The pomegranate was probably the fruit used in the myths of the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden precisely because it was so beautiful and so, presumed by the church to be sinful. What is we were to take another look?
The eye of God watches us and sees our pain. God sees our struggles with the dessert regions of wilderness and none of us are free of that divine gaze. God looks on us and sees us in the light of Christ who comes in the Epiphany to expose life to the divine eye – a look of unutterable love and compassion, not one of judgment and anger as we so often presume or project.
After a millennia of the church’s attempts to scold and shame her people into paying the church money in order to get out of hell and God’s angry gaze, might it not be time to reconsider how we see God seeing us and how we, the church, sees money? And, going one step further, might we change how we see ourselves seeing ourselves?
The formation of our cathedral adults in Epiphany is focusing on the Baptism and its vows these days. Sunday we looked at the third vow in which we make a promise to turn from our “sinful desires.” The vow precisely calls us to turn from sinful desires which draw us from the love of God. In no way do our desires stop or in any way reduce God’s love. Rather they seem somehow to get in the way as if when the moon blocks the sun in an eclipse. When that happens, there is a massive shadow cast on this part of the cosmos and yet the sun’s heat is in no way diminished, only blocked.
Sinful desires need to be seen in order to be dealt with and that seeing is, I believe, the key to living a good and even holy life. In order to see with clarity our sinful desires we need to look with open, beautiful eyes, our desires in full such that the sinful ones may be set, gently, carefully, respectfully and determinedly aside, like a bomb found in a beautiful vegetable market.
To see our sinful desires and indeed to turn from them, we need to see the entire corpus of our desires and my experience tells me that we humans tend to avoid our desires because they frighten us. But I find, in the spiritual life, that our desires want simply to speak with us and when they are heard, their powerful throbbing diminishes and they calm down.
Many will say that out sinful desires are powerful because they dance before us and seduce us but I am not convinced that is true. Actually our sinful desires are more like a lighthouse on a rocky outcropping which warns us to steer clear. We have so sexualized sin and desire in our own western social and sensual repression that we have fed a beast we simultaneously are seeking to tame. But far more dangerous are desires which do not get seen with the eyes of our soul: our consuming of resources, our unkindnesses, our withholding of love, our held resentments, our reckless spending on our absurd and unfair lifestyles, our engagement in the systems which create world poverty and planetary destruction – our homes too large, our meals too large, our possessions too many, our thoughts too self-assured, our technology too distracting, our convictions that we are right too numerous. That is sinful desire – not a silky thigh or hard abs as much as an un-examined life.
So how do we deal with sinful desires? I believe what we must do is open our eyes and see them. That’s right. Just look at them directly. Stare into our sinful desires and hold their gaze for a nice long, if even uncomfortably long, time. We must take the time in the early morning with a candle and a coffee to look directly into the eyes of our desires and ask them “What do you want?”
They will tell us what they want since indeed all they want is to be listened to and heard by us. And then, when listened to, they will reduce, and sometimes even disappear.
Our sinful desires are here to teach us. We must ask ourselves what is beneath those desires? What is it that this sinful desire or that sinful desire wants? And the church needs to do this work institutionally just as humans must do it individually. What desire is sinful and demonstrates what need is not being met? And when we do the work of seeing those unmet needs, we will find that, like a red flare over the bow of a ship, our sinful desires will dissolve into the cool waters of our Baptism. And all that will be left are desires – which are not made evil but rather are made good – they are the love of live itself.