At the ends of various chapters in his books, Christopher West will often include some suggested prayer of his own composition. In
he includes a suggested prayer at the end of every chapter.
A typical example is one such as this:
“Jesus, you came to set the world ablaze with holy desire. Help me not to fear the heat of that divine fire. Crucify my lusts and resurrect my deepest erotic yearnings so that I might seek only what is true, good and beautiful. Show me your perfect eros-agape love so that I might turn from my idols and find myself rejoicing in the wine of your salvation. Amen.” (Heaven’s Song, pg. 122)
Throughout chapters he might also suggest a practice along with the prayer, like this:
“When lust tempts you, or even overwhelms you, you might say a prayer like this: Lord, I thank you for the gift of my sexual desires. I surrender this lustful desire to you and I ask you please, by the power of your death and resurrection, to “untwist” in me what sin has twisted so that I might experience the transformation of sexual desire as you intend–as the desire to love in your image.
To reinforce your decision to “die” to lust, you may also want to place yourself in the shape of a cross–hands outstretched–while repeating the above prayer. (Theology of the Body for beginners, pgs. 47-48)
I think his prayers are unhealthy to pray, and such practices as the one he suggests about laying down in cruciform while saying the prayer can cause some serious psychological harm.
Christopher West uses the word “lust” with interchangeable meaning, as though it is no different than the inherent “desires” (just in “twisted” form); for most of the time lust is put across in a way that it is not an engendered action. Even in the interiority of “adultery in the heart” there is the germination of the sin and thus its actuation – its being engendered. But with West, lust is only immanently there without an engendering and thus, paradoxically, it is always at a remove from one, like it was there as an “option button” that one should simply not select, while sexual attraction may be in force, but instead give it over to be transformed, and yet in doing so, it is not an “option button” at all but the very thing that propels one to union with God. It is at once wholly at a disconnect and the sole manifestation of your personal meaning:
“Rather than repressing lust by pushing it into the subconscious, trying to ignore it, or otherwise seeking to annihilate it, we must surrender our lusts to Christ and allow him to slay them. As we do, “the Spirit of the Lord gives new form to our desires” (CCC 2764). In other words, as we allow lust to be “crucified,” we also come to experience the “resurrection” of God’s original plan for sexual desire.” (Theology of the Body for beginners, pg. 47)
But wait, West says here:
“Deep in the heart we learn to distinguish between what, on the one hand, composes the great riches of sexuality and sexual attraction, and what, on the other hand, bears only the sign of lust.” (Theology of the Body for beginners, pg. 49)
I don’t know which he does first: does he separate lust from sexual attraction as though lust does not have sexual attraction in it, and as a result he wholly disconnects lust from an object; or does he first wholly disconnect lust from an object, and as a result cause lust and sexual attraction to be inherently so separate such that lust never springs from or never works within sexual attraction, or so that sexual attraction is ever pure and untainted in our subjectivity without lust being a danger?
Aside from that is the fact that anyone who in the heat of the moment “gives his lusts to Christ for Him to slay”, most likely ten seconds later will be saying, “Well, Lord, you didn’t slay my lusts, so I’m going to commit sins X, Y and Z alright?” Christ is not the “slayer of our lusts” any more than He is the “impregnator of our sexual desires”. He opens to us on His cross free access to die to ourselves, as He Himself who is God submitted His will to the Father. This dying to ourselves reaches further than we can accomplish, such that we become like Him on the cross: we receive life in abundance and we give as a cruciformed, according to our “measure” and yet beyond our measure. As for our “material”, such as lusts to be transformed through our self-focused laying on the floor in the shape of the cross as we crucify our lusts? Oh puh-lease. Go plant a garden. Maybe not having your “lusts” crucified is the crucifixion appropriated for you.
Another thing that results is his notion how as “we appropriate the gift of redemption in our lives, lust loses sway in our hearts”.
He is reductive of the reader’s particular state, whatever that may be, when he says this.
The Church makes no such immanent claims, other than to promise that if virtue is persisted in, then the practice of virtue becomes easier. And that of course, makes it “harder” for one to sin. For the Church does not tell you one way or another how much lust “holds sway in your heart”, anymore than it tells you how much envy holds sway in your heart. What the Church does tell you is that lust or envy can be discerned in you by such and such thoughts and actions revealed or reminded to you by examining your conscience; and the Church holds to you the remedy, in the forgiveness of the sins, and their antithesis in the practice of virtues.
It is unhealthy to make claims for what Lust will or will not do – such as saying that it “will lose sway”. Oh? Did it “have sway” before? To what extent? And according to what? And how much did your will have a play in it and the free exercise of your imagination?
Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that saying “lust will lose sway” is like saying that, having taken all precautionary measures necessary to walk through the tropics, tigers and jaguars will cease to jump out at you from hiding. That’s not to say they will of a certainty jump out at you; but it’s just to point out that saying such a thing is idiotic.
From the heights of virtue, from the purest love, from a smattering of boredom, from a look, lust can come upon a person as suddenly and unexpectedly as an earthquake – yes, just when one thinks “lust has lost sway”. Those who are in God’s good graces can be accosted out of nowhere. And they can be as equally left in peace having resisted it.
The point in saying this is not to turn lust into something omnipotent; saying it can strike like an earthquake is just to get across the suddenness and unexpectedness, and moreover, to get across the immediacy with which one tends to forget, with the onslaught, everything else previous to it. What keeps a person from being shaken to the ground, indeed, maybe even from being shaken, is what he has built upon. And what he has built upon is not his “transformed desires”.
The point is that Christopher West, in saying that it will lose sway and be transformed, is that he is the one who takes it and turns it into an inescapable monster.
Note: A word on “immanentize” in relation to lust: Yes, our sins come from within the heart and make us unclean. In that way they are immanent. That’s not they way I mean in the above paragraphs, but that West makes the sin “wholly immanent”, like…well…like the Manichaeans did.