Desire: Not Just for Coyotes and Disney Princesses

Peter Rollins wrote a blog post the other day about what happens when we actually get what we desire. He used a pretty funny cartoon clip of Wile E. Coyote finally catching and killing the Roadrunner, and then going through a massive identity crisis because he no longer had a dream to live for.

This has been something I’ve thought about a lot the past few years—I’m the kind of person who would maybe delay gratification forever, just because I don’t want to deal with the letdown of the day after my birthday, or Christmas, or vacation, or even the end of the brilliant book I’m reading.

And that’s why I pretty much cried my way through the recent Disney princess movie, Tangled. All Rapunzel wants is to get out of her house and see these beautiful floating lanterns that appear among the stars every year on her birthday—to see them up close and find out what they’re made of. She finally finds herself in a boat with a cute guy, waiting for the lanterns to drift up into the sky, and suddenly she’s not sure she wants it to happen at all. Her anxiety—so familiar to us all—has her trapped between the fear of being let down by her actualized dream and the fear of what to do next, even if the dream is everything she’d hoped for. I remember having that exact feeling the night before my first trip to Europe. What would my life be, without this shining wish?

What I like about Peter Rollins’s blog—and the movie Tangled—is that he finds a way around the three clear options: “getting what we want and despairing, not getting what we want and despairing, constantly chasing what we want and despairing.” Rollins says the fourth possibility is finding and being with the one we love. This trumps the alternatives that inevitably lead to despair because in the other we are constantly finding, discovering, wondering. He says it’s like one of those black circles that cartoon characters use as “portals into an unending void. The circle is small enough to fold up and put in our pocket and yet, when placed on the ground we can jump into it. In the same way the flesh of our beloved takes up so little space and yet it is the very site of an inner universe without end.”

At the end of Tangled, Rapunzel and her beloved (who before only desired autonomy and wealth) confess that the other is their new dream. At first I was frustrated, thinking that Disney was telling little girls to stop chasing adventures and just settle on a man as their greatest dream instead. But maybe they were onto something deeper. Magical lanterns, holidays in Europe, superfast desert birds…they all have their end. But Rollins is right—the other is and always will be a mystery, no matter how many times we eat dinner with them, wake up in bed next to them, or take care of them when they’re sick.

But most of all, these ideas have me thinking about God—probably because our relationship has been the most intimate of my life. God is the ultimate Other, the “vast and endless ocean” who keeps surprising me. I walk toward the edge of his love only to find that the border is still a million miles away. One door leads to a thousand others, which lead to ten thousand more. The inside is bigger than the outside. Desire—it’s a funny thing. An ache that doesn’t leave, a hollow that never fills…yet it is on the wings of desire that we move toward, yet at the same time with, our Beloved.


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