Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 18, 2002
Embracing desire harnesses your power
Befriending Our Desires, by Philip Sheldrake. Novalis: Toronto, 2001. 151 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"There is within (each one of) us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire, that renders us incapable, in this life, of coming to full peace," wrote WCR columnist Father Ron Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing.
All of us experience this eros, this drivenness and deep ache, that needs to be expressed, whether we are religious or not. Spirituality is what we do with that desire, said Rolheiser.
Spirituality is intimately associated with desire, asserts Philip Sheldrake. Befriending Our Desires is a refined, innovative and visionary study of the spirituality of desire which first appeared in 1994.
Sheldrake develops his theme, takes us in some directions Rolheiser does not go, but with him, effectively reclaims eros from centuries of awkward avoidance and periodic flagrant repression in the Christian tradition.
God places desire in our hearts and is the completion of our desires. Desire gives energy and direction to our psyches. By paying attention to our desire, we are able to reach into our deepest self where the image of God dwells.
The more we identify with our authentic desirers, the more we can identify who we truly are. The deeper we go, the more desire seems to transcend our individuality in ways shared by all creation.
Conventional images of holiness do not encourage people to befriend their desires. Often, desire is expressed religiously in unhealthy ways. Unless we own our desires we won't be able to distinguish between their healthy and unhealthy aspects. All desires are real, but not all are equally valid expressions of our authentic selves.
Nowadays, we tend to link the idea of desire almost exclusively to sex. Sheldrake believes this is far too narrow an understanding.
But our sexuality is an example which serves as a pattern for all human desire. All of us, without exception, are sexual beings, and so one of the most important tasks of spirituality is to help us understand sexuality and live within it positively and creatively.
In six concise chapters, Sheldrake treats the spirituality of desire in terms of its relationship to God, prayer, sexuality, choosing and change. His penetrating themes evolve naturally. He engages the subject with a graceful thoroughness.
Sexuality is a vital part of our identities, an immensely powerful energy to be used for good or ill.
We can follow our desires to claim our destinies. The world desperately requires a new word about sexuality from the Church. We must rediscover ways to undermine both a fear of this power and a prurient obsession with it.
In the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandals that have beclouded a noble missionary story with Canada's First Nations and in light of similar, more recent abuses in some of our parishes, this book offers a liberating message of the possibilities inherent in passion and serves as a healthy antidote to its perversion.
Sheldrake focuses on ways by which many effective spiritual teachers use desire or its equivalents as the central metaphor for the human search for God, or for God's search for humanity. It is a worthy and inviting development of the theme.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)