November 30, 2017—Desire is a word that stirs mixed feelings within the devout and searching person. Most of us are uneasy when we hear the word as it evokes images of unmet desires or perhaps passions that are less than pure, or out of control.
Wendy Farley observes in Beguiled by Beauty, “Christianity is in the strange position of condemning and denigrating minority sexual desires, maternal desires, and (in some cases) safe sex and birth control, while remaining almost entirely porous to consumerism.”
Yet, in holy scripture desire seems an important part of developing wisdom, and surely contributes to flourishing.
As Phillip Sheldrake writes in Befriending Our Desires, “Desire for God is rooted in self-belief, which is why attention to our all too human desires, including their ambiguities, is not irrelevant but vital!”
Columbia Theological Seminary’s Christine Roy Yoder, Professor of Old Testament Language, Literature and Exegesis writes, “Desire animates the wisdom literature of ancient Israel. For centuries, and with exquisite poetry that evokes the Song of Songs and ancient Near Eastern love poetry, the sages sought to cultivate and direct people’s desire to that which enables their flourishing—first and foremost wisdom. Desire was not understood as limited to sexuality or personal want, as today is often the case. Rather, the sages engaged desire as a primary way in which people map the world and themselves in it.”
How might an ancient understanding of desire help us frame our relationship with desire itself?
Desire and longing propel us to look and seek inward, to see each longing for what it is and to ask, is this the deepest longing, or what lies below this desire? Examining and searching our desires and then choosing for the deepest or most authentic desire draws us nearer to our self and to God’s desire or dream for us.
How will this understanding of desire facilitate growing wisdom and contribute to our own flourishing?
Come and explore the ancient understanding of desire—its metaphors, objects, promises and perils—and consider how the sages’ insistence on the value and vitality of desire may inform our own searches for personal and communal well-being. Dr. Yoder teaches On Desire and Flourishing: A Study of Ancient Israelite Wisdom, a course in the Certificate in Spiritual Formation program. February 8-11, 2018.