Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

by Christopher West
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Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West

The bestselling author, speaker, and teacher of John Paul II's Theology of the Body explores the yearning we all have for God and each other.

Fill These Hearts is a book about desire.  Not trivial wants or superficial cravings, but the most vital powers of body and soul, sexuality and spirituality, that haunt us and compel us on our search for something.  Weaving life-altering lessons together from classical and contemporary art, pop music, movies, and the Christian mystical tradition, popular theologian Christopher West explores the ancient but largely forgotten idea that the restless, erotic yearnings we feel in both our bodies and our spirits reveal the cry of our hearts for God.  Along the way, West blows the lid off the idea of Christianity as a repressive, anti-sex religion by demonstrating that Christ came to stretch and inflame our desire for love and union to the point of infinity.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307987136
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 132,253
Product dimensions: 5.94(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER WEST is a research fellow and faculty member of the Theology of the Body Institute. He is also one of the most sought after speakers in the Church today, having delivered more than 1,000 public lectures on four continents, in more than a dozen countries, and in over 200 American cities. His books--Good News About Sex & Marriage; Theology of the Body Explained; and Theology of the Body for Beginners--have become Catholic bestsellers.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


Everybody’s got a hungry heart.

—Bruce Springsteen

In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to explore the galaxy. A golden record called The Sounds of Earth was affixed to each of the twin spacecrafts—a message from earth to anyone out there in the universe who might be listening. It contained both music and the sound of a human heartbeat.

Annie Druyan served as the creative director of NASA’s famous Voyager Interstellar Message (VIM) Project. Along with Carl Sagan and a few others, she was entrusted with the task of coming up with earth’s message to the rest of the universe. Reflecting on the experience in a 2009 interview, she recalled,

The first thing I found myself thinking of was a piece by Beethoven from Opus 130, something called the Cavatina Movement . . . When I [first] heard this piece of music . . . I thought . . . Beethoven, how can I ever repay you? What can I ever do for you that would be commensurate with what you’ve just given me? And so, as soon as Carl said, “Well, we have this message, and it’s going to last a thousand million years,” I thought of . . . this great, beautiful, sad piece of music, on which Beethoven had written in the margin . . . the word sehnsucht, which is German for “longing.” Part of what we wanted to capture in the Voyager message was this great longing we feel.

A song of human longing launched into space . . . It’s all the more poignant based on the Latin root of the word “desire” (de sidere—“from the stars”). It’s as if NASA’s scientists were saying to the rest of the universe: “This is who and what we are as human beings: creatures of longing.” And hidden in that basic “introduction to who we are” seems a question for extraterrestrials, almost a test to see if we can relate to them: Do you feel this too? Are we the only ones? Are we crazy?

Perhaps even more we wanted to say to any other intelligent life out there, “If you feel this longing, this ache for something too, what have you done with it? Have you discovered anything that can fill it or cure it?” As Annie Druyan relates, “We were hoping that, you know, maybe things like passion and longing . . . are not just limited to our narrow experience but might be something . . . felt on other worlds.”

And how best to communicate that longing we feel? Music. “We thought that the vibrations of the music would speak for us in ways that the machine itself and maybe the pictures and the other things that we had to offer wouldn’t,” explained Druyan.

Longing for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful

What is it about music that can stir such emotion, tap into such profound movements and yearnings of the soul? I remember the first time I felt it. I was maybe eight years old, and Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born to Run” came on the radio. At the end of the song as “the Boss” opened his rib cage and gave free rein to some kind of cosmic cry of his heart, something broke open inside me. I didn’t even know what he was singing about, but lying in my bed with my head near the radio, it was as if a crack to the universe opened on my bedroom ceiling and something “ginormous” rumbled through my soul.

The music of Bruce Springsteen and U2 takes up a large section in the sound track of my life. So it was a special treat for me when Springsteen inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. That night the Boss put his finger on what I first felt lying in bed almost thirty years earlier: “A great rock band,” he said, “searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. They want the earth to shake and spit fire, they want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.” Then he paused and said a bit sheepishly, “It’s embarrassing to want so much and expect so much from music, except, sometimes it happens.”

