by the Rev. Doug Earle
I see her in the studio and my heart flutters. She’s lean, lithe, strikingly beautiful. I want to come close to her, hold her, feel her respond to my touch.
As days go by I can think of nothing else. I want to possess her, but know it’s wrong.
“No, you shouldn’t.”
“It would be wrong.”
“But who would know?”
“They’d find out.”
My soul burns in anguish; I can’t sleep for thinking about her. Lust has me in its grasp. Thankfully, this time, virtue triumphs. I come to my senses and let her go, realizing that buying that new camera will not make me a better photographer. That will come if I lovingly use the perfectly good one I now have with more discipline, attention, and passion.
Say the word “lust” and most of us are immediately drawn to images of sexual attraction; and while that is part of this sin, improper, amoral sex is by no means all of it. The sin of lust is the distortion of desire, which is a wonderful and powerful gift from God. All spirituality is essentially erotic. Eros is desire, the longing for connection that will make us feel whole, alive, fruitful, creative. All humans feel incomplete or cut off to one degree or another, and the gift of eros provides the energy to seek connection that will make us whole. Spirituality is what we do with that desire.
As with all the Deadlies, spiritual problems are caused by distortion of the good gift God has given. Lust results from too much, unbridled erotic energy. It distorts by making the person (or thing) of our erotic focus into an object for our use, an “it” rather than a “thou.” On the other hand, too little erotic energy saps creative energy, drains life of savor and richness, leads ultimately to extinction — spiritual if not physical. Too much eroticism and you get Desperate Housewives, too little and you get lying on the couch in front of static on the TV, unable even to change the channel.
In between lies holy longing, an erotic desire that leads to proper connection between our souls and one another, our souls and God. Such desire causes us to enter into a life-giving relationship with one another and with God. We begin to participate in what the church fathers called perichoresis – mutual indwelling – the character of the reciprocal inner life of love between Father, Son and Spirit. This is a love that gives what we truly want – life, connection, wholeness, creativity, fecundity.
The Rev. Doug Earle is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org