by Samantha Curley
Nudity, in our culture, is inseparable from a theological signature. – Giorgio Agamben
Nudity encompasses both the most basic and the most complex expressions of humanity. The joyful purity of an unclothed child who knows and thinks nothing of her own nakedness. The contrasting vulnerable tangling of two naked bodies in the act of making love. It is this tension of bare simplicity and exposed depth that gives nudity its theological signature. What does a theological signature look like? How do we wear it? And why must nudity be involved? Our culture, arguably every culture, finds the answers to these questions within a different question: What does it mean to experience wholeness and intimacy? We each carry the desire to be made whole and we discover wholeness in the midst of intimate relationships. These relationships happen on several levels: within ourselves, between one other, in creation, and with the Creator. It is difficult, likely impossible, to talk about wholeness and intimacy for very long without broaching the topic of nudity. We are most whole when we are most bare – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We are most intimate as naked souls, minds, and bodies meet one another.
Reciprocity is at the core of true nudity. This is perhaps why it is most challenging to be truly naked – open, honest, bare – with ourselves. Out of fear, busyness, or lack of awareness, we block the inner dialogue between our true and false selves, severing the relationship with our own true, naked self. We lack an inner congruence and therefore, lack wholeness and intimacy as individual people. This leads directly into covered and broken relationships with one another. This problematic nature of nudity is most easily exemplified in pornography. The lack of reciprocity, the void of two souls, minds, and bodies meeting in time and space, giving to one another and sharing themselves with one another, creates a false association with the meaning, purpose, and story of nudity. Nudity must be both given and received within the context of a living, moving, whole, and intimate relationship.
Creation, or what we also refer to as nature, is always naked. Until humans, for the sake of what we mistakenly call progress, knock it down, cover it up, or deplete it. Instead of reciprocity, nature gives and humans receive; limiting our experience of the true depth and beauty of unadulterated nudity with the world around us. Finally, a lack of reciprocal nudity inhibits our relationship with the Creator, the Wholly Other. Just as we struggle to bare ourselves to ourselves, we also struggle to bare ourselves to God, who lives both inside and beyond us. While we may strive to consider that from which we came, we too quickly allow shame, stubbornness, and insecurity to inhibit the baring of our souls and bodies to whatever (or Whoever) we discover along our spiritual journeys.
This is a brief survey of nudity as we seek wholeness and intimacy within relationship. It’s a brokenness that speaks theologically in and of itself. Now, however, we explore the question in reverse – beginning with theology and moving into nudity. Good theology tells the story of the other becoming a new lens for viewing ourselves in order for us to live new and radical relationships with one another.
The other is our neighbor; the stranger, our enemy, whoever or whatever is not me. What defines, distinguishes, and creates otherness are the boundaries between things. In the case of human persons, otherness comes from the boundaries between souls, minds, and bodies. We can think of these boundaries as a kind of clothing we put on for the world. We only know ourselves because of these boundaries; without them, there would be no selves and no others. For the sake of the theological narrative we’re exploring, we must remember that otherness is created by what we put on over our true, naked selves and the clothing we project onto or assume others are wearing in return. In other words, otherness is a construct. It’s an important construct that we rely on for self-awareness, interaction, and survival, but it’s a construct – an imagined reality – nonetheless.
Nudity, then, are the moments in which this construct breaks apart, allowing us to truly experience self and other. Through the deconstructing of boundaries – the removal of clothing, an act or experience of nudity – we experience healing, love, and a new, radical kind of relating. To bare ourselves to ourselves, between one another, in creation, and with God, reorients the way we interact within and understand these relationships. Nudity is the theological signature with which we sign (or live) our lives. It heals our angst about who we are, where we come from, and how we are supposed to live. Nudity breaks down the boundaries of shame, fear, and insecurity we experience within relationship in order that we may live reciprocal, fully whole, and intimately satisfying lives.
Samantha J. Curley – A recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, Samantha co-founded Level Ground, which seeks to build conversations about religion and sexuality. A writer by nature, she enjoys film, baking, and running. Check out her blog at Sam’s Storybook.