Further to what a friend told me about the difference in Greek between want [thelisis] and desire [epithymia], I wrestled with it more..


Though dictionaries aren’t a guide to philosophy, I looked up ‘want.’

—The link to need or lack is obviously there; in English, the term comes from the Norse for ‘lacking.’ Requiring something is implied; or= to be short of a necessary experience, or degree, of something. Thus need carries the implication of impoverishment.

Thus also a link to inclination, and hence to intention.

Then I looked up ‘desire.’

—In English, desire comes from the French, and seems similar to wishing [as in Freud’s ‘wish fulfilment phantasy’= which is close to the Greek Fathers’ ‘thoughts’], craving, appetite, or most positively, longing. Virtually a request.

Some conclusions=

There is a sharper lack, or poverty, in ‘wanting.’

In ‘desiring’, there is a sense of being drawn into something marvellous [‘desirable’] that will enhance life, but it seems the pull is the felt, or imagined, increase of being, or expansion of being. What attracts, or draws, oneself beyond the self is a greater fullness, beauty, richness, outside the self– thus the self yearns to be joined with it.

The vision, the promise, or just the sense of, an Enhanced Beingness draws, attracts, pulls, desire toward the Object that will grant this. Fullness comes through the longed for Object. Such is Eros, granter of ever greater fullness. Desire puts the emphasis more on The Desired, rather than the one who desires.

Wanting puts the emphasis on the poverty inside the self. It pushes the person back on the self, and forces them to face their Need, their Incompleteness. There is an emptiness in want that, in a more subtle sense, is never filled.

Thus desire belongs to soul, and wanting to heart. Soul is feminine, heart is masculine.

Soul= the wine of love intoxicates me.
Heart= the fire of love kindles me.

Desire speaks of a capacity in the soul for growth, expansion, enriching. The soul rejoices in, and celebrates, this very potentiality contained in ‘her’ being.

Wanting speaks of a ‘hole in the heart’ nothing can fill. This hole can make the heart aggressive in how he goes about securing what he believes will fill it, but his repeated experience is that little of what he chases after in the world fills it; many such things leave him more empty afterward than he was before. The question of what does fill the heart’s profound lack, genuine need, and true poverty, becomes the source of the heart’s restless search life long, seeking this and that, but never finding what is sought.

Indeed, most of the frenetic and busy rushing round after different things to fill the heart’s want is a way of denying its irremovable hole in the heart too deep to fill. The pain in the heart, the really deep pain, is hidden and not faced in our endless but fruitless search for ‘what we want.’

The inability of the heart to find what it seeks in its lacking, its emptiness, becomes a pervasive desolation. In desolation, poverty becomes acute, and turns into more than lack, becoming barren, a wasted ground, a desert, a wasteland unfit for habitation; and it is a short step from this barrenness of heart to its accompaniment– to be forsaken, alone in a place of devastation. The heart is laid waste, and is abandoned, in that place.

It is close to the place of ultimate heart defeat, which is despair. In despair, there is no more possibility, all options are exhausted, all turnings in the road are used up. What the heart wants, what really at a deeper level the heart is seeking, no longer matters. There is nothing to want because there is nothing to find. All seeking ends. However, despair can be indulged, and its sense of checkmate used as a relief from the tension of living from the heart, in need, yet not knowing where to look, or what to do, to attain what Dostoyevsky speaks of= “I want to live life so as to satisfy my whole capacity for living.” We can use despair as a get-out from the tension, and struggle, of wanting to really live life, and when this is so, then there lurks in despair a secret satisfaction, a sneaking escape from the pain in the heart that waxes and wanes as we search for the real life, live it, and then lose it again. Such giving in to the despair taking us out of that journey and that fight is the ‘sinful sadness’ which the Greek Orthodox monastics identified; this is the reason why certain people get imprisoned in a strangely comfortable despair for years and years, unable to break free, their vital sap, their thymotic energy and zeal for life, weakened fatally, more and more over time.

