Buddhists have their “three poisons”; Christians have their “seven deadly sins.” Lust makes both lists, along with anger. But lust is the one that furrows men’s brows and crosses their legs. Our culture assumes that lust is all about the genitals. Yes, lust does involve a preoccupation with sexual pleasure, but it actually infests the entire being, as all sins do. The 16th century author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” writes that lust-driven men have been “seduced by an inordinate love of giving or receiving flattery and by a deep-seated need to be liked.”
By recent estimate, there are today more than eight billion ways to love.
There is a feeling afoot that we are being manipulated and pushed down upon by forces we do not control. This is not a new feeling. And it is not wrong. In fact, it is clearer than ever that [cue the sound of falling shibboleths] humankind is not in control. That we do not make it happen; we are to whom it happens. That we are not the doers; we are the done-to. The world today is precisely as the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described it 200 years ago: “Things are in the saddle and they ride mankind.” The Christian mystics were expressing this truth still earlier, in the 14th century during the time of the bubonic plague when fully half of England’s population was wiped out. Anonymous, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, described a pervasive feeling that “the creatures who should be beneath us and under our control, press obstinately down on us from above, between us and our God.” Today, indigenous peoples probably have the clearest perspective on this.
According to the apophatic method of self-inquiry, the via negativa of the Desert Fathers, I discover who I am through a process of self-obliteration. By being unflinchingly clear about who I am not. Okay, let’s get started. I am not what I do. I am not what I have done.
In just 20 words Jesus effaced the Ten Commandments…or, in view of how these commandments are actually lived out, the Ten Suggestions. He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is what Anonymous called “naked intent,” when all of life is devoted to one supreme love.