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Fire, desire, and waking up

July 8, 2013

U2’s music, long a touchstone in my life, has a way of saying those things which weigh on me.  One lyric which captures me these days is this:

Lights go down, it’s dark
The jungle is your head
Can’t rule your heart
A feeling is so much stronger than
A thought
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul
It can’t be bought
Your mind can wander

Seems like my mind is wandering a lot these days, and my head and heart may seem to be sometimes at odds. I want what I shouldn’t want; my desire seems to overtake my common sense. I see the path ahead, and if I’m not careful, I can wander right off into dark places where I should not be.  Like St. Paul, I can’t seem to keep from doing what I know I shouldn’t do, or do the good I want to do.  Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words from Romans 7 like this:  I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  There it is:  something gets the better of me every time.  My actions sometimes seem detached from my decisions.  What’s a girl to do?

So I’ve been wondering about this tight little place where I so often find myself, between heart and head,  body and spirit, desire and duty.  It’s easy to jump to conclusions:  one’s passions lead one astray.  Feelings = bad; thought = good, that’s often the math we use when thinking about heart and head.  When desire arouses something in me, I move toward it.  That way lies danger, I say, but that way also lies discovery, I reply.  (I like to have these little conversations with myself.)

Desire gets a bad rap, in my mind.  And even as I read Paul’s logic about the law, I feel resistance. It’s easy to read a kind of dualism into the Pauline writings, a sense that we are created as two beings, a physical one and a spiritual one, at constant war within.  And that doesn’t quite work for me.  Why in the world would God become human, taking human form, if being human means being divided that way?  What if the reason God  in Christ chose to become human is this:  to show the division as false, as a corruption of God’s original creative intention to make humankind in the very image of the triune Self:  whole, body and soul and spirit, living out life in a divinely creative expression of all that was and is and is to be.  Maybe, just maybe, by coming in flesh and blood, by being body and spirit, Jesus’ life serves to remind us and inspire us to learn from desire rather than turn away from it.

Feel like I’m going in a circle?  I am, sort of.  See, I suspect that it’s not desire and passion that get us into trouble, per se.  I’m not simply a thinking, rational being who gets waylaid by these distracting emotions and desires and passions.  Rather, the feeling of separation comes from the dualistic thinking that pushes me toward not being fully present to all that God made me to be:  body, spirit, soul, filled with thought and reason and desire and passion, seeking always to find an outlet for the incredible fire that burns within, through word and song, through touch and feel, through beauty and ugliness and the wide range of experience that the world brings to bear on this life of mine.  There is a give and take to life, and it requires of me an awareness; it demands that I show up and be present to all that is happening within me and around me.

I’m reminded of Pascal, and I want to sew into my own coat his words of longing:  Fire.  ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. My God and your God.  This is desire, this fire in the belly that pulls us, draws us to God.  It might happen through the most unexpected and even forbidden ways:  a forbidden love; a hidden moment of self-indulgence; the touch of someone unfamiliar and new; a glimpse of beauty; a moment of real truth between two people, with all its joy and pain and overpowering reality.

Now I’m not saying that I should or will pursue every desire that arises within me.  That would truly be vanity of vanities.  But maybe desire, that longing which I fear is pulling me toward the dark, is God’s own Holy Spirit, pulling at me from the inside, pushing me to recognize something new, something which I must acknowledge and sometimes experience in order to truly become who I am.  Perhaps desire is meant to interrupt, to disturb and disrupt my status quo, to wake me up.  For me, most often, the longing of desire takes me places where I can’t go with just part of myself.  And always, this disequilibrium forces me to a place I’ve been before: before God, raw and real, on wobbly knees but with open heart.  I’m a slow learner, with a tendency to wander.  So God keeps enticing me with new desires.  Desire drives me home, to the heart of God.  If I let it.

U2 got it right, I think.  Desire is Love calling to me, teaching me to be whole, which means to be in God.  That drives me to my knees every time.

We’re at a place called Vertigo
Lights go down and all I know
Is that you give me something
I can feel your love teaching me how
Your love is teaching me how, how to kneel.

From → On Faith

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