Yes. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes we hear a certain song or piece of music and it awakens something inexplicable at our core . . . an ache, a burning, a throbbing, a yearning . . . Beneath our rather surface-y contentment with the workaday world, beneath our desire to earn money and live until Friday, there’s a much deeper desire, isn’t there? We’ve all felt it. Indeed, that collective cry that arises from the depths of our humanity for something to fill these hearts is what makes us human. Desire is part of our design, and if we follow it through to its furthest reaches we seem to intuit that it will lead us to our destiny.

That hunger, that nostalgia, that longing can be awakened not only by a favorite song, but also by a favorite movie or poem, or through an encounter with the beauty of creation (type “double rainbow” into YouTube for a dramatic example of the latter). Sometimes it comes late at night when everything’s quiet, we can’t sleep, and we’re all alone with the rhythm of our own breathing and heartbeat. In those moments, if we’re brave enough to feel it, we sense the desperation of our own poverty, our own need. We’re made for something more. And that “something more” is missing. It eludes us. But whatever “it” is, we want it. And it hurts.

The Greek philosopher Plato called that interior yearning eros. Eros was the Greek god of love and was identified by the Romans with Cupid. Cupid comes from the Latin word cupere, “to desire.” Cupid, of course, conjures up the image of the winged boy with his bow and arrow. The human yearning we’re exploring in this book can certainly be experienced as a kind of piercing arrow that wounds the heart, so to speak, making it “bleed” in a desperate search for satisfaction and fulfillment. But eros shouldn’t be limited merely to romantic love or sexual desire. While eros certainly has sexual connotations that we shouldn’t (and in this book won’t) neglect, the meaning of eros is broader than that. Plato described eros as our longing for all that is true, good, and beautiful. Sad thing is, most of us don’t know where to direct that fire inside, so we end up getting burned and burning others. When that happens, the temptation can be to blame the “ache” itself, and to want to squelch it somehow, to snuff it out.

“Yet there is no escape from the burning desire within us for the true, the good, the beautiful,” writes Dominican father and playwright Peter John Cameron. “Each of us lives with the unextinguishable expectation that life is supposed to make sense and satisfy us deeply. Even the most jaded atheist feels cheated if he doesn’t experience meaning, purpose, peace—in a word—happiness in this life. But just where does this universal expectation for personal fulfillment come from?” he asks. “It isn’t something we drum up or manufacture on our own. Rather, the burning yearning for ‘what is real’ is incorporated into our design. This burning can lead either to the torment of pain or the torrent of love. It will either consume us or consummate us.”

There it is: what we do with that “ache” in our bones is no small matter. It’s no footnote in the grand scheme of things. What we do with our yearning is precisely what determines “the grand scheme of things” in each of our lives. What we do with eros—where we take it—will determine whether we are consumed or consummated, whether we are brought to ruin or reunion . . . with whatever that “something” is we’re seeking.

Seeking Union

The yearning of eros reveals that we are incomplete, and that we are in search of another to make “sense” of ourselves. Although that yearning originates deep in our souls, it’s also manifested in our bodies. Our very bodies tell the story of our incompleteness: more specifically, those parts of our bodies that distinguish us as male and female.

Think about it—a man’s body makes no sense by itself; and a woman’s body makes no sense by itself. Seen in light of each other, the picture becomes complete: we go together! Is this merely a biological reality that resulted from a random evolution? Or might a loving God be trying to tell us something fundamental about who he is and who we are by creating us this way? Consider the possibility that human sexuality—our maleness and femaleness and the call to “completion” inherent there—is itself a message from God. Consider the idea that our bodies tell a story that reveals, as we learn how to read it, the very meaning of existence and the path to the ultimate satisfaction of our deepest desires.

From the Christian point of view, our creation as male and female is a “sacramental” reality: a physical sign of something transcendent, spiritual, and even divine. In the biblical understanding, there exists a profound unity between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. This means that our bodies are not mere shells in which our true “spiritual selves” live. We are a profound unity of body and soul, matter and spirit. In a very real way, we are our bodies.

We can see this truth in the fact that if I were to haul off in a fit of rage and break somebody’s jaw, he wouldn’t sue me for property damages; he’d sue me for personal assault. Our living bodies are our living selves. And this means our bodily maleness or femaleness speaks to our deepest identity as persons. As John Paul II observed, our bodies show us who we are and also who we are meant to be.

