesn't childbirth serve as an extension of the sign of marriage?  Might it be a form of revelation?  Is that why many women name it one of the most spiritual moments of their lives?
  • It helps us learn how to give our dying bodies to God in love.  That is, it teaches us how to die.  Many refer to the law of the gift or the hermeneutic of the gift as the dynamic heart of the Theology of the Body--and there is another word for it, usually applied to Jesus Christ's death on the cross.  That word is kenosis, or "self-emptying."  It is a rich and loaded theological term, but most importantly here, it teaches us how to die.  Death is a consequence of original sin.  But with Christ's redemption, we can approach death as he did--an emptying of the self into the arms of God the Father, a gift originally received and offered back to God.  We simply don't know how to die in our culture--look at the 17 states considering passing laws on physician assisted suicide right now--and John Paul's insights give us a new art of dying (ars moriendi). 
  • We are not trapped souls.  We are, each of us, a unity of body and soul.  ToB speaks to this is clear ways, undercutting the gnostic tendencies that still reside in Christianity and the wider culture.  Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that (among other things) held the human being was a good soul trapped in an evil body, just waiting for the release of death.  Well, ToB says clearly we are both spiritual and bodily, and these realities are not opposites.  It is a freeing teaching when absorbed, and brings a lens to what it means to be human that is not what our culture typically holds.  ToB, in this regard, is a medicine to our culture.
There are many other things I could mention (understandings of marriage and sexuality, for example), but I wanted to go with some of the lesser known reasons I think ToB is important, the ones that I think need further exploration.  

ToB is important, more important than some people know.  I encourage you to read it with an open mind and discover for yourself.  I'm here to talk about it anytime.

--Susan Windley-Daoust


This will be a a separate post later, but indeed, The Gift of Birth is now out and available for purchase!  This is a more "popular" treatment of the sign of childbirth for any one who has given birth, plans to give birth, or is working with one giving birth.  Lots of ToB, quite a bit of Ignatian spirituality, and many women reflecting on the spiritual nature of their varied experiences giving birth.  Please feel free to share the news!  Available at Amazon in hardcover and softcover, as well as ebook, and at Gracewatch Media in hard and softcover editions.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Presentations, retreats, and o.m.goodness, an award

Happy July, everyone.  I hope summer is warm and restful and has a s'more or two in it.

First, since this is a "book blog," I do need to start with news about Theology of the Body, Extended and its research.  The book has been published for a year now with Lectio Publishing, bless their brave souls.  It's a tough, tough time to start a new academic press.  That is one reason I was really happy that this book (my work and Lectio's work) actually won a national award!  (I know--I'm still floored!) Theology of the Body, Extended won first place in the "Best Book by a Small Publisher" category in the 2015 Catholic Press Association Book Awards.  Here's the jury's blurb:

Really, this is an enormously flattering honor, and I am grateful. 

Other book-related news:  I was happy to offer two workshops at the Diocese of Winona's Ministry Days in June, where 150 priests, deacons, and lay church workers gather to pray and learn for two days.  One workshop was called "Beyond the Wheelchair Ramp: listening to people with disabilities in your parish," and the other was "A Theology of the Dying Body: helping the people of God learn how to die well."  I really enjoyed the conversations with so many great people and getting feedback, and should anyone want me to give those workshops again, or you just want to know what they were about (I have powerpoints, people!), please contact me.  I'd be happy to talk.

At the end of July, I will be offering a directed weekend retreat called "The Gift of Birth: Seeking the Holy Spirit in your Birthing."  Many thanks to the Franciscan Spirituality Center in Lacrosse, WI, for being excited about this and promoting it so well!  There are spaces available if you are a woman who thinks she could become pregnant in the near future (or you are pregnant now).  Please contact them asap if you are interested.  You do not need to be Catholic to attend, although I am speaking from that perspective.

Finally, I have written a spiritual direction-style book titled The Gift of Birth: spiritual insights for expecting mothers.  It is meant to translate ch. 2 in ToB, Extended to a popular audience.  Well, at long last, it is getting published!  If all goes well, it will be available in January of 2016.  (Publisher to be announced...I know, I'm such a sneak, but there are decisions to be made about which imprint within the publisher is best suited to the text.  You will know when I know for sure!).

Thank you, everyone, for your support of this book and the research and argument embedded in it. This has been a long road, but people's responses have been deeply encouraging. Honestly, the last and significant piece of this project is if you appreciate the book, get someone else to read it...ask your library to order it, use it in a class, or a study group/book club (I do Skype, if you're interested in me joining in).  Lectio took a chance on this book, a new look at a topic so hot that some people won't even touch it.  The editors at Lectio have been everything kind in this process, but selling the book is a grass roots movement of sorts.  I honestly don't get lots of money from this; it is not about the money.  It's about better conversation on what it means to be human, and now more than ever, we need those conversations.  We need them in our church, and we need them in our culture.

