While her lyrics aren’t meant to be considered doctrine, most missionaries at the Culture Project think that Taylor Swift has many beautiful things to share with us. My friend Alex recently shared Taylor Swift’s Guide to Confession, and I want to take it one step further with Taylor Swift’s Guide to the Theology of the Body. After the re-release of Taylor Swift’s “Red” album, there was one particular song that was stuck in my mind constantly–and not just because it’s catchy. I think Taylor is onto something with it, unlocking an important piece of Pope St. John Paul II’s TOB through the human experience. While no, it’s not 10 minutes of “All Too Well,” we do have about 3 minutes and 22 seconds of something holy here… so, let’s dive into “Holy Ground (Taylor’s Version).”
Here’s a quick outline of Pope St. John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body in case this is the first you’re ever learning about it!
- Part I: The Words of Christ
- Christ Appeals to the “Beginning”
- Christ Appeals to the Human Heart
- Christ Appeals to the Resurrection
- Part II: The Sacrament
- The Dimension of Covenant and of Grace
- The Dimension of Sign
- He Gave Them the Law of Life as Their Inheritance
Today I want to focus on some highlights from Part I that I believe our girl Taylor has a way of unpacking in just a few lines. As Scripture begins, as JPII begins, I’d also like to begin with the beginning of our human history: Genesis.
One quick note: we’re starting by studying the second account of the creation of man–the story of Adam and Eve, their life in the garden of Eden, and their fall into sin. This part of our history is not presented as an exact historical account, but rather is meant to speak to original human experiences through “the symbolism of biblical language” (CCC 375). As JPII puts it best in TOB 11:1, “When we speak of original human experiences, we have in mind not so much their distance in time, as rather their foundational significance. The important thing, therefore, is not that these experiences belong to man’s prehistory…but that they are always at the root of every human experience.”
Christ Appeals to the “Beginning”, and so does Taylor Swift
And darling it was good / Never looking down / And right there where we stood / Was holy ground
In the beginning, Adam searched for an answer amidst his solitude to the question: Who am I? Today, we still often ask this question ourselves in the search for our identity. It was when Eve entered the picture, however, that we heard the stunning account of Adam’s gasp, his relief and joy, in the discovery of another like him, made for him to not be alone: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23). “On seeing the woman created by God, man’s first words express wonder and admiration, or even better, the sense of fascination.” (TOB 108:5). That moment of original unity, where “the two become one flesh” and “the man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24-25), was certainly holy ground, right there where they stood. Adam realized in a moment that he himself, body and soul, made no sense without Eve. Suddenly, with Eve, he made sense and had a purpose. Male and female were literally organized for each other, having the physical organs which work together to become one together and create a new organism from their life-giving love. We are made for communion with one another, communion with God, and it’s written on our hearts from this original experience. And God said it Himself, “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Christ, and Taylor, Appeal to the Human Heart
I was reminiscing just the other day / While having coffee all alone / And Lord it took me away / … And that was the first day
It’s easy to look back on the first moments of our first parents, longing for and appreciating those four original unities: man and woman, body and soul, humanity and creation, and humanity and God. However, we know that there’s more to the story and that Adam and Eve fell. With their original sin, those unities have been ruptured and twisted.
And I guess we fell apart in the usual way / And the story’s got dust on every page / But sometimes I wonder how you think about it now / And I see your face in every crowd
In the painful reality of our humanity today, we see disunity between men and women, leading to use and lust instead of authentic love; we see our differences not being used to unite us in complementarity, but to divide the sexes. We see disunity between body and soul, often feeling at odds with our bodies, as if we weren’t body-soul people but rather souls “trapped” in our bodies. We see disunity between humanity and creation, not knowing how to steward our earth well anymore. And we ultimately see so many examples of disunity between ourselves and God–idolizing other people or things, viewing God as a punisher rather than a merciful and good Father, or not even trusting that He exists at all… These are only some examples. And they hurt. Deep down, written on our hearts, we know we were not made for any of these things. We can’t help but read Genesis in light of the painful reality we live in.
Christ Appeals to the Resurrection, and Taylor Swift wants it, too
Tonight I’m gonna dance / For all that we’ve been through / But I don’t want to dance / If I’m not dancing with you
Praise be to God that our story doesn’t end with the fall or our broken humanity! There is a redemption of the body possible, beginning with humanity here and now, and there a resurrection of the body coming with life everlasting (Apostles Creed). The Sacrament of Marriage exists from the very beginning to point us to the Marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7). We have hope for the communion of saints in heaven, and the communion with God, the beatific vision, the fulfillment of finally beholding God “face to face.” I think Taylor Swift’s lyrics get this. In heaven, we will dance with our God! We will dance with the communion of saints! We are not meant to dance if we are not dancing with those with whom we’re made for communion.
“In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb” (CCC 1642)
“In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven… [The Church] longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven.” (CCC 1821)
So, what should we be doing now? We’re stuck in the middle of this story, hurting from the wounds of our past and aching desperately for the healing and resurrection. Christ is calling us to look in both directions, our past and our future. From TOB 69 we hear something of great importance:
“When Christ speaks about the future resurrection, his words do not fall into emptiness… This will be a completely new experience, and yet, at the same time, it will not be alienated in any way from the experience man shared ‘from the beginning’… The man of the ‘future world’ will find in this new experience of his body the fulfillment of what he carried in himself perennially and historically.”
We must seek healing. We must hope for what is coming. We must pray and sing and dance alongside those who have been gifted to us now, especially when Taylor Swift is playing! And we will prepare our hearts, minds and bodies to dance with our Lord at the heavenly Wedding Banquet.
For nothing is impossible for God.