An Erotic Soul: Part of Being Whole (Part I)

Nobody is a Vulcan, not even Vulcans, if Star Trek canon is to be believed: intelligent beings in bodies have passions and suppressing them in unhealthy.

Sadly, so is acting on them thoughtlessly.

Sometimes we forget we have passions, sometimes we are controlled by them: a trick to a good life is accept the passions and to control them.

Consumer culture celebrates our desires, while a gnostic paganism demonizes them: neither reaction is Christian. How do we know? The only way a person can know God is by God’s revelation of Himself to us through Jesus. God became man, so we could have any hope of knowing God. All that we can know of God that is not mere negation (a God cannot lie) or abstraction (a God is omnipotent) comes from Jesus: God becoming human.

And Jesus was every bit a human, specifically a Jewish man in the Palestine under the Romans: he hungered, he had thirst, he was tempted as we are tempted, but managed all these desires in perfect harmony with goodness, truth, and beauty. The surprise is not that we killed Jesus, but that He lasted to adulthood.

When Jesus died, He felt pain. God felt our pain.

So denying our feelings is not just to deny part of our original creation, but to deny the goodness of Jesus: the God-man who suffered, hungered, and exalted, shows us that feelings must not be denied. Yet oddly those who accept their feelings often make the mistake that a given feeling requires a certain action. If I feel hunger, then I should eat, but acknowledging my feeling of hunger (not denying or suppressing it) does not say I can or should eat, only that I will consider eating!

Sometimes a person should eat when they are not hungry (when timing means they will miss a later meal) or not eat when they feel hungry (when eating would be inconvenient.) A baby demands that his desires be satisfied immediately, a grownup learns to question the direct connection between a desire or feeling and any action.

These desires that tie us to the physical world are a source of great pleasure, learning, and a way of seeing God: they are a kind of love, erotic love. God recollects Jesus to us through water in baptism and bread and wine in communion. Even the feelings at the end of my fingers as I type can be used by God to draw me to Himself. The tactile pleasure that comes with creation, even my association of the sound of clicking keys with thinking, brings me joy. That too often Americans reduce erotic pleasures to sex or to sex and eating is a shame.

There is so much to enjoy, if I stop and take a record of those pleasures!

Obviously, however, just as the fact that it is raining outside just now does not necessitate what I should do, so my emotional weather does not dictate to me how I should respond.

An education should include cultivating appropriate reactions to the passions, the ability to know what to do when one feels anger, hunger, desires, any form of the passion produced by the material world. I want the new iPhone just announced by Apple (and whenever you read this there will be a new iPhone announced by Apple until the world fails or Apple ends or both). What should I do with this desire, this gut level passion for a product?

I don’t know, but I know that my desire (itself) has no moral standing: it is what I do with it that matters, it is how I channel it, how I allow it to grow.

Education cultivates right responses by setting good examples in film, literature, and other media before me. Education helps me grow up by giving me older men and women to teach me by their experience what is appropriate and what is not. Education teaches me mature means of handling my passions by putting me in discussion with a mentor and peers examining our unspoken assumptions and helping me to know myself: including my erotic self.

If the world were not broken, education would be enough. We would grow from the innocent infant who can safely equate desire with immediate fulfillment to splendid adulthood where liberty allows me to say no to desires: even my own! But this is not the world as it is, so we require more than education. We require changed souls: we need to be born again. Our passions are so overwhelming and the world so complicated.

We need grace. For this reason, though we know a few things we should never do (listed for us by a loving God to help us avoid devastating confusions), there are many passions that require complicated responses. We might have to say “no” to some actions demanded by desires, but “yes” to others. Our thinking is so confused!

Thank God that He will come within us and give us hope that despite our many failures our erotic souls can be restored to their proper place. We can enjoy the entire world of our feelings, brought forth by His good creation, someday. And though we are not yet in this Paradise, this City of God, we can get a taste of it in communion, in the love of a man and woman joined in holy matrimony, in the birth of a child that is the product of that love, in the conversation between good friends . . . in the feelings that come in a thunder storm, in the humidity of this day, in the very weariness as I end my good tasks.

I can feel Paradise coming . . . not just think about! And yet, I must pause in humility and realize that even there I am apt to make an idol: to make something more than it is, to respond badly. The good news is that God the Father has chosen to save me from myself and so I can be content with the little fragments of joy that I gain (and spoil just a bit) and pray as always:

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.


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