Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Songs of Solomon
Here is a question I ask myself once in a while. What do I want, really? How would you answer this question? At various times, my answer includes things like happiness; consolation; peace; a solution to a problem and forgiveness.
Let’s suppose, in one grand moment, all of what I desire happened. How would that feel? Even if all our desires in the life were fulfilled it would only be temporary and I imagine we would still want more. So then I have longings that this world cannot fulfill and that leaves me in a dilemma. I can keep trying in more and more ways to satisfy desire or just try to ignore or deny it altogether. However, desire has an eternal quality about it that does not go away. When I am aware of the longings within me that cannot be satisfied in this world the best I can do is lift my heart to God who is our highest good.
When we attempt to numb our desires by our business, or to suppress our desires through religious guilt and fear it is like closing a door on the very best our hearts could aspire to, perfect love. The antidote to unmet hunger is not to avoid it, but to be present and awake to it. Desire is telling us something about ourselves and about our relationship with God.
“Contemplation is understood as the desire to awaken from our dark sleep.” Wendy Farley.
Desire fully awake can sound a bit frightening, it feels dangerous, like a wild river at flood level. Like the river guided by it’s banks to the ocean, God intends that we set our desires upon Him. He longs for us and His desire is that we want Him in return. He considers it a form of adultery when we love the world and ignore Him. He cannot be counted on to give us everything we want in this life. He can be counted on to give us His highest good for our souls.
“He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:5,6
The problem we face is that we are too weak to lift our desire wholly to God and so we attach our desires to the temporal world instead. In this way we settle for less that the best. Farley states that,
“The problem with desire is not that it desires the wrong objects: the problem is that it relinquishes its erotic structure for the economy of possession. Desire, ever restless, ever yearning, does not seek heaven to still its lust for pleasure eternally and completely.”
To guide our awakened desires, we need the gift of discernment. Saint Ignatius teaches that our feelings can guide us to God’s purpose in our lives. On his sick bed, using his imagination he would follow his immediate longing to their goal. Then he would notice how he felt about that end. He discovered that if it was a God desire it left him with feelings of consolation and when it was a selfish end it led to feelings of desolation. So then he chose to pursue the feeling that led to consolation and this was his calling to give up all and become follower of Jesus.
Thomas a Kempis similarly instructed his disciples to discern the movements of grace and nature.
The Voice of Christ: My child, pay careful attention to the movements of nature and of grace, for they move in very contrary and subtle ways, and can scarcely be distinguished by anyone except a man who is spiritual and inwardly enlightened. Kempis.
With grace, patience, the word of God, wisdom, and spiritual mentors we will find our way to our ultimate source and our purest desire, God. Purity of affection leads us to loving in this world without seeking to possess it.
Being awake to love can in fact be entirely counter cultural and inefficient. We will be challenged by love to give up our clinging to lesser things in order to embrace something better. Awakened desire however is it’s own reward. Gerald May says,
….. love calls us beyond using God to satisfy our needs, to heal us, to get us out of trouble, or to enhance our efficiency. Love calls us to gratitude, relinquishment, celebration, service, play, praise, companionship, intimacy, communion, and always to deeper yearning. In other words, love calls us to love. Gerald May