Stories move us, especially when the body gets the deeper meaning of powerful stories. Stories hold deep meanings that can’t be explained, only caught at the gut level, and when you catch it, it changes you, body and mind. Nathan D. Mitchell says that “our bodies make our prayers” Meeting Mystery, 224). I believe that, because I can say whatever I want to you, I can pray the fanciest of prayers, and make it believable to you, but my body can’t lie like that. When I eat terrible food that friend has made, I can say to them, “Oh man, this is so good!”, but my body is screaming at me, “Get this out of me!”
In James K. A. Smith’s Volume 2 of Cultural Liturgies, Imagining the Kingdom, he introduces the word praktognosia (56), meaning “know-how,” or to get something intuitively, at the gut level. This is how passions and desires work. Our bodies desire things passionately, usually at non-cognitive levels, and they feel things in the same manner. “I understand in ways I don’t know, and it is my body that understands” (58). We get things many times because our body responds to it before our minds conceive of the meaning. Stories have that kind of power to affect (move emotionally) our desires and actions, intersecting our bodies and minds.
In many ways, we have become so accustomed to analytical, systematic, scientific methods of learning and communicating, that we have lost the art of telling stories that “move” us into action or necessary change. This is especially true in the Christian culture, when desires are disordered and destructive. Many times, our answer to someone whose desires have gone whack (insert all of humanity here!), we respond with an answer that is behavioral and does not address the heart of the desire. For example, when a young man confesses looking at pornography, we say, “Hey dude, you gotta be in Word more”, or “How’s your prayer life”, or “Call me each time you struggle with this and I’ll help hold you accountable.”
Now, I admit that those are not bad things to do, but the issue I take with many “Christianese” responses to sinful desires (particularly sexual desires) is our lack of addressing the desire, and redirecting our imaginations to greater desires, desires that actually give life, not destroy life. Some of my greatest triumphs over sexual temptations are because I’ve had friends redirect my desires, rather than trying to shut down my desires. Trying to shut down our passions and desires by starving them out is not what we were meant to do as humans. There is a time for abstinence, but it’s not the long term solution. Our desire must be changed.
When we shut down desires and passions, we are bound to break eventually, because God gave us strong desires and passions, but they have been disordered. Sexual desires are inherently good, when they are order properly and directed towards the right person. We need holy imaginations to consider that our desires for things we can’t have are actually not desires that will bring us the joy and “fun” we wanted to have. In this case, our desires are weak desires. C.S. Lewis puts it best on the first page of his short excerpt entitled, Weight of Glory:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
We are indeed half-hearted creatures, with weak desires and imaginations that have been lost. We need a divine awakening of imagination. We need to be better story tellers, more transparent in our story telling, offering our passions through story, and imagining the good life through story. It is the story that captures our bodies, and our bodies know-how passions and desires work. When we capture our imaginations for goodness, our bodies know and our actions follow suit.
The body gets what the body wants. When we feed the body with corrupt desires and illicit imaginings, corruption and illicitness follows. When we feed the body with good desires and holy imaginings, goodness and holiness follows. Maybe our disordered culture of sexuality needs better story tellers of what the good life really is. It seems as if our pop culture has told better, more convincing stories than anyone else, using sex to sell, and making millions off of disordered desires.
It’s time we tell better stories. We should know (and deeply believe) after all these years, that pop-culture isn’t fooling anyone, as we can clearly see how it’s stories have contributed to miserable marriages, lonely people, and confused children, who continue to cope by jumping into and living out of the destructive story of pop-culture. Imagine with me for moment, that the good life is faithfulness to one spouse, great sex in the context of a committed marriage, staying when it was easier to leave (kind of like Jesus did on the cross for us), the joy of being true to yourself, and the dignity we can all offer men and women by not objectifying them. Wouldn’t that be a sweet world to live in!
Our desires don’t need to be ignored or buried, they need to be re-storied with the true story of the universe, the only story that holds the answer to the pitiful place we are in as humans; the story that we all praktognosia when properly heard or seen. The story of God re-gathering his family together and reordering this world to the way it was supposed to be. Imagine stories that were birthed from this story. Imagine stories that give contextual witness to the goodness of God’s plan. Imagine stories that re-framed respecting women as economically profitable, and giving dignity to our bodies a virtue more desired.
What stories or imaginations have captured you either negatively or positively? Which stories have you believe in that are producing death in you? What stories are you telling to yourself? To others? It’s time we pay attention to the stories we are listening to and telling, and be better stewards of humanity and our sexuality, before we lose another generation to disordered sexual passions.