Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Sacrament of Desire

To my treasured Catholic friends: I do not mean to use the term "sacrament" in disrespect to the seven commonly cited sacraments of the Church. I use this term in its most generic sense only.

For as many happy memories that I have of childhood, there are very certain things that I am daily grateful for in my adulthood. At the top of my list is the ability to actually think and reason through some of the irrational fears that childhood naturally entails. It is really quite liberating to not fall asleep wondering if there are monsters in the closet. But even more importantly, I have been grateful for the opportunity that an adult mind offers to reason through some of the desires of the heart that can so easily become quite binding and even debilitating.

I think often, when we examine our ideas about "controlling" the life of the mind we end up with this image of a wrestling match where the goal of the will is to pounce on any thought that is deemed not pure, lovely or admirable and pin it into obliteration. Needless to say, this is a rather intense process that I presume often gets abandoned in frustration.

But what if we disengaged the traditional wrestling match and began to see every desire of the heart and each thought of the mind as holding sacramental possibility?

If a sacrament is an outward manifestation designed to point our carnal eyes to a spiritual reality, then it seems that desire is perfect sacramental material. What is nearer to us than the longing of the heart? What do we know more closely than the hidden inner thoughts of the mind? Why couldn't these intimate pieces of our being be the very tools that God would use to draw us to Himself? What if the desire of the heart was an instrument of grace and not the start of a wrestling match?

St. Augustine famously said, "Our souls are restless, until they find their rest in Thee." Perhaps this thought could be paralleled to read, "Our longings are always misplaced, until they find their place in Thee." If our longings, as wayward as they may initially present themselves, bring us back to our Ultimate Longing, then it seems very reasonable that any desire or thought, could be a sacrament.

For instance, what if, when experiencing anger or a desire for retribution, we simply prayed, "God, thank you for a longing for justice. My heart craves justice. You are just. You will work, in Your time, justice in this world. In these moments, I am long for justice now, but let me remember to be grateful for mercy and to practice mercy while it is still the day of Your forbearance"? Or, what if, when experiencing fear, we thanked God for an opportunity to be ultimately reminded of our eternal desire for rest and security? Or, what if, in the face of misplaced sexual desire, we thanked God for making us relational beings who desire intimate union that is ultimately fulfilled in the union of Christ with the church and offered prayers that our love would be molded to be as pure and self-giving as Christ's?

Perhaps the nuance is slight between allowing desire to instigate a wrestling match and letting desire become a sacramental tool of grace, but I believe that the former potentially breeds frustration and the latter has the possibility of propagating joy.