Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Destiny and Desire

Not all wants, needs or desires are equal. Some things we desire for a time, and then our desire wanes; we lose interest in what once we felt we couldn't do without. Some things we desire, we never lose want of; they give us joy that is unending. Some things we desire are very good for us; they nourish us. Some things we desire are not good; they harm us. Some things we desire are not necessary; we may pine for them and ache for their lack, but sometimes we might be better off without them. Sometimes unrequited desire makes us better and more human. Some things we don't just desire, but are more like needs than desires. Without them, life is unhealthy and unhappy and, ultimately, unbearable. There are things we desire, the lack of which dehumanizes us. Included in this last category, I would put things like love and freedom.

When we experience a desire, it can be difficult to know which kind of desire we are experiencing. Which desires in life should we resist or repress, which should we bridle or channel, and which should we pursue wholeheartedly?

I want to exclude from this discussion things that I would describe as explicit needs; things that we can't do without for very long and remain alive. Without air, we will die in a view minutes; without water, in a few days; without food, in a few weeks; without clothing and shelter (depending on the environment), within a few seasons. It is interesting to note that it is possible for us to lose desire for these things if we lose our desire to live.

A lot of discussion in relation to homosexuality centers around the question of whether intimacy (emotional and physical), touch, and sex go into the category of "need" or not. I think the case can certainly be made, and has been made. Infants deprived of touch will die. That certainly seems to point to a need. Without mental and emotional health and happiness, without intimacy, touch, and love (or, for that matter, other intangibles like dignity and freedom), we can lose the desire to live. That's why the problem of gay Mormon suicide bears on the question of whether a healthy intimate relationship is a legitimate need or not.

But for this discussion I want to set that argument aside. I want to acknowledge that at least some people find ways to live -- and even live well -- without human intimacy. And at least some of these are not necessarily people who are extreme introverts or who are asexual. Some of them may have what we consider normal desires for touch, sex, intimacy, and relatedness, but who have found a spiritual path that enables them to do without these things. This is rare, but it's possible. And of course, religious conservatives will tend to point out that since it is possible, if homosexuality is a sin, then it is desirable for the Church to encourage homosexuals into this path; to provide role models and structure that will enable us to find that path.

So let's suppose that sexual/intimate relatedness is not a need. Let's just look at same-sex relationships from the point of view that they most obviously present themselves to us, and from the point of view most universally agreed upon from a religious point of view: from the point of view of desire. And I'd like to look at desire from an experiential perspective: what I've learned about desire through the hard knocks and triumphs of life.

At some point in our lives, we each have to answer the question: What Do You Really Want? What is the one thing you want that you're willing to subordinate all your other wants to? I'm not sure if there's any one point in our lives where that question presents itself quite so neatly, nor where we are quite clear-headed enough to answer it from deep in the heart. Or maybe the little choices we make in life are our way of answering that question. The little decisions are our way at chipping away at that big question; our way of deciding what we think is possible and what we think is impossible, what we want, and what we have no interest in.

I do believe that if we can answer that question, and answer it honestly and unclouded by fear, we will have understood our true natures, and we will have understood what it is our destiny to become. Salvation or wholeness, I think, is to enter into that destiny in its fullness. So we can't really be saved or whole until we really know with a perfect knowledge what it is we want, and until we pursue it with an eye single.

But the problem is, rarely do we have the kind of mountaintop experience that enables us to see all things with perfect clarity and to know our place in the grand scheme of things. Or, correction! We do! But not until after we've struggled alone in the dark for a while, without feeling like we know much of anything.

In my experience, the only way we have of feeling our way forward is through the daily practice of listening that prayer offers us. Faith can be like a compass that points us in the general direction we want to go; it allows for some straying off course once in a while, it permits periodic course corrections. But it requires some overall consistency to get to the right place in the end, because when you have a journey of 10,000 miles, you're going to have to log a lot of days' walking in order to get close. We can see the mountain from the distance; it's often obscured by the local scenery, by twists and turns in the road. Any given path might take a sudden turn in a direction we didn't anticipate, and we can't know if it will swing back around. The compass -- which we access by listening to our heart in the stillness -- is the ultimate guide when we get lost. And the way the compass leads is to point us in the direction that "feels right." Not always the direction that "feels good," though they sometimes coincide.

So, listening to my heart and listening to the Spirit eventually led me into my relationship with Göran. After eighteen years or more of building a life together, I find this deep, deep reservoir of joy in it, that doesn't seem to have a bottom. It overwhelms me sometimes when I experience that joy in anything close to its totality. I realize the lessons we have learned together have been incredible, unlearnable in any other way. And I see a path forward that promises more learning and joy without end that I can discern. Even death looks like just another twist in the road in comparison with that love. I'm now high up enough on the mountainside to look back down and trace my path, to see clearly where I was once lost and where I got found again.

From that perspective, it seems like there are only two kinds of desire: the desire for things fleeting, that take me further from the deepest, most meaningful, truest desires of my heart; and the desire to be full, to be whole, to complete myself and to fulfill my destiny. Whatever is in the latter category, I've discovered, can't possibly take me further away from God, because it relates profoundly to the me that is a child of God. What I do know is that if I had listened to other voices, including some very well meaning ones, had I not paid attention to my own compass and followed it, even when others were telling me that to do so would lead me away from God, I couldn't be where I am now. And that is a very, very good place.


Ty said...

Thank you for this post. I really appreciate it.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Ty!