Earlier this year, an article of mine on “filler relationships” was published by Catholic Exchange, and among the encouraging feedback it received was an email from the wonderful author Dawn Eden. In my article, I had quoted from her book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, and, much to my delight, she had written me to compliment me on my message and to ask me to read and review her new Catholic edition of her book. Of course, I was thrilled (sorry, couldn’t resist it) and honored to do so.
Let me first set up the scene for you: Dawn Eden is a woman who was born Jewish, became agnostic, and ended up a committed and converted Catholic who now travels and speaks on various topics including chastity, conversion and spiritual healing. She is a blogger and has written both editions of The Thrill of the Chaste as well as My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. In 2014, Eden earned her pontifical licentiate in sacred theology from the Dominican House of Studies and is now working on her doctorate.
The beauty of The Thrill of the Chaste, and indeed, of the Catholic Church’s approach to chastity and love in general, is that it proposes a lifestyle that is both dynamic and practical, both challenging and peaceful. Chastity is the ability to moderate our own sexual desires, and involves much more than simply saying “no” to sex before marriage. In fact, chastity is all about saying “Yes!” Yes!” to recognizing the inherent dignity and value in every person. “Yes!” to acknowledging the power and purpose of God’s design for the sexual act, and to valuing that act enough to wait for its rightful context. “Yes!” to seeing through a society that tries to make a chaste person seem weak, self-conscious, afraid, and controlled by pointless, rigid rules. Eden’s book is aptly named: The Thrill doesn’t tell you how to function in a world of negatives, it tells you how to thrive in a world of freedom. She does this in particular by sharing three key concepts: the tomorrow principle, being singular, and dressing for the occasion.
Eden describes the tomorrow principle as an “antidote to the pleasure principle,” because it is the concept of denying oneself an immediate gratification for the sake of something more valuable later on. This is a necessity when it comes to sex, because of how tempting it can be to give in to our natural human desires and the pressures of our culture today and engage in a sexual lifestyle that can seem so instantly satisfying. The tomorrow principle calls to mind why we are waiting, which is crucial, because that provides a foundation for success. It reminds us of the worth of our sacrifices and provides us with a vision of the long-term consequences of our self-control. In The Thrill, Eden tells of how she had an opportunity to spend the night with a man who was interested in her, and how, as she considered that offer, she pictured the morning after. She saw, in her mind’s eye, the pitiful image of their awkward attempt at conversation over breakfast, both knowing that, while they had just shared the most intimate of acts, they would thereafter never share even as much as an actual date. She realized that, at that breakfast, far from feeling connected and wanted, she would ultimately feel empty and disposable, because her tremendous offering of herself (emotionally and physically) meant nothing. That image of “tomorrow” gave her the strength to turn him down, because she knew in her heart that she was made for more than that, and that God had infinitely better things in store for her.
It is a well-known fact that it can be difficult to be single. You can get so concerned about things like biological clocks, becoming a crazy cat lady, dying alone (well, maybe not), that you can easily fall into the trap of valuing yourself based only on whether you are dating someone or not: as though, if you aren’t with someone, you aren’t worth being with at all. As understandable as this is, when you allow the absence of a significant other to define you, it results in your single years becoming simply a period of waiting, as if your life will suddenly magically have meaning when your status changes from “available” to “in a relationship.” This is where Eden’s concept of being singular comes in:
Instead of defining herself by what she lacks–a relationship with a man–she defines herself by what she has: a relationship with God. … a singular woman bases her actions on how they will enable her to be the person she believes God wants her to be. She trusts that God has a plan for her and that no matter what suffering may come, she will find joy if she seeks nothing but God’s will, making the best use of the gifts she has been given. … To be singular is to embark on a wide excursion of discovery. … Prayerfully, you strive to develop inner qualities, including empathy, patience, humility, and faith in spite of hardship.
Being singular means that your life is built on God, not another person, and that you are pursuing Him in an active and committed way, seeking to be the best version of yourself so as to make the most of the gifts He has given you. That is a life of purpose and love, regardless of status or vocation.
As anyone who has ever tried to dress modestly can attest, there are particular challenges regarding application because there are no concrete guidelines on the issue. Since we all have different bodies and different looks, it is impossible for there to be one, defined standard of modesty, where the rules apply to every person in the exact same way. Eden recognizes how real the struggle is (seriously, at a certain frustrated point, muumuus can seem to turn into a viable clothing option), and uses the author Kevin Tierney’s presentation on the subject, explaining that modesty is “fundamentally about being interiorly aware of your identity as a beloved son or daughter of God, made in His image; reflecting upon these things in conversation with God; and taking them into your exterior behavior.” In terms of being modest in daily life, the suggestion is simple: dress for the occasion. Wear what is appropriate for the context. Modesty is more about purpose and intent, and less about the amount of skin shown or specific measurements. What you wear should strengthen your knowledge of your identity as God’s child: made in, by, and for love. You are not a collection of random parts–every hair on your head has been counted by God.
Ultimately, The Thrill speaks to the desire of our hearts to experience the kind of love that only God can give us, a love that is unconditional and everlasting. To quote St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” As tempting as it is to seek fulfillment in other people and in sexual passion, it is only through God that our hearts can really be satisfied. Certainly, a life of chastity focused on God can be difficult at times, but it is a life of integrity, peace, and joy. Eden says all this and more in The Thrill, with humility, compassion and vulnerability. It is truly a challenging, inspiring and uplifting book.