Tuesday, February 19, 2013

TOB Tuesday: The Redemption of Desire

I haven't done a TOB Tuesday post for a while, but I'm glad to have the occasion: A couple of weeks ago received a review copy of Christopher West's latest book, "Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing." Much of the material is familiar--West incorporated it into the Theology of the Body "Head and Heart Immersion" program I participated in last October. Here's my take on the book version:

A healthy antidote to the twin maladies in Western culture (the full-throttle pursuit of pleasure on the one hand; the puritanical/jansenistic suspicion of it on the other), "Fill These Hearts" takes desire seriously as a vitally important aspect of the spiritual life. Ignore or repress it, and life, prayer, morality and religion itself are reduced to dry and unappetizing duty. Gorge yourself with short-term satisfactions and you become a hamster on a wheel, turning every relationship, opportunity or experience into a means to the same end, the never-ending pursuit of a "more" that will always fail to satisfy the soul. There is a third way, West promises: desire rightly ordered keeps fire in the soul, even as it keeps the soul turned toward the ultimate good of communion with God.

This is a book about that rightly ordered desire. How do we recognize our deep desires? How do we respond to them in an enlightened and even passionate way without being driven blindly by them into destructive choices? How do we live "temperately, justly and devoutly" (Tit. 2:12) in this present age, when even a walk down a city street means encountering soft porn on billboards and bus shelters? Is it possible to live sexual purity passionately? (Yes! West says: "A properly disciplined eros is even more wild than its 'frat house counterfeit'.") What does all this mean in the relationship of man and woman?

West illustrates this highly readable book not simply with references to Scripture or to the writings of Popes and saints, but with abundant pop culture references to the insatiable (if often misinterpreted) hunger for God, the ultimate goal of desire. Thankfully, West also disproves the common contemporary suspicion (nurtured, no doubt, by the reduction of "devotion"--a word of passion--to "duty") that Heaven might be boring!

No comments: