29 March 2010

A Second I

General Audience of November 7, 1979

This morning I read about the creation of woman. When he talks about the first woman, John Paul II discusses an idea I’ve never heard of called “original unity.” It is really, really neat.

JP2 says that when man names the animals and discovers his body, consciousness, and original solitude, he is just a human being. The original word for this man is 'adam. Then, because he finds no help similar to himself, God puts 'adam into a “torpor” – a very deep sleep. When he wakes up, he finds another human being (a female) and is pleased to have found a being similar to himself. He says, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). God made 'adam a “second I” (159).

The really cool part is that before man goes into a torpor he is called 'adam. But after he wakes up, there is a new vocabulary. Man is not 'adam anymore; instead, there are two words – 'is and 'issah. This differentiates the male – 'is – from the female – 'issah. So one human being falls asleep and wakes up as two – male and female. John Paul II even goes so far as to suggest that when 'adam goes to sleep he passes into non-being and returns to the moment before creation, so that God’s creative initiative might cause 'adam to reemerge in a double unity as male and female (159).

I think this idea is incredibly interesting. Perhaps it is just because I am female, but I love the idea that the first human being wasn’t differentiated as male or female. Adam wasn’t really first, humanity was. Male only starts to mean something when there is female too. I also like the idea of the “second I.” It reminds me of my marriage. During the marriage ceremony there is a lot of language about two becoming one, about how, as a married person, your “I” now includes two people. This conflation of selves is my favorite church mystery. It’s beautiful, and it also provides the perfect practice ground for loving another as yourself (Mt 22:23). It’s why marriage as a vocation helps us participate more lovingly and purposefully in the world as a whole.

John Paul II also relates original unity to original solitude. When he first described original solitude, he made a point of saying that it is a condition that applies not to male and female but to man. This makes sense now. Both 'is and 'issah are different from the animals in the same way that 'adam is. That’s why they relate to original solitude the same way that 'adam does. But the human person’s individual solitude is broken by the introduction of 'is and 'issah, because now there are two that are the same (160). After waking up male and female, man is no longer alone.

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