Saturday, April 14, 2007


I am belatedly "discovering" the work of Sebastian Moore. His Jesus the Liberator of Desire is a brilliant blend of philosophy, ascetical theology, and psychology focused on Christology. Nearly every other sentence sparks a sense of recognition: "Yes, that is what I believe," or "Thank you for putting into words what I've sensed but haven't been able to articulate."

He is well worth quoting at length:
I have long been persuaded that desire is not an emptiness needing to be filled but a fullness needing to be in relation. Desire is love trying to happen . . . Desire does not spring from a sense of emptiness, it is true. But there is in it a sense of incompleteness. As I experience it, it is still in the process of becoming desire, it is still finding its subject. It is still getting a "who" . . . and thus the notion of a person as a relatedness - which gave Augustine his breakthrough on the Trinity - becomes more deeply rooted. The desire whereby I am drawn to another is partly constituitive of who I am. To be drawn to another is to become more myself. (p. 18)
Now, this strikes me as very counter-cultural in the West, where the individual is defined over-against the other rather than in relation-to the other. To be given my identity in relation to others is not something against which we must struggle, but is how the self comes to be at all. It is in relationship that the fullness of who we are comes to expression, overflows.

Of course this scares us to death, because our identity is not something under our control, but rather is something in the process of unfolding as it is given to us. Moore again:
Fear is of the changing of the ego that the progressive unfolding of desire brings about. We fear the unknown. Especially we fear becoming someone we do not as yet know. To liberate the desire for this becoming is to come into the perfect love that casts out fear. I have discerned in myself - and have found others in agreement - the curious fact that I dread not needing the things I now think I can't live without, more than I dread actually losing those things. Any takers? If you agree here, you have an excellent example of our dread of spiritual growth - a fear stronger than the fear of deprivation. Who really wants to feel like Jesus? (p. 19)
Jesus liberates us from the fear of becoming who we are in relationship to others (and to the Other). Moore is restating in contemporary language the anthropology (and pathology) of desire elucidated by St. Paul in Romans. What is striking to me about this is the re-framing of our typical sense of "emptiness" as " repressed fullness." The appropriate metaphor for the human condition is not that of an empty bottled that needs to be filled (the metaphor that advertisers would have us adopt), but rather that of a full bottle that needs to be emptied - that is ready to burst from being stopped up. This has many practical, pastoral implications, I think, in addressing problems as diverse as addiction and global climate change.

We are killing ourselves and the planet by trying to fill an empty bottle. We are trying to solve the wrong problem. We need to empty the bottle, to let go, to give ourselves away to others rather than continually taking from them. As we do so, we discover that the "bottle" is bottomless. A final quote from Moore for today:
The development of desire is a progressive changing of what is desired and who is desiring. That which demands and shapes this changing is the trust-relationship with the mystery in which we live . . . The need to change and grow is the need of this dialogue to deepen. The need for this process to come to a full transformation stems from the ultimacy of the mystery that initiates it. For the finite to become one with the infinite is a total transformation . . . Human identity is in the mystery that we call God. We become who we are to the extent that this mystery is working on us, changing us. (p. 19)
It is this full transformation, this undergoing of union with God that is the way in which we become our selves; it is this process of becoming into which we are baptized in Christ. Moore has a lot more to say about death, suffering, and sin as these relate to this process. More on Moore later, I hope.


kevin said...

interesting stuff

Lonny Jarrett said...

The piece on Truth and Compassion was absolutely beautiful. I'd love to be in touch, can you send an email address/ Thanks, Lonny Jarrett

Anonymous said...

Sebastian Moore used to preach at the 10 PM Eucharist Sunday nights when I was at Boston College. He was always fascinating and a wonderful, gentle person. I hope he is well.