The Place of Desire
Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin: two women whose names rarely end up in the same sentence. In fact, the two might seem a universe apart. But author Ronald Rolheiser manages to pull them together, observing that the lives of both were powered by great energy directed toward great desire. Mother Teresa’s all-consuming desire was to love God by serving the poor. It was a singular, passionate longing that shaped the course of her life.
Janis Joplin was a woman whose passionate desires also shaped the course of her life. But as Rolheiser points out, “Joplin could not will the one thing. She willed many things. Her great energy went out in all directions and eventually created an excess and a tiredness that led to an early death. But those activities—a total giving over to creativity, performance, drugs, booze, sex, coupled with the neglect of normal rest—were her spirituality. . . . In her case, as is tragically often the case in gifted artists, the end result, at least in this life, was not a healthy integration but a dissipation. She, at a point, simply lost the things that normally glue a human person together and broke apart under too much pressure.”1
In truth, most of us fall somewhere between Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin. Though we hope we are closer to the former, we sometimes act in ways that betray our divided hearts, causing further disintegration in our personalities and in our relationship with God and others.
The more we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, the more our many desires will be reordered into the one great desire to know God, loving him as we are loved. As Søren Kierkegaard has famously said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” And as Jesus has said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8, niv).
1. Ronald Rollheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 8.