Indeed, the moment we are born (or even sooner today with sonograms), we are personally identified by our sex organs. “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” And as this sexual identity develops and matures it expresses itself as an undeniable cry of the heart for completeness. Who doesn’t remember the tumultuous years of puberty, when that sense of “incompleteness” is awakened and the yearning of eros (in the specifically sexual sense) presents itself with all its angst and mayhem?

The poetry, myths, and literature of the whole world explore this link between sexuality and man’s quest for “something more”—for completeness, happiness, fulfillment. In ancient philosophy, Plato believed that the human being was originally spherical and complete in himself but was later split in two by the god Zeus as a punishment for pride. Plato said that men and women were constantly seeking their “other half,” longing to rediscover their original integrity.

In the Judeo-Christian perspective the division of the human race into two sexes is not a result of punishment but is part of the original and “very good” design of the world. Still, in the biblical narrative “the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete.’ The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh’ (Gen. 2:24)” In other words, man finds a certain completion in giving himself fully to woman, and woman in giving herself fully to man—a gift so intimate that the two become “one flesh.”

Eros: Yearning for Infinity

In the New Testament we learn that this “prophecy about Adam” was ultimately a prophecy about the “New Adam,” Christ the Bridegroom, who would leave his Father in heaven to become “one flesh” with his Bride, the Church (see Eph. 5:31–32). What an astounding proclamation! The Christian faith proclaims not only that God loves us, but that God loves us in such an intimate way that the Scripture compares that love to the love of husband and wife in their most intimate embrace. In fact, God made us as sexual beings—as men and women with a desire for union—precisely to tell the story of his love for us. In the biblical view, the fulfillment of love between the sexes is a great foreshadowing of something quite literally “out of this world”—the infinite bliss and ecstasy that awaits us in heaven. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, erotic love is meant to provide “not just fleeting pleasure, but also a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude [blissful happiness] for which our whole being yearns.”

“We talk about different ‘sexual orientations’ in human life,” says Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist turned Catholic priest and a beloved professor of mine. “But the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is the human heart’s yearning for infinity. Human sexuality, therefore, is a sign of eternity.” This means sex is not just about sex. As we learn to “read” the story our bodies tell as male and female, we discover that sex is meant to point the way to the ultimate fulfillment of our every desire. Now, let me clarify—this is not to say that sexual activity is itself our ultimate fulfillment. That’s the major mistake the world is making today. When we aim our desire for infinity at something less than infinity (like sex), we’re inevitably left wanting, disillusioned, and disappointed. But, again, sex is meant to be a sign, a foreshadowing of ultimate fulfillment.

In short, that combustible force called eros is meant to be the fuel that launches our rocket toward the infinite. And from this perspective it’s all the more meaningful that NASA scientists launched Beethoven’s “ode to longing” out into the far reaches of the galaxy—looking, hoping, groping, perhaps, for some answer to the question What are we human beings looking for? What are we to do with that deep ache we feel inside for “something”?

It seems to me we have three choices, three offerings held out by three distinct “gospels.” The word “gospel,” of course, means “good news.” Everyone is searching for some “good news,” some promise of happiness. Each of the three “gospels” that I’ll outline in this book offers a promise of happiness determined by a specific orientation of our desire, a specific invitation for how to direct or how to deal with our hunger. I put “gospel” in quotes, however, because not every promise held out to us is truly good news. Each of the three “gospels” purports to be good news, but it’s up to us to test each one, poke holes in it, see if it holds water, see if it pans out. I call these “gospels”:

GOSPEL #1: the starvation diet

GOSPEL #2: fast food

GOSPEL #3: the banquet

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Well done! Christopher West has done a masterful job of confronting the inherent dualism lurking in much of modern Western theology, exposing the deepest longings of the human soul as an authentic yearning for union with God.”  
–Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack and Cross Roads
"Fill These Hearts is a cultural balm. Christopher West writes with great love, of great love, drawing readers into His Sacred Heart."
–Kathryn Jean Lopez, nationally syndicated columnist and editor-at-large, National Review
"Christopher West has a great gift for theological exploration. In this book he weaves lessons from classical and contemporary art, pop music, movies and the Christian mystical tradition to explore the ancient idea that the yearnings we feel in our bodies and spirits reveal the cry of our hearts for God."
–Nicky Gumbel, vicar and bestselling author of Questions of Life

