When I turned 50, I experienced what most people would call a “mid-life crisis.”
It seemed silly to me that a woman of my maturity and life experience would be seeking answers to fundamental questions of human existence. Don’t women my age usually have it all figured out? Was I the only one who felt that life had passed her by and she missed the boat on so many fronts?
I was sitting with a friend one day reflecting on life stuff. What’s my purpose in life? Have I done anything of significance? What do I do, now that my family no longer needs me? WHY DO I EXIST?
My friend said to me, “You need to go study Theology of the Body and you need to study it with Christopher West.” Feeling resigned that this was my last option to get some answers I said, “Okay,” even though it was Christopher West who irked me when he delivered a talk one year earlier.
My friends encouraged me to see Christopher West that previous year, but it seemed pointless for me to go to the talk. After all, wasn’t Theology of the Body all about marriage? My husband and I weren’t on the same playing field when it came to our faith, so I knew he wouldn’t come with me. Sure enough he said no, but he encouraged me to go if I wanted.
I heard Christopher speak about a wedding feast, the Bible as a marriage story, the body revealing the invisible Divine, and the Song of Songs as God’s erotic love poetry. Christopher spoke about desire, ache, destiny, and longing. He talked about being naked without shame and how our bodies tell a beautiful story of love. He even sang a few verses of secular songs about heartache, and (my all-time favorite) “I can’t get no … Satisfaction!”
I thought, “Who is this guy to talk about such provocative stuff especially with the Blessed Sacrament present? Wasn’t it scandalous to be saying these things in a Church?” My curiosity was piqued, but not because I thought any of it would actually help me.
At the end of the talk most people decided to stay behind to visit. I couldn’t. I walked out of the Church and stood at the top of the stairs looking down into the parking lot. I could see a van pull away and recognized that it was my friends.
Sitting on the bench seat just behind them was ‘the speaker.’ Oh man. I stared him down. Hard. I said to myself, “Who the hell are you and what have you done to my heart!?” I was filled with such anger about my life that I decided I was going to blame him for how I felt and I was definitely not going to look into this TOB teaching any further.
A year after this talk and a month after the mid-life crisis meeting with my friend, I found myself on an airplane flying to the other side of the continent to take Theology of the Body I course. I was baffled by all of this and thought, “Who am I that I should be in Pennsylvania attending, of all things, a theology course. My college degree is in hairdressing!”
During the first session Christopher shared something that I think was a turning point for me. He asked the students, “How many of you have come here thinking that you need to take everything you learn this week away with you and begin teaching this message?”
I raised my hand.
He followed that by saying something like, “Stop. Put the pens down. This week is not about learning Theology of the Body. It’s about experiencing Theology of the Body.”
My jaw dropped. For the first time that I can ever recall my teacher was giving me permission to allow God to speak to me in whatever way He would choose. Wow!
I learned that week why God made people male and female and how that applies to every life vocation. It leads us to the very heart of the Gospel message and opens us up to God’s eternal plan for the entire universe. TOB has given my husband and me a deeper understanding of the sacrament of marriage and our respective roles as male and female too.
I came away from the course with a deeper understanding of the desire the Bridegroom has for me, this simple and sinful woman. I learned that God is waiting to speak to me in whatever way He chooses and that my hurts, frustrations, and life circumstance are not obstacles to beginning this incredible journey of love. I also learned that I’m never too old to learn more.
Monique Van Berkel has a passion to spread a message of authentic love and life in relationships. She has attended eight courses at the TOB Institute and is nearing the end of the certification process. Through sharing of her own life experience and knowledge gained through her studies Monique leads people into a deeper appreciation of their humanity and sexuality. Along with her educational work at Signal Hill, a charitable organization, Monique is the Director of Operations.