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    • #2084
      Forgiving Victim

      4.1 The working of desire

      Welcome to Part Four, Unexpected insiders. At this point in our journey we are discovering new dimensions of how we are insiders within a great shift.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Remembering desire

      Recall a desire for a birthday or Christmas gift that you desperately wanted as a child. Share that desire then answer the following questions:

      • As you look back on your desire, do you consider it to have been a wise or a foolish desire?
      • Did you pray to God about this gift? What was your prayer?
      • How did the adults in your life respond upon hearing of this desire?
      • How did you respond to either receiving or not receiving the gift?

      Food for thought

      • James begins by reviewing a central idea in the course — that we desire according to the desire of the other. He repeats this insight from Part 1: “Through this body being imitatively drawn into the life of the social other, gesture, language and memory form an ‘I’ that is in fact a symptom of the social other.”
        • At this point in the course, does it ring true to say that you are a symptom of the social other? Can you offer examples?
          • What good things are you discovering flow from the social other?
          • How does the social other sometimes move us in ways that are not good for us? Can you offer examples?
      • Jesus’ teaching on prayer takes for granted that we need approval. When we get the approval of others, we are given a “self” that is the function of the group’s desires.
        • What are the pitfalls of being a function of the social other?
      • Have you ever prayed as an adult for something you would be ashamed to admit in public? Why does James say that praying our “smelly little desires” is a good thing?

      Wrap-up question

      Take a moment to select a “storeroom” if you do not already have one, and think of a smelly desire that could be voiced in that place. In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share the place or time that functions as a storeroom for you. If you’d like, also share your smelly desire and warmly listen to the smelly desires of others.


    • #46850
      Rich Paxson

      I was ten or eleven in the late 1950s when my mother went into the hospital for a week for a pre-scheduled hysterectomy. My parents assigned us tasks to maintain our well-ordered if somewhat rigid home while mom was away. In return for good work, we could choose a reward, and I picked a brand new Sears Silvertone clock radio, which I had long desired.
      Mother returned home after a successful, weeklong hospital stay and I got that radio I’d been wanting. Not much later, probably just a day or two, I was depressed. I don’t remember a lot about it, except that it was brief and confusing. I remember sitting and staring on our back porch couch feeling something like a dead weight holding me there silent and downcast. My inner experience was strong enough that the event comes to mind from time to time in my adult life.
      Why depression in response to relief from the fear of loss of a parent and the desire for that radio? Because, in my 1950s family, the fear of losing a parent was not discussed, and because I coupled the fear with my strong desire for an unreachable object, the Sears Silvertone radio. When mother was home again, and I got that radio, those closures signalled the end both of fear and of desire. Now, what? As regular routines quickly reestablished themselves, they quashed the freedoms I had experienced during mother’s absence. The intensity of my desire for the radio was reflected in the depth of my let down beginning the moment I put my hand out to make the radio mine.
      When I finished writing this story, I heard an unnamed tune in the back of my mind that I began whistling. Eventually, I identified the song as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” . This kind of unbidden music can inform, can remind one of hidden or forgotten feelings.
      This morning I like to think that just as the song came to me unbidden today, so also Jesus the Forgiving Victim comes to us unbidden. When we are most vulnerable, then we are most able to recognize God’s healing presence in our lives freeing us to repent and live into God’s recovery and renewal by constructing “… something upon which to rejoice” – to quote T. S. Eliot writing in “Ash Wednesday.”

    • #46852

      Some years ago Rich, I had the good fortune to study Deuteronomy in Jerusalem with a Biblicist whose mother tongue was Hebrew. He taught us that the ‘Promised Land’ was not a strip of territory, but rather a metaphor for the presence of God, while the ‘Wilderness’ was the absence of God. But, that it is in the ‘Wilderness’ that we learn. And it seems to me that help and a sort of strengthening of faith and trust always comes, sometimes in unexpected ways, when we are deeply troubled. Your example of ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ and above all ‘Jesus the Forgiving Victim’ is a moving description of just that!

