“One more, Daddy! One more!” my five-year old often shouted at snack time when he wanted another Oreo cookie—not satisfied with the six he’d just chomped down.
Why is it that no matter how blessed we are in life, no matter how many Oreo cookies we get, we want more? More leisure time, a better body, a bigger car, a higher salary? The list is endless. And it seems as soon as we get something we’ve wanted, we want something else.
We’re filled with desires. And while chasing and clinging to too many desires can prove disastrous, maybe our desires have a positive flavor to them.
According to Jesuit priest, Phillip Sheldrake, in his book, Befriending Our Desires, “Desire is at the heart of what it is to be human. The power of desire, while embodied and sensuous, is God-given and the key to all human spirituality. Humanity is blessed with a deep longing that is infinite in extent and can only ultimately be satisfied in God.”
There’s an intimate connection, Sheldrake explains, between desire and the spiritual journey. Desire shows up as a positive virtue in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Spiritual classics, poetry, and other literature often explore the role of desire in relation to God, prayer, sexuality, making choices, and responding to change.
Desire is much deeper than pleasure. Pleasure is a response to a short-lived experience that often satisfies our senses. A nice bowl of Triple Peanut Butter Cup ice cream brings my middle-aged belly pleasure. But as soon as I’m done licking the spoon, I’m on to what’s next?
Desire is longer lasting. It goes to the heart. It seeks wisdom.
I desire a loving and lasting relationship with my spouse, my children, and a couple of good buddies. And when I experience the gift of those relationships, I feel an inner warmth, a sense of contentment that leads to continual gratitude.
Maybe then, desire is a good thing—if we learn how to focus it. When faced with a life choice, asking ourselves the question, “What’s my deepest desire?” might be the inner compass that helps us navigate life.
What if, in a fight with a loved one, rather than responding with blame and anger, we paused for a moment and asked ourselves, “What’s my deepest desire right now?” That simple question might invite us to refocus. In asking it, we might find the words and wisdom to love and forgive. We might articulate our needs and those of our loved one so we can negotiate a solution that works for both of us—a solution that’s life-giving for all.
Sheldrake invites us to embrace a Spirituality of Desire. He writes, “Our desires imply a condition of incompleteness because they speak to us of what we are not or what we do not have. Desire is also, therefore, a condition of openness to possibility and future.
“Being people of desire implies a process of continually choosing. Desire is the condition for discerning what our choices are and then choosing from within the self rather than according to extrinsic demands. Discernment may be thought of as a journey through desires—a process whereby we move from a multitude of desires, or from surface desires, to our deepest desire, which contains all that is true and vital about ourselves.”
The problem, Sheldrake says, is we are not awake to what true desire is. We mask it by wanting more chocolate or possessions, none of which are bad in moderation, but which fail to identify that what we want at our core is God—the experience of being loved and guided by the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.
Perhaps, then, a Spirituality of Desire is vital to our inner growth, since it’s only by attending to desires that we encounter our deepest self, the image of God within. Desire draws us like an umbilical cord to the heart of God, and from that place we discover who we are and how we can be a source of greater love in the world.
As you experience wanting someone or something more, take a moment to notice that nudge, then seek desire’s wisdom by pausing and pondering, “What’s my deepest desire?”
Let that question light a loving path for yourself, God, and others. Befriend your heart’s deepest desire.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.