Wings of Desire
People are distracted by objects of desire,
and afterward repent of the lust they’ve indulged,
because they have indulged with a phantom
and are left even farther from Reality than before.
Your desire for the illusory could be a wing,
by means of which a seeker might ascend to Reality.
When you have indulged a lust, your wing drops off;
you become lame, abandoned by the fantasy.
Preserve the wing and don’t indulge such lust,
so that the wing of desire may bear you to Paradise.
People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings
for the sake of an illusion.
We have such a complex relationship with desire. Most of us, brought up in strong Christian traditions, are taught to be deeply suspicious of desire. If we are to steer clear of the road to perdition, then desire is to be quietly dismissed. But this is gross misunderstanding. Even Augustine of Hippo, who has shaped so much of our tradition with respect to sexuality, is famous for the quote: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’ What is restlessness if not some form of desire?
This poem by Rumi holds that tension so beautifully. Not only can our desire lead us to destruction, but it is also the vehicle which will take us to Paradise.
In Ignatian spirituality desire is not the problem. It is disordered desire which trips us up. It’s not quite as simple saying the stuff labelled ‘God’ will lead us in the right direction and everything else should be held at arms length. A key tenet of this spirituality is that God can be found in all things.
What matters then, is what happens within me as I interact with this particular person, or job, or object. It requires a habit of reflection; a commitment to noticing my internal response; and a willingness to gently set aside the things that do not lead towards deeper relationship with God.
It isn’t a single choice, but a daily commitment. The process of discernment is never perfect. There is no guarantee that I will not mess up. I take my full self into the process, and as a result I cannot escape my flawed humanity. But with practice, over time, I begin to taste the difference between the sweet nectar of the life giving choice and the saccharine of the illusion.
For anyone wanting to explore more about Ignatian spirituality here are a few suggestions: