Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West
Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study
Fill These Hearts is a book about desire—not trivial wants or superficial cravings, but the deepest, most vital powers of body and soul, sexuality and spirituality. Popular theologian Christopher West explores classical and contemporary art, pop music, movies, and Christian mysticism to show how the restless, erotic yearnings of our bodies and spirits uncover our heart’s desire for God. Along the way, he refutes the idea that Christianity is a repressive, anti-sex religion by explaining how our deepest longings are meant to be fulfilled even as they reveal our hunger for union with God.
Chapter 1: The Universal Longing
Why do you think music can stir our emotions so profoundly? What music expresses the deepest yearnings of your soul?
If the burning desire we all feel within us is for all that is “good, true, and beautiful,” as Plato taught, why does it also have the potential to harm us?
Why is what we do with the burning desire we feel for something more so important?
How is our human sexuality a message from God? What is he trying to tell us by creating us male and female?
According to Pope Benedict XVI, what is the purpose of erotic love? Explain how sex not just about sex.
Is the desire you feel for happiness directed toward that which truly satisfies and truly fulfills you? Why or why not?
Chapter 2: The Starvation Diet
How can even misdirected eros reveal the kind of beings we are meant to be?
If you were raised in a Christian home, did your upbringing include healthy dialogue about God’s plan for creating men and women? What were you taught about sex?
When Christianity is understood as merely a legalistic adherence to a moral code, what effect does this have on people?
Instead of insisting that we are meant to follow a list of rules or go to hell, Jesus asked a question: “What are you looking for?” (see John 1:38). Take some time to reflect on this question. How would you answer it?
Though we are deeply marred by original sin, explain how we both desire and choose to do good? In your own words, explain the heresy of Jansenism and how would you refute it.
What does Christopher West mean by “the starvation diet gospel”? Have you experienced this approach to Christianity?
Chapter 3: Fast Food
Why are so many people drawn to the promise of immediate gratification (what West calls the “fast-food gospel”)? What false claims does this gospel make?
What elements of the true banquet God desires for us are contained in the fast-food gospel? In what way might our culture’s focus on sex and desire not be all bad?
Why does the author call St. Augustine “the doctor of desire”?
Professor James K. A. Smith says, “The marketing industry…is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the [Christian world].” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Christopher West says that the fast-food gospel actually limits our desire—that it stems from desiring too little instead of too much. In C. S. Lewis’ words, we are too easily pleased. What do you think these statements mean?
What are some consequences of different sexual choices people make today?
Chapter 4: The Banquet
West defines a stoic as someone who chooses not to want so much, to shut his or her desire down. Have you encountered this type of person in your life? Have you perhaps been a stoic yourself? What are the fruits of this type of approach?
The addict tries to avoid the pain of wanting more than this life has to offer by gorging on the finite things this life does have to offer. What are the consequences of this way of life?
How does the author define a mystic? What do the mystic and the addict have in common?
What is the difference between “extraordinary mysticism” and “ordinary mysticism”? How might we all be called to be mystics? What would this look like in your own life?
Read the excerpt from the Catechism found on page 36. What does this tell you about our desire? What does this say about us as religious beings?
How in touch are you with your deepest desires? How important is it to you to satisfy them? What part does your faith play in fulfilling them?
Would you describe your experience of Christianity as a passionate pursuit of Christ? If so, how does following Christ fulfill your deepest longings as a person here on earth?
How do the saints exemplify a healthy eros? How have they been able to fulfill their deepest desires?
Fr. Cantalamessa says, “In the world we find eros without agape; among believers we often find agape without eros.” What does he mean by this? Why is it important for us to have both?
Explain what is meant when Christianity is called “the religion of wild passion and desire.”
How can we learn to move from either indiscriminately indulging our desires or ignoring and repressing them to experiencing our desires in a healthy way?
Why is controlling our desires not the permanent solution God desires for us?
What does it mean to be “intoxicated by God”? Have you ever felt this way? Describe your experience.
West says we encounter spiritual mysteries not by rejecting physical pleasures, but by experiencing them in the right way. Give some examples of this.
Watch Babette’s Feast and spend some time journaling about it afterward. What particular insights did you gain?
West tells us that if you want to enter into the banquet God has prepared for you, you must have the courage to plumb the depths of your desires and follow them the whole way through the distortions to the true cry of your heart. Where especially do you require this kind of courage?
Chapter 5: The Living Hope of Satisfaction
Describe how seeking is the essence of the spiritual journey. How can continually seeking provide any kind of fulfillment in this life?
St. Paul wrote about “the redemption of the body” (see Romans 8:22–24). How would you describe our bodies? And what does the redemption of the body mean?
What part does hope play in the fulfillment of our deepest desires?
Would you describe yourself as a hopeful person? A happy person? Why or why not?
How would you define happiness?
What difference does hope make in a person’s life? How does one become hopeful?
Read the author’s description of The Shawshank Redemption, especially the part where Andy gives Red a harmonica. In your own life, what is your “harmonica”? How has it impacted you?
Chapter 6: Exposing and Stretching Our Hearts
St. John Paul II taught that we shouldn’t think of sexual desire as some kind of base, animal drive. How did he define sexual desire and its intended purpose in our lives?
