Recently I was able to read an advance copy of the new book by Curt Thompson, M.D. “The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, & Community“. Having read and enjoyed Thompson’s previous books, I was excited to read his most recent contribution. As a Christian we believe there are unseen realms beyond the physical world that we are most familiar with. But we also do not seek a “spiritual realm” connection that is separate from the embodied existence we (and Jesus) share. Instead, we seek a greater understanding of how God has created us and woven our existence together as physical/spiritual beings. Because of this, we can gain much from modern studies of neuroscience as they relate to our relationships.
Thompson has already written much on the neurology of interpersonal relationships, attunement, integration, and secure attachments. In his previous books, he has explored (among other things) how telling our stories can be redemptive/healing/formative, how “being known” by each other and by God is something our souls are hungry for, and how unhealthy shame can keep us from one another and from God.
In this most recent book, he brings some of this same knowledge back in fresh ways, while also giving practical insight into how healing comes to the dis-integrated relationships and situations we often find ourselves in. Dr. Thompson does a great job of being honest about our brokenness (both as society/culture, and as individuals), and yet highlighting how God’s desire is to bring beauty and New Creation; not just after we’ve been healed, but as part of the healing and redemptive process.
Thompson highlights how much of the relational pain/isolation we currently experience is connected to the unmet core “Desires” we see reflected in infants/children, and our common responses to those continued desires being met in unhealthy ways as we grow. I’m over-simplifying, but he emphasizes there are 4 primary desires we all have: to be seen, to be soothed, to be safe, and to be secure. He explores how the insights of IPNB (Interpersonal Neurobiology) offer us fresh understanding not only as we seek greater relational intimacy between one another, but also as we seek to draw closer to a God who invites us to know Him even as we are known and loved by Him. He returns over and over again to Psalm 27 (especially verse 4) in confessing what we’ve been created to truly seek.
Thompson spends a lot of time in this book, highlighting specific experiences of healing and redemption that have happened in the context of what he calls “Confessional Communities”. He talks also about four foundational questions we are asked by God – not for information, but toward transformation. As we read his accounts, we hear whispers similar to those of John Wesley’s heart as he developed Methods of Classes and Bands, inviting people to experience the vulnerability of confession and forgiveness in the context of secure & Divinely loving relationships. He does not offer a cookie cutter “program” in response to all of the research he presents here, but he does present inspiring truth and invites his readers to imagine (along with/in the presence of a curious God) what might happen if we pursued these things together in healthy/integrating ways.
This is not an easy book to simply say “read this with a group”. It may be best individually, or with close friend/”Band” at first. There are awkward and vulnerable moments throughout the book that may make small groups or book clubs uneasy. But I definitely recommend the book for mature/discerning audiences, and believe the truths it points toward can offer new paths for healing and wholeness in our relationships and in our communities – in ways that proclaim the gospel message our world definitely needs to see and hear.