I love this book. The title reeled me in because these are the themes that so intersect with my work in the Song of Songs and how I see fullness of life now. Not only that, the subtitle, Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community is literally MY JAM! Longing, beauty, and community are themes that I have been pursuing, themes I have found not only in the Song, but am seeing it as a microcosm of all of Scripture—the metanarrative. And it is what has been the direction of healing for me from abuse within the church. Not only that, my fascination with learning how our minds work had me even more intrigued with the neuroscience aspect.
I didn’t know what to expect from this author, as I had never heard of him. And there is always that suspicion that there may be too much of a psychologizing of the faith from a psychiatrist, making it more about me than God. But psychology is part of being a human. And if we want to be holistic in our life of faith, it is an important part of being human that the church needs to address. Psychology addresses part of how God made us.
Curt Thompson invites us to pay attention to the world in a different way. He wants us to look at what we stuff down and what impedes a robust, fructifying spiritual life. He wants us to truly see others and connect with them in confessional communities. He wants us to consider our deepest longings, our true place, and find reality in the beauty both God and we create collaboratively. He wants us to enter into the new creations we have become and are becoming. And our triune Creator has made us to be creative. We are “practicing for heaven” even as we are on our way.
This is why we are people of desire. We think of desire as such a naughty word, something we continually have to squelch, kill. But desire is something that is part of the essence of who we are as human beings, differentiated as men and women, icons of the triune God. God desires his people, and our own desires are meant to be fulfilled in his gaze. Thompson’s teaching is so in synch with the Song without mentioning it once. I don’t know if that was incredibly frustrating for me or validating of the truths so beautifully and artistically portrayed in its lyrics.
Because we are human, we long for beauty. It’s the aching that all of our senses pine for—what Thompson calls a holy longing. Therefore, this holy longing can only be satiated by the triune God. He beckons all of our senses in communion with him. Thompson speaks of desire as*:
…our experience of this entire collective convergence of what we sense, image, feel, think, and are primed to do behaviorally that amounts to ‘what we want.’
…‘What we want,’ then, is a complex constellation of experiences, sensations, and impulses, all of which are continually trying to make sense. This process of ‘making sense of what we sense’ is fundamental to how we humans, unique among living creatures, develop into story tellers.
Here is the deep paradox that Thompson is exploring:
It is desire that evil exploited, inserting shame in its place, yet desire is the very substance of our created being to which God is calling.
And in our fallen state, we are so tangled up in this. As Thompson puts it:
For truly, it is a thin line that separates our longing for beauty and goodness from our exploitation of them.
We become disintegrated. And then,
In fact, our ‘problems’—not least our greatest relational sufferings—are directly related to misdirected and unmet desire.
And so, we are not to ignore desire, stuffing it down until it combusts within us. We are to truly see what is desirable in its purity. This is to know reality. It’s what we truly want. And we need one another to discover, celebrate, and grow in it. Amazingly, as seekers of beauty and goodness, we become collaborative creators of and in it. What an honor to behold! And most often, the path to get there is through our own grief, trauma, pain, and brokenness. God sees us and helps us to see that since he has borne our shame, these broken pieces of our lives will be used to create something beautiful in ourselves and in our relationships. We can’t pick up the pieces on our own. Thompson teaches that we need to be seen, soothed, safe, and secure to integrate our knowledge of who God is and what he is doing so that we can take risks in sharing the truth of who we are, where we are, what we want, and what we are willing to suffer for it, all the while knowing whom we love.
Darn it, I’m already at 800 words. I am going to continue blogging on this book. I think I will do a few posts to talk about beauty, right brain/left brain, confessing communities, and sexuality. Stay tuned! But for now, preorder the book!