We need to study desire. We are inclined to think that there are just good and bad desires, but no state of non-desire, no end to desire. This parallels our attitude to the mind: we are inclined to think that there is good and bad thinking, but no state of non-thinking. These twin blind spots are our resistance to contemplation. Just as we have to learn a silence of the mind, we have to learn a silence of the heart, a silence of desire.
If so, then how are we to read psalm 62?
“O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.”
And Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to knock (Matthew 7:7). But what of Jesus himself? Did he have unfulfilled desire? “In him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Fulfilment - fulness - is the end of desire. How then are we to hear his “I thirst” on the cross?
Julian of Norwich gives us a key. His desire, his spiritual thirst, she says, is for us, not for himself. “This is his thirst and his longing in love for us, to gather us all here into him, to our endless joy, as I see it. For we are not now so wholly in him as we then shall be.” (Showings, ch. 31) This thirst was raging in him not only during his Passion, she says, but from the beginning; and it will last till the consummation of the world. “For he still has that same thirst and longing which he had upon the Cross; which desire, longing and thirst, as I see it, were in him from without beginning; and he will have this until the time that the last soul which will be saved has come up into his bliss.” (ibid.)
How are we to see our own many and varied desires? Fulfilment is the end of desire, but we are often so attached to the excitement of desire that we refuse fulfilment, or we generate a further desire so as not to be without desire. Desire is a longing for what is not yet fulfilled - in other words, not yet present. Yet, paradoxically, nothing feels so ‘present’ as the absent object of desire; while real presence feels like absence (because it is the end of desire). It is like courtship and marriage. We must remain open to the possibility of the fulfilment of some of our desires; otherwise our desire may be only for desire itself.
We are fulfilled, and yet not fulfilled. “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). We are not nowhere, yet we have not arrived at our final destination; we are in via, not yet in patria. There is already fulfilment of desire, yet there is more to desire.
Parched as burnt clay is my throat,
My tongue cleaves to my jaws. (Ps 21)