Stripped, selfless, and in service: These are three tenets of the Third Path of Quadratos, or a Four-Gospel Journey to Transformation. It is by way of John’s gospel that Alexander Shaia guides readers along a path of transformation in which we learn how to receive joy. We can do that by seeing everything as a gift. But, before we step onto this path, we must start at the beginning. We must start with the self, in the erotic realm.
For a truly existential transformation of the heart and the mind, we strive toward a disrobing of our false selves to reveal the true self that is the wholeness of who we are. We undress each layer of the robes we use as ways to identify ourselves. We slowly peel back layers until we stand naked.
Love Yourself Naked
We strip it all down, our beliefs, our habits, our internalized feelings—everything. And we stand naked before the mirror and see the truth reflected in that image.
To put this approach into practice, I applied this method literally. I have stood naked in front of my mirror countless times since I began this journey. When I started creating my temenos- a spiritual space for myself; I included my own body as a part of my sacred space so that I would learn to love my flesh again. So that I would learn to love the actual reflection I saw in the mirror and not just the thoughts that filled my mind.
It was on the First Path that the gospel of Matthew taught me the importance of self-compassion. Self-compassion, for me, includes love of the image of the self that is reflected in the mirror. This was part of my healing: to fully love the image I saw reflected back and not wince or cringe from the stretch marks or the dimples, nor the excess skin.
In a weird sense, I had to fully gaze upon myself as though I were a child noticing myself in the mirror for the first time. I had to look with curiosity and not condemnation. I looked inquisitively and not as though I was irritated. I stood before the mirror in such a way that I was fully presenting myself to God and saying thank you for the form I have the honor and privilege of filling out.
Everything is a gift, and this includes our body. It is one of the first gifts we are given.
My Body is a Gift from God
My radical transformation began with a radical love of my naked, scarred, and weathered body. I saw beyond the surface “imperfections” and reminded myself what my body was actually capable of. My body carried lives within my womb—5 lives, 2 at once.
My body nourished those lives through the milk of my breasts.
My body quivered and rejoiced while I was conceiving those lives.
My body feels the depths of my beloved, internally, and my body experiences transcendent sensations that can only be described as holy.
My body provides a shelter for my children who nestle themselves under my arms, who turn to my embrace when they are sad, hurt, or ill. My hands and my lips heal wounds and sadness. I can simply kiss their sadness away at times.
My lips provide another form of healing when pressed against the lips of my husband. In times of sorrow, anger, or disappointment, kisses can calm the concerns. My arms can hold my husband and provide a particular energy that no other source provides.
My body has carried me all of these years through this life. My body has walked me to interviews, to dates, to appointments, to funerals. My arms have carried children, groceries, and new born lambs.
My body has provided strength, pleasure, and sensation. Each experience I am a part of imprints a moment of time through a sensation that I can feel and that brings me joy. My body, with its ability to feel the flesh of others, is a gift. A gift that I was now ready to receive fully and love.
This path is not only about a spiritual awakening; it is about an integration that comes as a result of a metamorphosis. It’s about a piece of the self dying and then coming to life again in a new context of reality. This new context that is taking shape includes the shape that I inhabit. I had to transform the way I saw my own flesh, my skin, my bones, my bumps, my moles, my hair, everything. It had to start with me for the continuation of my transformation to unfold.
The reflection I now see in the mirror is illuminated. I don’t frown or sigh at the sight of my naked body. I smile. I embrace my form. I see the glow, I am made in the image and likeness of God and this is the image of God I reflect.
Reflecting the Erotic
In essence, the more confident I became with my physical form, the more confident I became with my thoughts, with my feelings, and with the fears that I wanted to address. I wanted to express the fullness of myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually, but with a humble confidence that couldn’t be confused with braggadocio.Consider Shaia’s remarks, observing how physically stripped down Jesus was willing to be with the disciples:
Jesus the Christ, God on earth, who has heretofore moved through this gospel as nothing less than a divine presence, strips down and presents himself to his disciples in a way that would have been appropriate only for a husband with a spouse, or a servant before his master. (Heart and Mind, p. 232)
Jesus the Christ took was normally a practice reserved for the erotic space between spouses (or servants) and transformed it into a self-emptying servitude for the Other. An act that I would assume would be hard to perform unless you were quite comfortable with all that you may have been revealing. A demonstration of self-compassion and vulnerability in its highest form.
For me, Shaia’s work encouraged me to confidently embrace the erotic nature of life and bring it into harmony with not only the altruistic nature of my humanity, but to add to the melody by unfolding just how necessary the erotic is. A full integration of eroticism within ourselves can ultimately give birth to the kenotic sense of humanity. This is the divine aspect of our nature that reflects the image of God. This is the equation that ultimately reveals the truest sense of agape love.
This is similar to the concept that Cynthia Bourgeault discusses in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.
A concept that I have struggled to fully comprehend. And even though Shaia’s work may not have articulated an implicit intention to do so, his work only highlights Bourgeault’s theological presentation of love’s ultimate equation: E x K = A. Eros multiplied by Kenosis equals Agape love.
As I have written before, Bourgeault presents an explanation:
Kenotic practice takes on a particularly intense and even sacramental character. This is because the root energy it works with is the transformative fire of eros, the energy of desiring. That messy, covetous, passion-ridden quicksilver of all creation is tamed and transformed into a substance of an entirely different order, and the force of the alchemy accounts for both the efficiency of this path and its terrifying intensity. (The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, p. 120)
Shaia’s Four–Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, utilizes “the transformative fire of eros” to transform the image of the self by guiding his readers to start with self-compassion.
And what is compassion? It’s an empathy and understanding; it’s love, mercy, consideration, and benevolence. Self-compassion is mercy on me. I cannot love my neighbor as myself if I have not had mercy on myself, and that includes my physical body. Once I love the fullness of myself—my true Self—only then can I learn to love the fullness of the Other.
It is from a place of fullness that we are able to move toward the selfless acts of love that we are all called to extend. It is the fire of desire that burns deep within that propels us toward stepping on a path to transformation. We have to want it. It’s a longing, a suffering from within that compels us to risk revealing the barest truth of ourselves.
Once we have stripped down and learned to love ourselves fully naked, only then can we walk further down the path toward a selfless practice that provides us with the next value of our equation for love. Once we embrace the erotic, we can multiply the kenosis.
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