"Drawing deeply from the well of the Theology of the Body, Christopher West explains that the Faith is not simply about following a code of conduct but about Beauty. The beauty of the human body, the beauty of our culture and the beauty of the whole cosmos are all a reflection of this same Beauty. This is the mystery that needs to be proclaimed joyfully for all to hear for it holds the key to joy in this life and the next, for each of us. Above all, West writes with this joy."
 –David Clayton, Artist in Residence and Fellow at Thomas More College

"Christopher West is a gifted and effective evangelist with a passion for tackling one of the greatest obstacles to belief today: the heresy that Christianity is a joyless, rule-bound religion. Not so, argues West, in this timely, powerful book. Drawing upon Scripture, the saints and the glimmers of truth in pop culture, West reminds us that Christianity is essentially a love story, and Christian sexual ethics exist to help us fulfill, not repress, our deepest desires. For anyone who has ever doubted that Christ’s call to purity of heart is good news, Fill These Hearts will prove a surprising and consoling read, one with the potential to change your life as well as your mind."
–Colleen Carroll Campbell, author of My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir
"In Fill These Hearts, Christopher West explains the nature of desire, freedom, and love, including erotic love. He does so as a believing Catholic, yes. But if you come to this book with the typical prejudices aimed at what Catholics believe about these things, you are likely to be shaken to your very core. Be warned: this book is unlike any other you’ve ever read. It holds up the spirit of our age – as expressed in modern, presumed “secular” idioms like rock ‘n’ roll and popular movies – and places it under the searchlight of the most fundamental understandings of human nature. What emerges is a book that is as knowing about the modern world as it is about the teachings of Christ and the mystic-saints who have followed him throughout the ages. In fact, West brings these phenomena together in a way that has never been done before, and does so without a false note on either score."
–John Waters, columnist, The Irish Times and author of Lapsed Agnostic

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Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
MLJW24 More than 1 year ago
This ranks with a very small number of books that are truly "Life Changing" without such a claim being mere hyperbole. For me, this alters forever the view of God, Sex and what it actually means to be a human being. It will be impossible for me to view movies, music, food, sex, desire, God, relationships, in the same way after reading this book. It is like going from grainy black & white film to IMAX 3D. Rarely have I been drawn in to read a book cover to cover in one sitting, but this was a quick, exciting, entertaining, but profound journey of revelation about what humans ache for, the deepest longing for love and the ache and fear of loneliness. It felt like reading a book co-written by Seth Godin/Tribes and Rick Warren/The Purpose Driven Life. But, this was not a practical guide to do anything or 'become' something different. This was an exposition, a discovery of who we already are, but may have forgotten or perhaps never known. In doing so, it changes everything about life and who we are, what we want and why we want it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is phenomenal!!! Christopher West is a genius!  I was once teetering on the edge of becoming a Christian, and Christopher West's book "At The Heart of The Gospel" is what pushed me over! Now, this new book, I had to get and read immediately!!  There's so much tangible truth to this message, it truly is universal! THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!!   I may even convert to Catholicism cause this book makes more sense and gets me yearning for God more than a Max Lucado or Joel Osteen book (both good authors though).  BUY IT!  READ IT!! DISCOVER GOD'S LOVE!!! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend the book. If you've heard Christopher West speak you'll appreciate it as a followup, if you've not heard him and you read this you most certainly will want to seek out one of his presentations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonder filled book. It gives light to understanding the desires and longings of our heart's. It's helping me understand and direct them in a proper manner, bringing peace to my mind and giving rest to my desires and longings as I wait for them to be fulfilled in their perfect timing. A new light to my waiting as I continue to try and understand my humanity and my erotic longings for the infinit, who alone can bring complete satisfaction to our aching, these longings in the human heart. It has helped me understand me better and it's helping me overcome my heart break as well. Thank you for writing this indispensable book!
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