Some time in the past I published a post called “Will and God’s Desire.” I have just thoroughly revised this post so as to use it for a brief introduction to a book I am writing that will explore various ways that Girard’s insights into mimetic desire can help us understand and live the Christian life. Several other blog posts will also provide matter for this book. Since a pair of introductory pages are of crucial importance for making the rest of the book work, I am posting it here and asking for any suggestions I might consider to make it clearer and stronger. Here is the introduction as I have it currently:
Spiritual writing often place much emphasis on obeying God’s will. That is good, but I think we can deepen our relationship with God by shifting the emphasis from trying to do God’s will to sharing God’s Desire. The two seem to amount to the same thing: if God desires something, then God wills it. But the differing connotations of these two words have a big effect. The words “obey God’s will” suggest that God’s will is something we should allow God to impose God’s on us. The phrase “share God’s Desire” has a much gentler connotation. It suggests that God has a certain Desire that God wishes to share. Sharing a desire is a very different thing than giving us marching orders. God’s Desire extends an invitation to us to enter into a great mystery. I purposely use the singular form of desire for God because, although God could be said to desire many things, they all converge into one all-encompassing Desire for the well-being of all creation.
Thinking and praying in terms of God’s Desire is attractive in the sense that it opens up a collaborative relationship with God, such as what Abraham and Moses showed when they bargained with God on behalf of God’s people. But our desires are complex, stimulating, and troubling. This problematic aspect of our desires makes us want to exert our own wills against them and then ask God to take the same dictatorial approach on them as well. But if God shares God’s Desire with us instead, then trying to do to ourselves with our own will what God does not do to us is not likely to work. That Desire is something God shares with us rather than imposes on us tells us something important about desire: desire is shared.
Here we come up against the biggest problem we have with our desires. We think they originate within ourselves and so belong to us. This causes us to treat them in a proprietary manner through exerting our wills on them. The French polymath thinker René Girard has suggested that the desires within us are not exclusively our own. They do not originate within ourselves but they originate from the desires of others. That is, our desires are shared. Not only are they shared, they are contagious like an epidemic. We see this when rage flares up throughout a social network like a firestorm. Shared desire can also be as contagious as a gentle smile that floats through people like a soft breeze. Girard calls this shared desire mimetic desire. That is, desire that imitates the desires of others. Actually, as I shall show when I explore this trait in the course of this book, it is important not to think of imitation as an external copying like mimicking the actions of others. Rather, our desires our shared through a deep resonance that connects us with other people and with God. When we think of desires as our own, we are likely to treat them like weapons in battles with other people with the will acting as the general aspiring to be a war god. But the more we try to assert our desires as our own, the more they are governed by the desires of others. The more we rebel against the desires of others, the more subject we are to them. If we try to control the desires of others by trying to make them imitate us, we are still organizing our lives around their desires all the more. Meanwhile, the people who have us trapped into imitating their desires are just as trapped into imitating ours.
This phenomenon of shared desire is like a dizzying labyrinthine worm that boars to the depths of our personhood. This is why trying to control our own desires as if they were strictly our own is beating the air. (1 Cor. 9:26) On a broad social scale, this labyrinth of mimetic desire can lead to meltdowns that lead to collective violence such as the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. For his part, as I will explain at length, Jesus nailed this persecutory meltdown to the cross, to quote Paul creatively (Col. 2:14).
God’s Desire enters into this dizzying matrix of human mimetic desire more deeply than the devouring worm ever could, probing far more deeply than the desires of other people so as to saves us from being overrun by these desires. The amazing thing about God’s Desire is its spaciousness, quite a contrast with the cramped nexus of human mimetic desire. In God’s Desire, there is all the room in the world. That is not surprising since God created all of the room in the world. While human mimetic desire creates scarcity through conflict, God’s Desire provides abundance such as the abundance Jesus that flowed from five barley loaves and two fishes in the wilderness. The gentleness of sharing God’s Desire might make it look like an easy option, but I find it highly challenging. Sharing God’s Desire asks of us nothing short of a total transformation of ourselves as we open our hearts to embrace the expansive Desire of God.
In bringing the shared aspect of desire to our attention, Girard and his many colleagues have opened up a powerful avenue for spiritual and social renewal. This small insight may not look like much but it has the power to help us understand how violence, especially violence connected with religion, occurs. This is especially true with the Paschal Mystery of Christ. More important, this small insight can help us learn how we can become living stones in the temple of God that explode into God’s Kingdom. In the pages that follow, I will explore these ideas as means of hearing God’s Word and making it flesh in our acts of service and prayer.