Disordered desire

While reading a beautiful book by the Catholic writer Father Iain Matthew – The Impact of God, I came across the term “disordered desire”, which I think is quite a common term in Christian literature. The idea is that it is not desire that is problematic for a spiritual life, as may be assumed by certain monastic attitudes. The problem arises when the desire becomes disordered – when it becomes not a willful act only, but something that the person cannot help doing.

A person may have a desire for the meaning of his life, a meaning that is unique, deeply personal, yet connected to the outer world. He may not find such meaning, as often happens, but he may find a gratification in smoking a cigarette all the time – a kind of psychological and physical ‘making one’s own’, an appropriation of something from the outer world. He is connected to the world, yet he has his own meaning giving object, which is inside him, even physically. In psychoanalytic terms, he is being oral-retentive. The smoking helps this person get over a nebulous, un-understood sense of sadness at not having discovered a spiritual meaning.

Here, the person’s inability to let go of the object of desire reveals that the desire functions to keep certain aspects of his experience out of consciousness. Hence, disordered desire is a desire that is motivated by escapism.

Perhaps one of the implications of the idea of a calling is that all of us have been fashioned to desire in a particular way. However, when we use this desire to avoid aspects of our environment, or ourselves, then the desire becomes disordered.

How to resolve this? A person whose desire is not disordered can tolerate a large range of disappointment and suffering. An attachment to certain states of mind has precisely the motivation to not tolerate something in one’s stream of consciousness. The toleration of frustration, then, without escaping it, is a purification of the soul.

As Father Matthew writes, echoing St. John of the Cross, suffering may be used as a refinement of desire, which enables the person to direct it at its real goal – the transcendent.

~ by tdcatss on November 29, 2012.

2 Responses to “Disordered desire”

  1. Thanks for sharing about disordered desire, Kaif! I hadn’t heard of it before, so loved learning something new for me!

  2. :)

    Disordered desire – is this not a part of Protestant writings?

    It seems that the Protestant writings, and even persons, I have come across tend to be more devotional, speaking from the heart. The Catholics have that also, but perhaps they emphasise a more scholarly, or a more speculative dimension. Perhaps that is in sync with their emphasis on the necessity of forms – theology, ritual, etc. – as an expression of faith. But this is only my limited experience about the Christian faith.

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