Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for they Shall See God
Ignatius was a master of sifting through human desires. He encouraged listening for that subtle tipping point when a good desire takes over and becomes disordered, or not so good for us. When this happens, our desire becomes an invasive species wanting more and more. Picture Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors: “Feed me Seymour!!”
Margaret Silf illuminates the difference between ordered and disordered desires:
“Ordered desires expand us without diminishing the other. They draw us into a creative relationship with what lies beyond ourselves without tempting us to try and possess it. They represent a moving out of ourselves, a surrendering of something in our hearts to the power of the ‘other’. They spur us into new steps along the inner journey. They lead towards transformation.
Disordered desires behave in the opposite way. They tempt us to take such things into ourselves, and they result in the diminishment of the desired object. When I desire an orange, and take it into myself, the orange ceases to be an orange and becomes a part of me instead. This may be fine, when all I desire is an orange, but if my desire is focused on another human person, this kind of response to my desire becomes destructive. It destroys my relationship with the person, and ultimately, it destroys me too, as I pursue my desire obsessively and become more and more compulsed. More importantly, it can destroy the desired person, (or place, or thing)…”
-Margaret Silf, Landmarks, An Ignatian Journey
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching us to tease out our desires. What desires are driving our actions with one another and with God? What do we really want? Are our desires growing disordered, like the plant Audrey, encroaching and taking over our lives? Or are they leading us towards fullness and light?
In this week’s section of the sermon, Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus brings up 3 activities: prayer, giving, and fasting. In doing so, he questions what desires we are seeking to fill by doing them:
If you give, pray, or fast in public, why are you doing it? Are you hoping to get attention, feel in control, or earn approval? Is your desire crowding out light? Or are you doing these things to open your heart more widely to the flow of Love?
You can also flip this question on its head – When you choose not to give, pray, or fast, what desires are you seeking by avoiding these actions?
We can do “spiritual activity” out of disordered desires, such as wanting attention or being successful. We can also refrain from “spiritual activity” out of healthy, ordered desires, such as breaking free from legalism. In these verses, however, Jesus shows his disciples how to hold onto the baby WHILE throwing out bathwater. Praying, giving, and fasting from things that distract us are powerful, illuminating, practices that open us up to the light. How can we press into these life-giving practices without using them to feed our inner Audrey II, like Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.
Instead of avoiding such actions, Jesus tells us to shift our practice of them in ways that feeds the good desires within us for light and life while not feeding the disordered desire. For example, if you find yourself seeking attention, pray in secret, without drawing lots of attention to yourself. Or if you are struggling with the need to be in control, press into the bit of the Lord’s prayer that says: “Thy kingdom come”.
In our culture, people don’t look up to someone because they’ve prayed really long and loudly in public. In fact, that behavior would probably be a huge turn off!
What might Jesus address if he were contextualizing this to our times?
Our culture looks down on religious people who draw lots of attention to their righteousness. However, our culture looks up to people who are youthful, healthy, and fit. Say you love to work out. Maybe you love to work out because it opens you up to greater vitality. Or maybe because it makes you look good, and when you look good, people give you more attention. Or maybe because you feel less body shame when you look fit. Or maybe its because it makes you feel in control, like if you exercise, you can avoid illness. Or maybe its all of the above.
What would Jesus say in his sermon to our appearance-oriented culture? Maybe this: Exercise all you want, but if your desire to be fit, strong, healthy or beautiful gets disordered, and you’re building your identity, self-worth, or security around how you look or how people look at you, change your pattern: Work out, but fast from social media that makes you self-critical of your body. Go to the gym, but be subtle – wear clothes that don’t earn you quite the same attention from your onlookers. Eat right, but contemplate the diminishment of creation in autumn, and meditate on how one day, we will each die. Push into health – keep the baby – but change the bathwater. Challenge your over-attachment to body image, affection, control, or security.
What other behavior and characteristics are honored by our culture, community, or families?
Which one of these are you tempted to do in order to gain the approval of your “people”?
In order to be in control? In order to feel secure?
This week, pay attention to the desires driving your choices and actions. When you begin to feel “compulsed” and “disordered”, ask the Spirit to show you what you are wanting. What deep need or desire has latched onto you, perhaps with too much force? How is it consuming you – your energy, your time, your resources. How has this desire been driving your actions this week?
(Our lenten series on the enneagram highlighted 9 core desires that can become disordered in us: the desire to be right/perfect, the desire to be loved, the desire to be successful, the desire to be knowledgeable, the desire to be unique, the desire to be safe, the desire to be happy and avoid pain, the desire for control, and the desire to be at peace. Which one might be driving you this week?)
Spend some time in the quiet with God. Pay attention to the feelings inside you, sitting with them while remembering you are held by God. Name your deep desires…for attachment, for security, for control, etc. …Practice releasing and surrendering these desires into God’s loving heart.