It you liked the book well enough to recommend it, or review it, or give it to a friend: thank you! 

Last but not least: Lectio has created a facebook page for the book.  I will be posting there from time to time.  Please "like" it if you want to keep up, and/or invite a friend.

Peace, Susan Windley-Daoust

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Help us help families! And the story of my crazy few months....

Blessed Lent, everyone.  The revolution has begin, and I'm up in alms!  (See what I did there?)
Performance art is overrated.

I apologize about my absence on this blog, and hope all of you are well.  I have been, um, busy! Let's see, I've been--
  1. trying to get a second (fully written) ToB book published, called The Gift of Birth
  2. teaching a lot of general education theology in a country where we lost 7.5 million believers since 2012 #frontlines
  3. writing an academic article on reader-response criticism, genre, and the Theology of the Body (trust me, its better than it sounds)
  4. trying to start a second academic article on a Theology of Disability.  The non-academic version is getting published in a couple of weeks (in Sojourners)
  5. lassoing my five kids into school, back home, to various events
  6. negotiating my son Alex's great big surgery to alleviate his CP spasticity this coming May
  7. getting named chair of my department at work, because I guess I looked bored (don't congratulate me, its all the responsibility and none of the power)
  8. continuing to promote my book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying
  9. considering starting a new book on ToB and physician assisted suicide
  10. pondering my friend Rob Kroese's brilliant statement: "If Pi Day, the Ides of March and St. Patrick's Day could get their act together, they could combine into one awesome celebration of beer, pie, snakes and stabbing."  We so missed an opportunity here.
Oh, and this thing: my husband has been starting a small press devoted to making it easier and more practical for families to pass on the faith!

Here comes the pitch....

Here's the thing. We Catholics have a problem, a big problem. Parents are not teaching the faith to their children. They may be taking them to mass, or enrolling them in Catholic schools.  But they aren't talking about the faith--and all the studies say this has devastating effects.  But to be fair, a lot of parents don't know what to do.  They had poor catechesis themselves, or just aren't comfortable being in a teaching role of any sort.  These parents need family faith helps that are as simple as slapping together a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich: easy, tasty, solid nutrition for the next couple of hours.

My husband used to work as a development editor at a press, and has been doing free lance writing and editing for years.  He's good at design and social media engagement.  he has a solid background (including a master's degree) in Catholic theology.  He can create these books and more.  So in October, he decided to take the plunge and do it.  He created an imprint called Peanut Butter and Grace: books and resources for parents to better teach, pray, and live the faith with their kids, and books for kids to read with their parents.

Amazingly, my teaching career at a small liberal arts mission college and sporadic success as a blogger (erp) has not put us on easy street.  He got a little help to begin this ministry and has made it work so far based on a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  Lack of sleep has factored in too.  But the time has come to fundraise some money to get these items out more quickly.  He has published three books (two books that help children and adults pray the rosary with a classical art image for each prayer, and one book for parents needing ideas beyond saying grace, called 77 Ways to Pray With Your Kids.)


He wants to publish seven more books by the end of the year.  But there are some costs--paying illustrators, copyright permissions, editing costs, and especially marketing.  People love these books so far; if you go to the website, you can read the effusive reviews.  But there needs to be marketing so others know they exist!

To that end, in addition to the top ten items I am also the current "campaign manager" for a month long crowdfunding endeavor to raise some funds to move this press forward quickly and well.  There is a lot more at the website: all about the books, published and upcoming, FAQ, the weekly newsletter with ideas to implement in your family's life this week, and more!  But consider this passing the collection plate.  Brother, if you have a dime, could you drop it in here?  There are perks for this almsgiving, and you have our heartfelt gratitude as well.  

If you don't have a dime, maybe you could spread the word.  Just like you spread peanut butter?  OK, OK, I'm done.  Thanks for reading and I promise to get to writing more ToB related a very busy and embodied life right now.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Looking for deep theological reading this Christmas?

My review of Jeffrey Tranzillo's John Paul II on the Vulnerable is up over at the Journal of Disability and Religion.

Jeffrey Tranzillo has compiled a thick text here: exhaustive, but not exhausting; multi-faceted, but focused. The book is an impressive analysis of the theological anthropology expressed in John Paul II's life and written corpus, with a focus on the category of persons Tranzillo calls “the vulnerable.” As Tranzillo writes, the aim of the book is “to articulate philosophically and theologically the principles that allow us to affirm true personhood and personal agency in vulnerable human beings” (p. xviii). It is an aim generously met.
The vulnerable, in a certain sense, includes everyone: the vocation to be human necessarily involves vulnerability through bodily reality. When Tranzillo speaks of vulnerability, however, he pays particular attention to the most vulnerable: children (in the womb and those already born), the aging, the poor, the socially marginalized, and the disabled. Tranzillo makes a huge contribution here to scholarship on John Paul II and Catholic anthropology in general by tracing the explicit and implicit attention to the vulnerable throughout John Paul II's life work. This book could stand as a rich resource for Catholics (and all Christians) interested in a specifically Catholic approach to a theology of disability.
If Tranzillo had focused entirely on the social encyclicals of John Paul II, there would be little new here. Indeed, John Paul II has been widely acknowledged as a champion of the poor and marginalized, and credited with a renewal in Catholic social teaching across the board. What is new about this work is ....

Yes, a cliffhanger!  If you want to read more, you need to follow the above link.  Or buy it at Amazon. This is definitely an academic text, suitable for upper level undergrads and graduate students in Theology and Philosophy, or people who really love Pope John Paul II and are up for a good challenge.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Green Tomatoes Made Me Think Of Original Sin, the Eucharist, and Hope

Not mine, but mine look just like that.
I was making green tomato pickles the other day, a new experiment forced by a motherload of small green tomatoes and a dying sun.  Green tomatoes are humble little creatures, to put it mildly.  I love them fried, but these were too tiny to fry in nice big slices.  So I got on the internet and voila: green tomato pickle recipes.

That's when things got theological.

(Admittedly, with me, it doesn't take much.)

I pulled out ingredients in this recipe to make rag tag leftover inedible fruits into something my hungry kids would eat, and the first ingredient: water with salt.  In our case, blessed salt.  Hmmm.

Add the washed inedible throwaway fruit.  Some peppercorns and garlic cloves for a kick.

Then throw in a generous number of mustard seeds.  As in "The kingdom of heaven is like."

Submerge fruit.  Cover.  Wait.

Aha. Transformation.

When we are baptized--submerged--with the water and exorcised with the salt, the kingdom of God is introduced.  It is tiny, perfect, round like a mustard seed.  But seeds don't stay seeds.  They change things.

In the case of the green tomato, something stunted becomes something wonderful--crunchy, tart, well-loved.

In the case of us...maybe we're still waiting to find out.  But reminding ourselves that we humble, stunted with sin creatures are submerged in God's transforming work, for his Kingdom, is a good thing.  We take on flavor of the salt, the water, the Kingdom.  Until one day, we are fully changed.


One thing I haven't talked about regarding the Theology of the Body is eating.  There is a lot to work with there, too.  Emily Stimpson addresses food and eating and sacramentality in These Beautiful Bones, and Mary DeTurris Poust doesn't address John Paul II's Theology of the Body perspective explicitly, but does excellent reflection on the subject of defining true desires in Cravings: a Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God.  The end of a blog post is not the place begin considering that huge subject.  But the same week, while I'm making pickles, there is a mission at a local parish, and I attend.  It is on eucharistic adoration (and what I was able to attend was great).  The two priests giving the mission gave talks on the theology of eucharistic adoration, how to pray with Scripture at adoration, the saints' recourse to it, etc.

But one piece of it struck me hard, and it was this: "Why does anyone think it is crazy that our Lord would veil himself through the appearance of bread?  He wants to save us from our first parents' choice to eat veiled death!  He does this crazy thing to tempt us to take in life, for life, eternal life.  He gives himself to us in the most natural manner we can accept--almost everyone on earth knows how to eat.  It is a necessity.  We must eat to live.  He needs to give us the medicine of veiled Life, the veiled Christ.  There is no trickery.  He tells us flat out: This is my body; this is my blood.  There was little trickery for Adam and Eve: they knew what they were doing was wrong, God said they would die is they ate it.  The veil is no trick at all, but it is a bit of a test: do you believe God's word or not?  In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus announces "I am the true bread, come down from heaven...whoever eats this bread will live forever."  And people grumbled, disciples left Jesus (keep in mind this comes right after the multiplication of the loaves and Jesus walking on water--and some left anyway)--and Jesus turns to the twelve, and asks 'will you also leave?'"

It was the one word from the Son of God that some could not trust...could not handle the mystery of it...God wants to give you life, wants to save you from an inheritance of death,  But you will have to trust him and eat what he points to--his body and blood, true bread and true drink.

Angels can't do that.  They are entirely spiritual beings.  But humans can.  It is a gift of our embodiment, that we can share in God in this act of communion and trust.

Well, back to the stunted green tomatoes, rescued from the creeping frost.  The green tomatoes aren't veiled anything...just an extended metaphor of an overly theological cook.  But trust God to transform.  What looks hopeless may change remarkably with water, salt, and the Kingdom of God tucked into it.  The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.