    • #46853
      Rich Paxson

      Sheelah, thank you for reflecting on your Jerusalem experience and your thoughts about my post. At long last I find the poetry of scripture speaking to me more directly than its literal content. I ‘get it’ that Images of ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Wilderness’ paradoxically bring the reality of God’s real presence more effectively than those ideas taken literally. I find this insight a great relief that opens up the very human struggle underpinning scripture through language both beautiful and sublime.
      This week I’m responding to the Working of Desire: Listen & Share (4.1) Discussion Question about praying our ‘smelly little desires’.
      A ‘smelly little desire’ reflects the judgement that there is something, or many things, inherently wrong about a soul’s desire. Judgement denies the desire by avoiding or masking the underlying condition or longing motivating the desire.
      When we deny the existence of a ‘smelly little desire,’ then the desire absorbs the energy needed for the denial thus strengthening rather than dissipating the desire. Avoiding or masking a desire ensures its longevity rather than facilitating its fading away. This paradox underpins the inherent goodness of praying our ‘smelly little desires.’
      Praying a ‘smelly little desire’ accepts its existence while lifting it up for God to help us tease apart the nature and legitimacy of the desire. Praying the desire releases the personal psychic and spiritual energy bound up both in the desire itself and bound up in avoiding the desire. Lifting it up to God frees a soul to understand the reasons for its ‘smelly little desire’ as it travels along a path of healthy and congruent personal integration.

      • #46855

        Yes, absolutely Rich. James tell us that ‘Our Father who sees in secret doesn’t despise our smelly little desires, and in fact, suggests that if only we can hold on to them, and insist on articulating them, that we will actually find ourselves, over time, moving through them organically to wanting more’. The possibility to acknowledge the desires that disturb us, even to greet them, and then let them go gently like a leaf floating down a stream, is today called “cognitive therapy”. But it is the teaching of the Desert Fathers of nearly two millennia ago. This is so important in contemplative prayer and is very effective. My psychiatrist friend once told me that anger is a good friend as it tells us that something is wrong!

    • #46854
      Rich Paxson

      The morning light is hazy gradually revealing the details of the Hawthorn tree just outside the window while leaving the maples across the yard dark, gray-green and indistinct. I’m writing this from the room in my house I planned to describe as my ‘storeroom,’ As I began writing, I had no idea of sharing what follows.

      Where is my “storeroom?” At first, I thought of a physical place, but my storeroom can be anywhere. It proceeds from a particular physical/mental state that, over the years, has come to feel familiar. Now is the first time, however, that I’ve connected my ‘storeroom state’ with Jesus’s admonition to retreat there to pray.

      I feel utterly quiet in the storeroom. I feel empty, hollow inside. My storeroom state, in which I can only be present, or not, is empty, and yet there is ‘looking out.’ There is seeing that simultaneously proceeds from my eyes and returns through them, which I do not control. All things occurring within the range of this vision are equally valuable, not right or wrong. I recognize their existence, and yet somehow it is not I who recognizes just the experience of recognition, no more or less. I am not speaking of being controlled by someone or something else. No, my experience of ‘storeroom’ is a reassuring presence, exactly of what I cannot say. I wonder whether this presence only becomes present to the extent that I seek stillness. Does it speak an invisible, unhearable language known viscerally if not cognitively but only to the extent that I allow the voice into the empirical, day-to-day of normal life?

      I wrote this response over a couple of days. When I first reviewed it, it sounded affected but also familiar and right. I decided to share it because, while it may be rough, I think it is a congruent attempt to describe something true for me, something I’ve known but denied over the years. By spending more time in the storeroom, I hope to get to know who I am when there, Who finds me in the storeroom and what is on offer to bring along when I leave the storeroom.

      • #46856

        Rich your ‘storeroom’ is the place of silence and stillness, so essential in our spiritual development. It is also the place of awe at the mystery of God. Gradually over time, and with the acceptance of our own ‘smelly desires’ we hopefully develop a compassion for all others, a wonderful non-judgemental place which makes us realise what faith and trust really are. To me, this is the essence of James’s very anthropological reading of Christianity in ‘Jesus the Forgiving Victim’.

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