Sexual Attraction Doesn’t Compete With Desire For God


“Like a deer yearns for flowing streams, so my soul yearns for you my God.” “My soul keeps vigil for you in the night.”

We’ve all heard these lines, prayed them, and in our more reflective moments tried to mean them, but mostly, our hearts have belied those words.

We haven’t really, at least not in our more conscious thoughts and feelings, longed for God with any real intensity and in our beds at night our souls are generally keeping vigil for someone other than God.

But for this, we need not apologize.

We are human beings, not angels, and nature and instinct conspire to direct our gaze and our desire towards this earth. It is persons and things of this earth for which our hearts long with intensity. Moreover, our longings are wide and promiscuous.

We ache for a lot of things, though are most intense longings mostly have to do with yearning for a soul mate and with emotional and sexual consummation.

Perceived conflict

Those desires, at first glance at least, generally do not appear as holy or God-directed. Indeed, they seem the opposite.

What we long for with deep intensity and what our souls keep vigil for in the night is, most times, someone or something much more earthy and erotic than what we associate with God.

For example, when we see someone hauntingly beautiful or when we experience strong sexual attraction, what are we feeling inside of ourselves in the face of that radiance? For whom is our soul keeping vigilance at that moment? For what are we longing?

We dare not associate what we are feeling at those times with the holy sentiments we express in our psalms and prayers. And we are the poorer for that, religiously and humanly.

First of all, that desire, far from being unhealthy, is in fact a sign of health. Beauty is meant to be honored; we are meant to feel that powerful attraction and pull, including its sexual component.

Beauty, of course, is also meant to be respected and not violated. Our capacity to honor beauty is a sign of health and our capacity to not violate that beauty is a test of that health, though that’s not the point here.

The point here is that, consciously and unconsciously, we understand these powerful earthy and erotic attractions as taking us away from God and as something we need to give up in order to move closer to God. Our desire for God and our more earthy and sexual desires are perceived as competitors, incompatible, demanding that we renounce one for the other.

God’s breadth

That misconception, more than we imagine, hurts us.


Because everything that is beautiful and attractive, however earthy and sexual, is contained inside of God. God is the creator of all that is beautiful, attractive, colorful, sexual, witty, brilliant, and intelligent.

All that we are attracted to on this earth, including the beauty that allures us sexually, is found inside of God and our attraction and longing for it here on earth is, in the end, a longing for God. Our souls need to keep vigil at a deeper level.

This is what many of the saints and mystics intuited when they felt such intensity in their longing for union with God. All that is beautiful and attractive is found inside of God and is found there in a form that exceeds our experience of it here.

The saints and mystics rightly intuited that God is more interesting, more beautiful, and more sexual than anyone or anything here on earth. Hence their longing for God could indeed be compared to a thirsty deer longing for a drink from a cool stream.

We experience the same longing and the same intensity, except we never associate those feelings with God, though we should. The ache that we feel within ourselves in an obsession, in a powerful sexual desire, and in the face of stunning beauty is, ultimately, a yearning for God because everything we desire, be it ever so human, fleshly, or sexual, is inside of God, the author of all that is good. Our souls too thirst for God and they keep vigil for God at night, even though mostly we are unaware of it.

But we never really understand this.

If we did, we would – like the saints and mystics of old – become obsessed with God instead of being obsessed only with what we find attractive here on earth.

Some of us are obsessed with beauty, some of us are obsessed with finding a soul mate, some of us are obsessed with sex, some of us are obsessed with truth, some of us are obsessed with justice, and some of us are obsessed with the energy, color, and pleasures of this world.

But very few of us are obsessed, or even much interested, in God who is the author of beauty, sexuality, intimacy, truth, justice, energy, color, and pleasure.

Why aren’t we more interested in the One of which these things are only a pale reflection?



  1. Gina-972555 June 8, 2013 Reply

    People! Maybe you should do some research on this subject….This is a review from of what you are praising.

  2. Denis-663727 January 18, 2011 Reply

    this is a really good piece! I think if we became more God centred our relationships would flourish, ie sexually. So the wierd notion people have to keep God out of the bedroom and bed ! is naive and immature. The more prayerful we become as partners the more erotic we become.

  3. Anita-496120 January 12, 2011 Reply

    This is a great article and reminds one of the difference in human love and divine love. Like Karen, I too have a great affection for a person that I recently met, but it is because of the Christ that I saw in this person.

  4. Karen-474428 January 10, 2011 Reply

    I forget whether it was in A Holy Longing or The Restless Heart that you said that we never feel closer to God than when we are in love with someone. Thank you for this article. I have been recently struggling with the fact that I have strong feelings of love and affection for a person that does not return these feelings. I have felt unsettled about that. But maybe this affection and love I feel is actually an expression of the love I feel for God, for it is because I saw Christ reflected in this person that I came to value them so highly. So I guess, for today, I will not try to push these feelings away and just thank God for the ability to love and appreciate people on many levels.Thank you.

  5. Marie-640360 January 5, 2011 Reply

    I appreciated your explanation that all of our earthly pleasures and beauties are contained within God. However, I do find myself more obsessed with God consciously? Does my passion for God naturally (or perhaps subconsciously) exclude some earthly pleasures?

  6. Mary-583970 January 3, 2011 Reply

    I really needed this right now, thank you!

  7. Anna-635092 December 30, 2010 Reply

    sexual attraction doesn’t compete with desire for God, is an excellent, indepth, & well written article. Enjoyed reading it very much. Unusual & neglected subject matter.

    • Anna-635092 December 30, 2010 Reply

      Funny, I didn’t look at author’s name. Should have surmised it was a priest, since the lovely way this much avoided subject matter is presented. Again, the above log in compliments still go…..and I’m laughing at myself for not noting it earlier !!! God bless, Fr., & keep up the good work. – God bless,

  8. Judith-665690 December 30, 2010 Reply

    Excellent, Father! Thank you for this reflection. This Secular Carmelite has been struggling greatly with this very thing, but hadn’t found it so beautifully explained before. Phew, I feel better … I’m human, that’s all — I’m human!

  9. John-260388 December 26, 2010 Reply

    Two related comments from other teachers:

    Jason Evert in his book “Pure Manhood” recommends that whenever you see someone that awakes your sexual desire (which he also believes is natural and good and from God) but then your thoughts start leaning toward lust and objectifying, to simply PRAY FOR THEM. That gets your brain thinking of what is best for THEM (i.e. God) and not using them for something you want (usually something ultimately not good for them or you).

    Dave Wilson, a non-Denominational Christian teacher, also said that when he would go out on a date with his future wife, at the end of the night he would walk away from her house and marvel how he loved GOD more, which was way different that previous relationships where it was all about being with and being in love with HER.

    Granted, it is never easy to walk that line for those who want to love God AND still love another human romantically, but it helps to remember we were never meant to walk it WITHOUT God and his help.

  10. Gloria-602009 December 22, 2010 Reply

    a wonderful article. It brought me understanding and greater desire to love Jesus all the more. It gave me a small measure of insight into the ecstacy that the Saints received in their adoration of Jesus. Thank You!

  11. JorgeLuis-520058 December 19, 2010 Reply

    Interesting article father ..
    I think that the admiration for the beauty that includes sexual attraction that we all feel is contained in this Bible verse: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh(Gen 2,23). The word “flesh” express the rich and profound meaning of sexuality that gives rise a new life that contained the attraction and sexual pleasure within the unitive and procreative process of a couple. In that way is very interesting that you say: “All that we are attracted to on this earth, including the beauty that allures us sexually, is found inside of God and our attraction and longing for it here on earth is, in the end, a longing for God”.

    God takes everything through his Incarnation, which includes human sexuality. Good article father!

    Jorge Luis

  12. Annamaria-574813 December 17, 2010 Reply

    The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith….
    ……… The “pure in heart” are promised that they will see God face to face and be like him. Purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God. Even now it enables us to see according to God, to accept others as “neighbors”; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty.
    ……..the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail
    – by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
    – by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God’s will in everything;
    – by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: “Appearance arouses yearning in fools” ( Wis 15:5)
    – by prayer.
    From the Catechism

    • Gina-972555 June 8, 2013 Reply

      Thank you Annamaria

      I am totally with you…..Get back to Catholicism and the Catechism of the Catholic Church!

  13. Nancy-217438 December 16, 2010 Reply

    WOW, what a powerful article! You definitely have been insprired by God fro writting it.

  14. Anastasia-205794 December 14, 2010 Reply

    Thanks Fr! Great article and well put! Happy Feast of St. John of the Cross! He got this stuff! 🙂

  15. Michael-253501 December 14, 2010 Reply

    This was a good article! Thank you, father! How true it is — the most beautiful and graceful woman (or man) owes everything that she/he has to the greatest of God. What alone can compare to Him, who is love and beauty itself? Though we should take delight in women (men) who are attractive to us, we should see the ultimate source of that beauty as but the tiniest reflection of its Author! We should search out love only to the degree that it leads us to Him!

  16. Cheryl-184939 December 14, 2010 Reply

    Thank you, Fr. Rolheiser! This is so true! I was contemplating this very subject at Mass last week, and I wondered what it was like for St. Teresa of Avila & other mystics.


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