Saturday, March 1, 2014

Shopping Malls, the Beatles, and the God of our Desire

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)

But what are the "desires of your heart"?  

For the Westians it's sexual license and an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet.  For them and for many quasi-secularists in the Church this beautiful verse from Psalm 37 isn't echoed by Jesus Christ when He says, "I am he who searches hearts and minds" (Rev. 2:23).  For them there is nothing to search.  Desire is all a sort of biological urge and it's rather superficial, even though we spiritualize it and call even nudism and exhibitionism "Theology of the Body".  As I've said before, these pop-culture Catholics fail to see the role of the Cross in the fulfillment of desire; they fail to admit the integration of sacrifice and renunciation into love.  Like the secularists that surround us, they ignore the fact that desire is only productive within a very limited channel that God has already dug and laid out for us, and that outside of that channel, it can overwhelm us and the world like Noah's flood.

I think this springs from a serious confusion about the role of desire in our lives - and ultimately about the role of love.

So again, what are the "desires of your heart"?

For some it's not so much sex, but baubles, trinkets, vanities.  When the Preacher tells us that "all is vanity" in the book of Ecclesiastes, he's at least including things like wisdom and effort - and he's not right when he says this, but he at least had to ponder some deep things to get to that conclusion.  However it takes no depth of wisdom, no preacher like Qoheleth, to see that our mercantile culture, where all desire is created by advertising and satisfied by shopping, is not only "vane" but also "inane".

No, it's not Jesus - it's Beatle George!

Even the Beatles got this.  Even the Eastern-mystery-loving George Harrison understood that this consumer culture is about scam artists creating false and shallow desires that they satisfy with snake oil, smoke and mirrors.  They not only sell the sizzle instead of the steak - but they deliver fizzle instead of sizzle and sell us out in the process.

I don't know why nobody told you 
how to unfold your love 
I don't know how someone controlled you 
they bought and sold you 

In other words, there are those among us who will treat us as if we are indeed homo consumens, "consuming man", and that the desires of our hearts are no deeper than the passing thrills that tickle our fancies.  Erich Fromm, who coined the phrase homo consumens, elaborates on this ...

I think many people, if they were honest with their concept of heaven, would imagine heaven to be a tremendous department store in which they could buy something new every day and perhaps a little more than their neighbors.  

Fromm goes on, expounding on the state of our modern culture ...

... everything and almost everybody is for sale. Not only commodities and services, but ideas, arts, books, persons, convictions, a feeling, a smile -- they all have been transferred into commodities. And so is the whole of man, with all his facilities and potentialities. 

... so that the young end up less than fully human ...

Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of a great part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life.

***

I have known many amazing people in my life, some of them young people.  One young person I knew was intensely vivacious, intelligent and spiritual and, for a number of reasons, had some trouble with the desires of her heart.  What were they?  What were the desires of her heart?  Like many young people, she experimented and went on a few adventures to find out.

She learned early on that if she bought the bill of goods the hucksters sell us, the lie that the desires of our hearts are simply the desires of our flesh, that she'd end up miserable, empty and addicted.  Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll taught her that.

And yet she had no one in her life who could help her understand how to channel her heart's desire, or as Beatle George says, "I don't know why nobody told you how to unfold your love".  A woman of intense love and profound desire, she could not, on her own, come up with reasonable boundaries to enable her desire - her love - to be productive.  Which of us could - on our own?  I don't know why nobody tells us how to unfold our love - especially in the Church, when this is what becoming "fully mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28) is all about.  It's even what the simplicity of the Ten Commandments is all about.

And so she would often fall into grave and foolish situations that would later cause her much shame.  There was little hope that she would find the kind of guidance to be presented "fully mature in Christ", little chance that she would stumble upon a writer or a friend or a pastor or anyone who could keep her from selling out or from escaping the fate that George laments, "They bought and sold you".

But there's always love, always the love between friends.  That may yet save her from the fate of the age - though the last I heard, she was tenaciously pursuing success in the corporate world, as if such a thing were the essence of the "desires of her heart".

***

Don't we get it?

Don't we see how if all our love were made for is shopping malls, video games and promiscuous sexual encounters in person or over the internet that we are no better than the beasts - indeed we're a good deal worse?

I say again that what we desperately need in the Church is guidance in sanctification.  We need more than just the passing feelings that may or may not strike us during Mass, we need a conscious and integrated approach of becoming "fully mature in Christ" - of becoming Adults who Can Love.