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10 Books to Read in 2013: The Wounding and Healing of Desire, by Wendy Farley

Another non-fiction book--this time, intensely personal theology.


The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth, by Wendy Farley, is the third book I've read in the past couple of years that has given me words for concepts that I have struggled to live into and claim as my own. First, Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love (from the 1600s); then Grace for the Good Girl; now, this.

Farley is a practicing theologian, an academic and professor, but here she is not presenting reasoned arguments for the existence or nature of God. It is what I would call experiential theology: explorations of God and humanity informed by the author's own experience and by the experiences of those before her, beginning with desert ascetics and female mystics, and continuing into folk songs and stories.

Farley uses Christian vocabulary and writings, but also additional wisdom and readings--everything from African-American folk songs to Buddhist meditative practices (particularly the Four Noble Truths and the concept of "vajra pride." In Farley work, these various wisdoms complement each other in specific ways, rather than competing to describe the world and the spiritual journey of human beings.

The book begins by talking about the buried desire of the human heart. Farley identifies this as our longing for God--for wholeness, for love, for true connection.

She maintains that we often mistake that central desire for other impulses and try to fill it with other, temporary, impermanent loves. These mistakes bind us--not only to addiction and rage, but also to terror. We can be drawn to fulfill desire by the rules of morality as much as by licentious selfishness; either one can destroy us, tie us down, choke our spirits.

The last two chapters in the book veer somewhat from the path she's taken so far. The description of contemplative practice as a means to bring us back to Divine Love is attractive and succinct, but I felt it was too small to complement the beautiful layout of the human spirit in the first 2/3 of the book.

The most memorable part, for me, is the manner in which Farley discusses the transformation of the self, the breaking down of egocentrism. It's not spoken of as humiliation or the erasure of the self, but as a healing. As a release of true power in and through a person. That meshes wonderfully with how I have been learning to regard myself as beautiful even though I am not perfect, and to regard rules of morality (as opposed to acting morally out of love) as crippling in the same way that more obvious "sins" can be.

The Wounding and Healing of Desire is mystical in places, yet not irrational--deeply felt and deeply compassionate. I recommend it to anyone looking for new language to talk about sin and being ransomed from bondage, or to anyone interested in contemplative practice.
Tags: books, buddhism, christianity, experiential theology, godstuff, pain, theology
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