Too often when we talk about sexual desire, especially in the context of faith, the conversation is skewed toward control and it’s laced with fear of innumerable dangers. Too often we neglect or lose altogether the vibrancy that makes desire engaging, pleasurable, and . . . well, desirable. This kind of energy fuels everything that we do. Ultimately we do whatever we do because we want to, right? You may disagree because there are some actions we take because we must. True. I submit that we commit required deeds rather than their alternatives because our desire to do so outweighs other options. We want to do what we must. We don’t want to leave necessary matters unattended. We wanted to.
So rather than futilely suppress or flee from desire, let’s embrace and direct it.
“Do you love life;
do you relish the chance
to enjoy good things?” ~Psalm 34:12 (CEB)
This rhetorical question is within a passage that instructs its readers to honor G~d and to avoid evil. If the reader accepts this instruction, she must then seek what it means to honor G~d. She must then indeed identify actual evil in order to avoid it. Where we contemporary humans trip up is ascribing for ourselves others’ ways of honor and ancient notions of evil. Even a cursory recollection of history reminds us that we don’t approach decisions or behavior the way humanity did thousands of years ago – nor do we view evil the same way. We ladies joke about it today, but we truly don’t believe that our monthly menstrual flow is a curse of any kind. As I told a bible study group, “It may be icky, but it’s not evil.”
When considering the dangers of desire today we must realize we live in a time when “our pleasures have become commodities.” (Walsh) Any good salesperson wants to know what motivates us, what we desire, so that she can appeal to that to encourage and influence our purchases. We have to be savvy consumers and distinguish the marketplace’s strategies from the goodness of our inherent, embodied desires. In this case we do well to mimic the life-approach of ancient humanity. They didn’t separate their passion for the Divine from that for each other or their work. Worship, sex, and labor were all fueled by the same energy. In all cases we do well to objectively view and understand our life-dynamics and seek balance in our perspectives, beliefs, decisions, and actions.
Desire is not the same for all of us.
“Desire is about wanting more than it is about getting. It is the hunger that highlights the food; the patience that highlights the faith; the arousal that anticipates the sex. It commands a shift in perspective. The salt of a lover’s lips or the sweet juice of grapes is not just pleasurable anymore; with desire, they become exquisite. Desire is the discipline to live on that edge between wanting and satisfaction. It is not for the timid or the fickle. . . .
A desire . . . is feasible in historical time, but missing in the here and now of life. . . . Desire has content, and therefore pain to it, in the acute knowledge of just what is missing. . . .
Yearning itself may even come to be experienced as a pleasure. The Song [of Songs] is concerned with the provocative question of whether the exquisite sensation of wanting another could surpass in any realistic sense the pleasure of sexual consummation. The surprising claim that it can does seem to be the premise of the Song, which stays focused on the experience of yearning, not its relief.” (Walsh)
For oppressed and/or marginalized people, Dr. Walsh’s insight into desire is problematic because the very essence of such life is about always wanting and never getting. Unfulfilled desire becomes oppressive; it is abusive. And so we never experience anything exquisite when love is not consummated. Rather we experience neglect.
I do understand her point. I do. It’s like being sure to enjoy the journey for that is where the true value of traveling lives. We miss just about everything when we fixate solely on the destination. Yet if we never arrive, we’re always missing this unidentifiable thing that we can’t quite put our fingers on. It forever remains just on the tips of our tongues. We all know how frustrating that is.
Desire and yearning are pleasurable. It is not all about gratification. But I cannot smell good food cooking all the time without ever eating. And I’m not meant to. The fullness of pleasure lives in desire and consummation.
It seems, then, in our world today that full pleasure is attached to privilege. So, I suppose when I yearn for my marginalized sisters to live and love with an inextricable sense of goodness about their bodies and embodied expression, what I really want for us is utter freedom. Only in complete liberation can we even approach Dr. Walsh’s sense of the value of desire, an ultimate, exquisite pleasure derived from yearning rather than its relief.
NOTE: Besides I believe the lovers in the Song do consummate their desire. Their highly sensual descriptions of each other can only come from a place of intimate, actual knowing of the other. It’s more than imagination, dreams, and conjuring.
Walsh citations – Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs – the Preface and first chapter, “A Question of Desire: Is There Some Accounting for Biblical Taste?”
(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc