Desire and Concupiscence

Remember the last time you gave a gift and it was unappreciated, even rejected?  What this person is doing was what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. John Paul II’s exegesis of the first chapters in Genesis revealed a theme of gift in Creation before the Fall. This idea of gift (what JPII calls the “hermeneutics of the gift”) is important because giving gifts for no other reason than love is a very human activity. Ordinary human experience has a theological character. We can come to the knowledge of God through normal human activity. Something as commonplace as gift-giving actually reveals the depth of disappointment in Genesis 3:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;
for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When I first read that passage about four years ago, being new to the faith, the cynical part of me felt God overreacted to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  It’s just fruit.  Knowledge isn’t bad.  Did God want to keep Adam and Eve in ignorance, to not know what is good and evil?  I was even prejudiced with the little I knew in evolutionary biology: did God want us to stay as Neanderthals?  Why have the tree to tempt humanity, or even give us free will for that matter, if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit?

Those questions stayed unanswered in the back of my mind.  After reading JPII’s reflections on Original Sin in the Theology of the Body, I’ve come to some satisfying answers for myself that I’d like to share.  To do that, I want to bring back the analogy of the flower that I used when I was reflecting on the spousal meaning of the body.

concupiscence-wilted-flower

Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.

What if a worm offers the flowers a type of nectar that would give them the power to define what is right and what is wrong?  By eating this nectar, the flowers would then be able to define morality on their own.  This power makes each flower feel like it is God.  The flower is no longer dependent on God to define what is right and wrong.  Each flower can determine that on its own; they need neither God nor another flower to tell them what is a virtuous life.  They are drunk with this newfound power, needing no one, depending on no one.  Each flower is the master of his or her own universe.  This is how Original Solitude was corrupted.  When confronted by the Heavenly Gardener, they do not repent.  Instead, the flowers blame each other, corrupting Original Unity.  They cover themselves with grass and feathers.  So, the very flowery-ness of their body no longer communicated their inner life to each other, obscuring their Original Nakedness.  As punishment, the Heavenly Gardener made life difficult for the flowers.  So, Creation was no longer a gift to the flowers, and the flowers were no longer gifts to Creation.  The spousal meaning of the body was also corrupted.

The most fascinating part about this section in the Theology of the Body, is JPII’s discussion on desire and concupiscence.  I know the dictionary definition for “concupiscence”: strong sexual desire; lust.  I know what the Catechism says about concupiscence:

The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self.  The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason. (CCC 377)

I know what the Bible says about the “triple concupiscence” referred to in CCC 377:

For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:16; Douay-Rheims version).

But what does concupiscence really mean?

I credit my wife for helping me extend the analogy of the flower.  I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to explain in normal terms what I have been reading.  So, a few nights ago, I shared my thoughts with my wife.  She was patient enough to hear me out and then pointed out how the flower analogy still makes sense.

What happens to a flower when it loses its water?  It wilts.  When Original Sin occurred, the living water (i.e. the Holy Spirit) evaporated from the flower of our soul.  Our souls are like a wilted flower.  Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.  Unfortunately, we usually want a quick fix.  So, we take whatever liquid comes our way: the sweat of promiscuity, the syrup of earthly possessions, the drool of greed.  Only when we wake up to what our soul really needs (the limitless flow of living water that is the Holy Spirit), will our thirst finally be quenched.  “Our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Saint Augustine of Hippo).