As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Did the title above get your attention: “What do you do with your desire”? Did it make you curious? I ask that because we do not usually associate desire with the spiritual life, or with a weekly blog about Christian living. Any talk about desire, about wanting, and wanting passionately, makes many people feel uncomfortable. Yet many of our greatest teachers on Christian spirituality use the language of desire, longing, and passion, to express our heart’s deep yearning for God and God’s eternal yearning for us (see also the Song of Solomon). There is a fire raging within us!
It was Ronald Rolheiser in his book, The Holy Longing, that first stoked my thinking about desire, passion, and the Christian life. Rolheiser writes:
We do not wake up in this world calm and serene. We wake up on fire with desire, with madness. What we do with that madness is our spirituality…All of us have a holy longing. It is desire. We are born with a divine spark inside us longing for everything – longing for God. That’s the basis of spirituality. Long before we do anything explicitly religious, we have to do something with the fire that burns within us.
What do you do with that fire, that desire burning within you? Saint Augustine in his Confessions chronicled a life of misplaced desire, and then desire channeled in a right direction. Augustine’s desire was lived out and turned toward creative, life-giving ways. Not for a moment did the great saint ever stop desiring, but rather, he came to desire lasting pleasure. Augustine hungered and he thirsted for righteousness. He burned with passion for God’s Kingdom.
Perhaps Christians today do not need less desire. Perhaps it is more desire that we need, recognized and channeled in right ways.
For the opposite of being spiritual is not to be without desire, but to have lost our fire, to have lost the energy, the ecstasy of being alive. Similarly, the opposite of a spiritual church is a dead church, a church where the fire has not been tended. We live life with the brakes on.
The late Calvin Miller in his book, Into the Depths, helps me take off the brakes:
Consider the brakes and steering wheel metaphor. It would seem odd to a driving examiner as he assessed our driving skills, if we arrived at the vehicle test station with an eighteen-inch brake pedal and a six-inch steering wheel. Yet this is often our spiritual profile. Many people are reluctant to become Christians because they don’t feel “their brakes are big enough.” They wonder, “Can I slow my appetites down enough to be a good, moral Christian?
Calvin Miller then recommends:
These reluctant converts should not be asked ‘Can you put the brakes on your sin life?’ but ‘Where do you want to go in your life?’ These then must be told that Christ is there to help steer into the future God has for them.
In a similar vein Dietrich Bonhoeffer advised Christians to be less cautious about avoiding sin, and more courageous about pursuing God’s will in the world.
You might find the Daily Examen helplful for tending your inner fire and living more courageously. The Daily Examen, as taught by Ignatius of Loyola, is simply completing your day by asking the following questions:
- When did I most sense God’s presence in my day?
- When did I least sense God’s presence in my day?
Similar questions could be:
- When did I most feel love in my day?
- When did I least feel love in my day?
- When did I most feel alive in my day?
- When did I feel life draining from me?
These kinds of questions can help us pay attention to and tend the fire God put within us. They can help us to come fully alive for the glory of the One who made us. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman, minister and civil rights leader)
Grace and peace,
photo by Diana Robinson