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God's Desire; Our Desire – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 17:1-11

Could you imagine living life without any sense of desire? I mean, can you imagine having every need, every hope, every longing, every question satisfied? (Can you imagine there being no such thing as “need”?) Can you imagine living in a state of perpetual completeness, wholeness, sufficiency, complacency: of being all and having all and desiring nothing more, ever? Of course, it doesn’t work that way in life.

From the earliest cry of an infant to our last gasp of life on this earth, we are full of need: not just for air and food and shelter and safety, but the deepest desire for belonging and for being cherished and for being generative and fulfilled. Life without desire is unimaginable. And I would say that this thing in life called “desire” is so strong because desire, at its deepest level, is a reflection of our being created in the image of God. We have been created out of desire, out of the desire of God. It’s God’s desire to share this thing called life, and to be in union and communion – to be “one”– with God and with all that God has created.

A week or so ago I had the experience of watching some cable TV. We almost never see television here at the monastery and so, I have to admit, I’m rather naïve these days about what’s going on over the air waves. I had the television on less than five minutes. That’s all I could bear. As it turns out, the station that came on at the outset was something called “Home Shopping Network,” I believe. I punched the remote control and discovered three of these type “marketing channels” side-by-side. As I said, I lasted less than five minutes. On the one hand to see a huge amount of earnestness about selling simulated pearls and porcelain piggy banks I found terribly comical and very boring. On the other hand I felt it almost pornographic because these marketers were trying to seduce people into believing that some of their deepest desires are going to be satisfied by these pathetic trinkets. . . and yet they will never be enough. It looks to me like so much of that stuff being marketed over the air waves, and in our Sunday newspapers, and on the subway billboards, wherever, is tapping into some innate and eternal desire which God has woven into the core of our very being: a desire for love, for hope, for protection, for newness, for wholeness, for beauty and attractive­ness, for strength and power, for gentleness. Mind you, I’m not advocating our becoming cur­mudgeons and turning our back on the glory of God’s creation, of wearing sackcloth and ashes and eating only bread and water and living in a miserable state of denial. Not at all. Life’s to be enjoyed thoroughly and abundantly. But I am saying that we’re missing the mark if we experi­ence desire only in terms of object and not in terms of subject. I mean, if we only externalize our desire on some object or objects of creation – things “out there” in the marketplace or on the streets – and miss the fact that our desire has been awakened because of something within us, the subject. What is it (!) that draws you, bids your attention, opens (or maybe breaks) your heart?

Saint John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic, says that you may have woken up one day with the realization that you don’t have it all together. That despite everything you do have, all that you have learned or earned, all that you have gained or accomplished, it is not enough for you in life. There’s still something of a gnawing emptiness or incompleteness. And, John of the Cross says, you only realize this when something attracts you, something wounds you, something gets into you, something dislodges you from complacency, from being God to yourself. And you discover an ache, a hole in your heart, a need, a long­ing. So off you set to look for this to be filled or fixed or found. Saint John of the Cross says it doesn’t happen right away. You’re looking for “the real thing,” but what you first come across in this life is simply a reflection or a creation of the real thing, the one “whom [your] soul most deeply longs for and loves.” Most likely you first discover a person, you visit a place, you savor something of life… and it may be very, very good… but it won’t be enough to satisfy this deepest longing in your soul. Saint John of the Cross calls this “questioning the creatures.” You ask this experience, you ask this person, “Are you the one?” But they say to you, “No. What you are looking for is not here, but has passed by, scattering beauty as he went.” What attracts us in creatures is the reflection of God’s beauty. The creatures are honest: they tell us plainly [because they do not completely satisfy our desire] that they are not enough to fill that hole in our hearts. [i]

There is a fine line between an icon and an idol. An idol is something which is an end in itself, something which you are prone to clutch at and cling to, to say “this is mine” and “this is enough.” That’s an idol. However an icon is something much more transparent or translucent. It is something to behold, to cherish, to see into or see through, to something greater that is beyond. We claim and clutch at idols; we are conveyed through icons. And I’d like to say that life is ultimately iconic, it is revelatory and partici­patory. Life is pregnant with meaning because it is bursting with the presence of God, whom we will experience in the form of desire for something More, Who is God. I don’t think that all the desire that informs our life gets satisfied in this life. In this life I think we are always going to be looking, longing, hungering, panting after, thirsting for something More, Who is God. God is certainly not going to sate our desire or answer our questions to such a degree that we no longer need God. But I do believe there is God’s presence and God’s provision in our desire. For some people, maybe you, this might be rather complicated, an area where help is needed:

For some, the notion of desire may be largely a cruel tease because of a kind of poverty into which they were born. It may have been a poverty of food or love or safety or some­thing else, and they re­solved at a very young age that they would never go hungry again. Never! Never! That they would stuff or anesthetize themselves (on whatever) and never get in touch again with that abject pain of starved desire.

For some, the desire for the blessing of one’s birthright was denied them. What they saw mirrored back to us in our parents’ eyes was not love but disappointment. They were not good enough, did not meet the family standards or our parents’ hopes or needs, and so they learned in some tragically-broken way that what they desire must be wrong… maybe wrong to such a degree that they think what they desire must be the opposite of what is right. It’s a notion that can easily get transferred onto God: if I desire this, then God desires that.

For some, the gnawing sense of desire was compromised or perhaps paralyzed because a boundary of their person was violated, perhaps at a young age. Get­ting in touch with desire pulls a string connected with a dark chasm of vulner­ability or secrecy or shame.

For some, desire, rather drawing them deeper into the ground of their being simply gets affixed to the marketplace. The longing in their life (which I think is infinite and eternal) will never be satisfied at such a superficial level. Coca Cola is a marvelous refresh­ment, but – despite what they say – Coca Cola is not “the real thing”!

I have this image of Jesus as a weaver, sending a shuttle of love back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, between you and God, the God whom Jesus calls “Father.” Jesus sends a shuttle of love, weaving together this most beautiful tapestry called “your life” into the life of God: back-and-forth, back-and-forth, connecting you, every last part of you, even the frayed edges, your beginning and your end, with God. It’s what we’ve heard in the gospel passage I read a moment ago: Jesus’ praying, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you… have loved them even as you have loved me.” [ii] We hear these words from Jesus near the end of his life. This is what he wants, and what he wants for you, more than anything else. Jesus prays his desire for us, for you, from the bottom of his heart. He prays to the Father, “All are yours, and yours are mine…. Keep them… which thou has given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” [iii] And what about the desire you are living with just now? I would say that God is the source and end and orchestrator of all your desire. “Desire,” writes Sebastian Moore, “is not an emptiness needing to be filled but a fullness needing to be in relation. Desire is love trying to happen.” [iv] God is in our desire, behind our desire, before our desire, beyond our desire. And I would say that God is using this potent, sometimes gnawing gift of desire – which springs from God’s own heart – to lead us, like with bread crumbs, to a door which we might not have otherwise chosen or even recognized in this life. Inside that door is home.

[i] Quoted from Simon Tugwell’s Prayer: Living with God . ( Dublin : Veritas), 1974; p. 101.

[ii] John 17:23.

[iii] John 17:10-11.

[iv] Sebastian Moore, OSB, in Jesus the Liberator of Desire . ( New York : Crossroad), 1989; p. 18.

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18 Comments

  1. Paul on November 13, 2016 at 18:28

    When I have lusted after a person, I was taught to say “God, let me find in you what I am looking for in this person.” For me, all of lust (whether it be for a person, place or thing) is a yearning for connection; and after many years of soul-searching, I am very clear that, for me, the connection I yearn for is God. Thank you O Lord; my heart is on fire for you.

  2. Margaret Dungan on November 13, 2016 at 16:58

    I wish I could find the words to respond to this sermon but anything that I can think of seems so trivial compared to what is expressed here so I think I can only say, thank you, thank you.

    Margaret.

  3. judy on November 13, 2016 at 08:24

    This reminds me of the song lyric, “I’ve been Looking for Love in all the wrong places”!

  4. Marie on November 13, 2016 at 08:23

    Beautiful sermon–THANK YOU!
    When will we see, what will it take for us to realize that consumerism is killing us. It’s destroying our souls! Our desires are so misguided. Enough is never enough. Do we even know what enough is anymore? While I won’t pretend to be “beyond” this trap, thankfully at this point in my life I can see right through not only the desire for things that don’t fulfill, but the advertising as well. I know now what I truly desire, even if I sometimes fall into the trap. I’ve also learned to have a great deal of self control along with some serious soul searching when desires for things I clearly don’t need try to take over. But, as I raise the last of my four children, I find teaching and guiding about desires and “counterfeit gods” to be an enormous task. Advertising is so strongly directed at the young, and in their formative years this toxicity is skewing the teaching and learning processes. I pray for the wisdom to know how to address this and help build a life of balance in my teenager. I pray that my child will learn to see–to know– what truly fulfills; what truly lasts. God, help me to be a good example and to have patience and gentleness as I continue to guide this child toward You…to be in the world but not of the world.

  5. Fullness | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on November 13, 2016 at 00:05

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  6. Anders on August 1, 2014 at 11:05

    Thank you. Revisting your thoughts, I realize how desire is rarely brought up in my Christian experience, perhaps because spiritual and sexual desire are often muddled and therefore best avoided in our Puritan tradition. But desire—acknowledged or not—remains a key driver for us individually and collectively. I find commercialism objectifies culture (though not always as blatantly as Home Shopping Network) and I fault the church for often intellectualizing it. The soul, however, often in the form of attraction, wounding or dislodging you mention, demands a more nuanced and sojourning process. For that we need to be vulnerable to one another, to be bread for one another, woven in love in the Unity Jesus spoke of. This is scary and countercultural, but it can bend our desire to be addressed and often met with outcomes we can´t even imagine. That makes desire–those messy, easily judged and conflicting thoughts and emotions we may wish to clean up with a spatula—holy. God can move though them, God wants to move though them. I start by acknowledging them through life´s attractions, wounds and dislodging you name. Perhaps God can be the spatula through it all. And it is good.

  7. Faith Turner on August 1, 2014 at 09:06

    This puts into perspective what desire can do which is positive(from God) This is opposed to wanting stuff to fill our God Place inside which stuff never can do. Budha said desire could make you miserable. It was stuff he was talking about not the desire to be with God.

  8. Christina on August 1, 2014 at 09:02

    Thank you, Brother Curtis. Your words express what I have come to know throughout my life. I hesitate to say where I think that our desire is birthed, but it is in our birthing that we experience separation. As we come into this world we do two things: we begin breathing; and most of us cry. I think about our cry – is it the cry of our separation from all that has been good from the moment of our creation? Our journey henceforth, our desires, is one of trying to reconnect with the Eternal Spirit who created us. Christina

  9. Jean on March 14, 2013 at 09:36

    I am going to have to chew on this for a long time. I’ve emailed it to myself so I can. Thank you, brother.

  10. George E. Hilty on March 7, 2013 at 20:50

    Wonderfully expressed and timeless sermon. The desire language reminds me of the C.S. Lewis apologetics based on desire. Jesus expressed several desires for Christians in His high priestly prayer. Joy was one of those. Jesus prayed that His joy may be made complete in us Christians [John 17:13]. St. Peter assured the first Christians that they were realizing the results of that prayer: even though they had not seen Him, they loved Him, believed in Him and rejoiced “with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” [1 Peter 1:8-9]

  11. Anders on March 7, 2013 at 17:57

    Your question “What is it that draws you, bids your attention, opens (or maybe breaks) your heart?” lies at the heart of the concept of humility, a word of questionable value in modern American English. The Swedish word “ödmjukhet” for fate literally means “to be soft before one´s fate”. That is a beautiful way to live, in desire to become who we already are, to know the love we already have, to be in the eternity we are already part of.

  12. Lynn Paff on March 7, 2013 at 12:48

    One of the wonderful things about your website is that, once these sermons are posted, they continue to speak to the hearts of those who find them and read them. This sermon was posted eight years ago, yet its wisdom is still available to those who seek God. Your videos do the same thing.

    Thank you, brothers, for your generosity of spirit.

  13. Patrick on March 7, 2013 at 12:30

    Very good stuff. For many years I walked around with an imaginary umbilical cord. I would plug it into this relationship, that material thing or a job and think “this will fulfill me”. Guess what? None of that worked. No, nothing on this earth can satisfy the need that is found in Christ. Oh I thank God that I came to my senses and realized that He is my sufficiency. I feel Him drawing me each day, even when I sin and break fellowship with Him, He is there to woo me back. I praise Him!

  14. Charles Groves III on March 7, 2013 at 11:58

    Brother Curtis,
    Thanks for this wonderful sermon, so full of helpful insight, so well-expressed.

    Upon reading the excerpt from it in the “Brother – Give Us A Word” email this morning, I discovered that in April of last year I had been alerted to this homily through a similar email, and found it so helpful that i copied the entire sermon into notes that I keep about God and Godly matters.

    I’m so thankful for the spiritual guidance that comes to so many of us through everything you do.

  15. DLa Rue on March 7, 2013 at 09:06

    I am constantly both grateful for and in wonder at the depth and incisive wisdom that this community offers in its sermons. It’s as if in focusing on the writing, thinking, prayer and preparation that goes into them, the homiletic corpus become seed sown widely to issue in growth and peace.

    Being in the presence of such generosity of spirit, and the determined work it takes to make it possible for others to be connected to it, is a kind of grace.

  16. Selina from Maine on March 7, 2013 at 08:59

    Stunning! Overwhelming.I will chew on this through the day ,and,God willing ,forever.

  17. Kali on March 7, 2013 at 07:14

    Thank you, this is beautifully articulated! I appreciate your sermons and enjoy them every morning.

  18. Alison on March 7, 2013 at 06:56

    I am so comforted by your words this morning. I am in a place of uncertainty tempered by a strong desire for a very different life and think now, that I have the courage to act. Change is never easy, a leap of faith is even more daunting, yet there is an undercurrent of excitement, of newness and of God’s presence. I am so grateful for the ministry of SSJE. Thank you and may God’s peace be with you all.

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