Where do you hide your heart? The question always reminds me of Amy Grant’s 1984 track on her hit album Straight Ahead. Her song encouraged us to turn to God during times of distress. It got me thinking about why people do what they do, particularly during times of conflict or stress. Passion and drive, the unconscious motivators of the human psyche, are often dismissed or forgotten by modern man, religious and secular alike. Considering this problem as a Christian, I notice that many Christians today are afraid of and neglect the mysteries of the psyche and the passions of the heart, favouring instead the physical and the intellectual alone.
The dichotomies of love, romance, and lust suffer from a schism between the reality of our unconscious drives and our cultural understanding of passion. Thanks to poorly read classical literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and thanks to the factory produced romance novel and porn industry, understanding of what passion may entail has been limited to the sexual endeavour. However, passion and the unconscious drives that motivate us affect more than sexual activity; it affects our philosophy, metaphysics, and ideological investments. I would argue that we ought to revise our understanding of the role love plays in our life – how our passions and desires form and are formed by habits and practices.
In Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, he suggests that primitive man was more in tune with the archaic remnants of his unconscious. As time went on, primitive man handled the chaos of the world by imposing order through naming and rituals. Nowadays, the unconscious has been totally subsumed, although it still asserts itself through dreams. The modern man, seeing himself as having conquered Nature, feels like the old ways of naming and ritual are no longer needed. Though chaos is still just around the corner, modern man feels in control. He states:
“Yet in order to sustain his creed, contemporary man pays the price in a remarkable lack of instrospection. He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and above all, a large array of neuroses.” (71)
Jung argues that there is “a strong empirical reason why we should cultivate thoughts that can never be proved” because humankind “positively needs general ideas and convictions that will give a meaning to his life and enable him to find a place for himself in the universe” (76). Jung sees the unconscious as being linked to the psyche, remnants of archetypal meaning that provides positive motivation to life. I would add to Jung’s argument and suggest that our passions and drives are also often subsumed into the unconscious. Our hidden psyche, our repressed desires, will often find outlet in the physical world, in our intellectual activities, and in our mythological making.
How do we view ourselves? As bodies, as minds, or as hearts? James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation challenges us to rethink how we view the human. Arguing that we are made to love, Smith suggests that we should adopt a “romantic theology” that emphasizes “ that we are creatures who love first and foremost” (80). He says,
“The most basic way that we intend the world is on the affective order of love. This love constitutes our fundamental and governing orientation to the world. As such, our love is always ultimate aimed at a telos, a picture of the good life that pulls us toward it, thus shaping our actions and behavior. This orientation is something that comes before thinking; thus we’ve described it as precognitive. It is more at work at the level of the adaptive unconscious or the “social imaginary”. Our love is aimed from the fulcrum of our desire – the habits that constitute our character, or core identity. And the way our love or desire gets aimed in specific directions is through practices that shape, mold, and direct our love.” (80)
Looking at the unconscious through the lens of a romantic Christian theology, exploring the psyche is not an intellectual exercise of parsing symbols and interpreting dreams but a call to affective living as a form of worship.
The Christian cultural response to passion, drive, or thirst, has been two-fold – two sides of an extreme pendulum: repression and enabling. Repression, pretending it isn’t happening, results in a disconnect between heart, mind, and body. When the body betrays the will of the individual (ie. alcoholism or neuroses), the individual may be confused as to where they went wrong and may not be able to deal with the ongoing problem. On the other hand, sometimes the passion or drive of the individual is simply enabled. In this permissive situation, the formation and motivation of passion and drive is misunderstood, leading to a kind of baptism of the heart as being wholly pure and any form of desire is encouraged. Passion and desire, however, can easily be corrupted or misused (ie. pedophilia or fornication). Both approaches to “handling” desire show fundamental issues with how we understand the role of the heart and the unconsidered subconscious drives of human nature.
What to do about this? I’m actually not sure. Perhaps a good first step would be to think deeply about what drives you. Analyzing your practices and habits may indicate the direction of your inner heart. Understanding your mythology is another great step. When a mythos or ideology is revisited, you may be challenged to realign your beliefs and ideas to better ground you within more truthful living. Choose better habits to shape you. Smith suggests that the habits and practices that drive and are driven by the heart “have a liturgical function” (87). “…they are a certain species of ritual practice that aim to do nothing less than shape our identity by shaping our desire for what we envision as the kingdom – the ideal of human flourishing. […] They want to determine what we love ultimately.” (87) As Christians, perhaps we can revisit our theology and recognize the importance love plays within it. Father Dubay’s small book, The Charism of Virginity, really challenged me. His conception of humankind is that we are thirst, and as such our relationship with God and the world is mediated through desire (21). Dubay argues that
“the human person as spirit in flesh breaks out into infinity, each of our desires for limited things implies a desire, usually unrealized a the moment, for the fullness of which the particular thing is only a tiny sharing. […] Curiosity for news or the eagerness to look upon a splendid sunset emerges from a radical desire to gaze upon the Truth and Beauty who has revealed himself as attainable in the beatific vision” (46).
Dubay also states: “The destiny of the human person is an immersion in the bosom of the inner trinitarian life. This love enthrallment is of course the greatest of all the commandments, the very raison d’etre of all men and women in every state of life” (24). With these arguments in mind, Dubay leads the reader to recognize the importance of seeing the Church as the Bride, but also encourages us to view ourselves as Brides (or Bosom Companions) of Christ, regardless of our marital or sexual status. Embracing this passionate relationship model allows for better exploration, analysis, and formation of our own desires.
Dubay’s Catholic penchant for visceral imagery made me feel uncomfortable to be honest, but I felt the challenge. Recently, I have decided to tackle Song of Songs, one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read, I think. When I went to Amazon looking for a study guide or study workbook, I discovered what I feared – tons of marriage-related material. Surely, I could read the book as a metaphor for relationship between the Trinity and humanity? With next to nothing available for singles. I chose a more “group-oriented” study book and have been slowly preparing for the study by writing Song of Songs by hand into a notebook. Already Chapter One has provoked a lot of thought, particularly verse 6. I am excited to see what this book has to say about love, but also what it may reveal about the passions of God and humankind. Hopefully this journey may lead me to a better understanding of who I am, what my drives are, and how better I may form myself for God’s use.
Chagall, Marc. Le Cantique des Cantiques IV. France, 1958, Date Accessed: April 15, 2020, <https://www.wikiart.org/en/marc-chagall/song-of-songs-iv-1958-6>.
Dubay, Thomas. “And You are Christ’s”: The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life. Ignatius Press, 1987.
Jung, Carl G. Man and His Symbols. Dell Publishing, 1964.
Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Baker Academic, 2009.