But this is not the clean, the pure, despair that is also a desperation, because there is no way out. In this despair a wall is reached, and a limit on all striving to blast through it is reached. This despair is sung about repeatedly by David in the Psalms, and it carries no connotation of a secret satisfaction and easy comfort, but of a frantic state where there is no possibility of ‘resting.’ This is because all these aspects of this place in the heart — lack and poverty, desolation and barrenness, forsakenness and aloneness — mean that the whole venture of the heart has failed. Anyone who still has a heart cannot bear that failure of the heart. Despair, as distinct from ‘sinful sorrow’, can find no peace, no rest, because it has come to the place where the heart is finished, yet cannot be easy or comfortable with that. The heart cries out in this state, but the cry does no good. Nothing avails, yet the heart cannot live with that. The heart is finished, but the heart cannot finish with the heart. If it could, then there would be a peace, and rest, of the grave.

But even in the grave where it has all come to nothing, the heart cannot sleep. For this is the truth about the heart that no one knows. The heart can be finished, defeated, defunct, destitute and derelict, but it cannot give up. This is hell.

Most people would rabidly deny it, or just dismiss this as crazy, if it were said that at depth every human heart is in this hell.

None the less, it is so.

Every human being is, at depth, in despair about the heart.

This hell is in every heart, gnawing away. It cannot end, because the heart even in the place where it is finished, cannot be finished with the mystery of what the heart is, and what it is for.

This hell deep in each of us, and in all, is crucial to our relationship with God. For God put the heart in us, and the heart is the direct, unmediated, standing before God. Thus all the heart’s troubles come from God, in the ultimate.

Only the Jews faced that our yes to God contains a no, and must do. Our affirmation that God is Lord of the Heart contains an implicit adversity and contention. No one says yes to the heart without also saying no. It is a long, hard road that brings us only ‘in the end’ to an unequivocal yes. For much of that road, it is our no that, if we can embrace it with truth, with grief and anger, binds us the most closely to God.

For between us and God there is a wound. This wound is holy. Our heartbreak is holy.

The heart’s love for God is impassioned by this pain.

Our deep heart pain is holy.


We search for the answer to our heart’s lack, but we do not find it. For a while, this search plays out, and ‘keeps us busy.’ It distracts us.

But gradually it becomes evident, to any person of sincerity, that what we are really searching for is the heart itself. What does it want? really means, what does it want from us? We cannot find out, and sooner or later, we confess this. The Sufi poet says, why search for the heart?

“For I do not know where it is.
Tell me yourself, what is a heart?
I do not find its trace anywhere.”

The poet begins in such high hopes, as a youth, but if he matures he ends in despair, joined with all his brothers and sisters in the vast underground pit where the human heart cannot sleep, cannot rest, cannot find peace, because it is finished and yet cannot throw itself away, cannot be rid of the heart in its mystery.

It is in this hell where we all live, deeper down, that is contained the germ of our only hope.

Blessed are the poor in spirit..
Blessed are they that are hungry..
Blessed are they that weep..
[Luke, 6, 20]


It is impossible for us not to equate cast off as cast out, beyond the pale, and therefore to conclude our bereftness is God’s punishment. Does anyone judge the human heart more harshly than those who have failed its way in their own eyes? We are all the accusers as well as the guilty in this strange drama.

Thus, our heartbreak at its deepest is never spoken, because it is too final to utter. We put our drama of being at once the accuser and the accused on the Messiah, on the Christ, who must bear it, pure and raw, as we cannot. The unspeakable truth of our heart is captured in what the Redeemer must bear and endure in our stead, because we have put it far away. “Thy rebuke has broken his heart, he is full of heaviness, he looked for some to have pity on him, but there was no man, neither found he any to comfort him. He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of thy people was he stricken. But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption” [Handel’s Messiah].

Both the lost human heart, and the Messiah who plunges into its suffering to refind it, will not be left in hell.

What the Messiah does in the depth will restore the human heart to its true standing, and return it to its rightful search, and in consequence of this victory in the deep place where we were defeated, the human heart will find what it always sought– the answer to its own mystery.