How can we move from the sexual realm to the mystical realm? How can we translate the passionate desire we feel for another human being into being on fire with love for God?
Think of a misdirected desire in your own life. What legitimate desire does God wants to satisfy? Pray and ask God to show you what you are really looking for. Do any important memories come to mind? Does a particular song come to mind? Pay attention to any words or images you might receive, and then write them down in a prayer journal.
Christopher West says that inner healing is part of a lifelong journey. Describe your own path to inner healing so far. What areas in particular has God healed in you?
In your own words, define what Scripture means by “circumcision of the heart” and “spiritual labor pains” (or “dilation of the heart”).
How is prayer another definition of “desire”?
West says prayer can be a messy affair because when we suffer, we often feel angry with God. Think of a time you felt anger toward God. What caused you to feel this way, and what did you do with this anger?
Reread Christopher West’s experience at the retreat where he allowed himself to feel abandoned by God and be angry with him. Why did the monsignor tell him this was “good prayer”?
Be totally honest with yourself. What false identities have you taken on, and what kind of masks have you worn to hide your own brokenness? What has been the result of such hiding?
If you let go of all the masks, allowing those closest to you to see you at your worst, what do you think might happen?
What does it mean to be “totally naked” before God? Why does God desire such a union with us?
Read Fr. Jacques Philippe’s explanation of the “dark night of the soul.” Describe a time in your life when you felt “in over your head” or a time when you were unable to rely on your own strength to see you through a situation. What lessons did you learn through your “dark night”?
West says that by learning to wait on the Lord, our hearts are stretched. How does St. Augustine describe this stretching? Share a time when you were stretched. How did your capacity for God grow?
What are some “idols” (“God-substitutes”) in your own life? How can increasing your desire rather than squelching it be the solution? How might your disordered desires help you to discover your true desire for God?
Pray this short prayer each day this week: “Lord, I desire you; increase my desire.” Record in your journal any new lights you receive.
What does it mean to “share in the sufferings of Christ”? How can suffering help us enjoy true union with God?
PART II: DESIGN
Chapter 7: Our Bodies Tell the Story
How can you adjust your focus when you look at yourself and the world around you so you can see something new? If you saw things differently, what hidden mysteries might be revealed?
Caryll Houselander said that a little tree frog could teach us more about God than all the theology books in the world. What do you think he meant by that? How can nature be a theology lesson?
What does Peter Kreeft mean when he says, “Human sexuality is derived from cosmic sexuality”? How is the “sacramental covenant of masculinity and femininity” that St. John Paul II spoke of found throughout the universe?
Read Ephesians 5:31–32. How does this passage reveal to us what it means to be human? What does it tell us about who God is, who we are, and what his purpose is in creating us as sexual beings?
Why have Christians always revered Mary? What significance does she have for the Church? What does she mean for you personally?
How is Jesus Christ like a bridegroom? What does this mean for us? How would this change your focus when you receive Communion?
How are our bodies meant to be not only biological but theological?
Chapter 8: In the Beginning
Why do you think the Bible begins and ends with marriages? Describe how the mystery of man and woman and the call to nuptial union correctly frames Christian teaching and dogma.
What happens when Christianity is framed in some other way than God’s passionate desire for us and our desire for union with him? How can another way of framing Christianity be destructive to us as humans?
Explain in your own words what is meant by the term “original desires.” How can we “circumcise our hearts”—cutting away whatever keeps us from being open to God?
When Adam and Eve sinned, human desire was misaligned with the divine design, and they began to cover themselves. What does the instinct we have inherited to cover our bodies in this fallen world actually stem from?
What is your true value, worth, and dignity as a human person? How is this different than what the media often tells us?
Chapter 9: Trusting God’s Designs
Do you believe that God wants to satisfy the deepest desires of your heart? Are you confident that he will? Describe a time when you were tempted to feel the opposite. How about a time when God did more than you expected?
What is the “one temptation” Lorenzo Albacete writes about? How has this temptation manifested itself in your life?
As you look at the world around you, what do you see that makes you wonder if God really has a loving plan for our happiness and fulfillment? What part does trust play in your perspective?
What is the value of waiting versus grasping at satisfaction now? How are we meant to wait?
In your own life, have you always seen God as a loving Father, or have there been times when you saw him as a tyrant, someone to do battle with? What are the results of seeing God as a loving Father? What happens when you see God as a tyrant who wants to keep you enslaved?
Chapter 10: The Designs of Redemption
In what ways is redemption more than Christ’s paying the price for humanity’s sin?
Describe how Christ embodied God’s response to our pride.
How has Christ’s sacrifice “turned the logic of the food chain on its head”? What is the lie Christ came to save us from?
Describe what the author means when he says that suffering is “continued receptivity.” How did Christ demonstrate this for us?
What are some ways you can increase your own “posture of receptivity”? In what particular areas do you resist being receptive?
What does the fact that Jesus rose from the dead reveal to us about God’s trustworthiness? How does this impact your own day-to-day life?
PART III: DESTINY
Chapter 11: Chastity Is a Promise of Immortality
How would you answer someone who doesn’t believe that hell exists?
What are some of your deepest desires? What does the desire for heaven look like in your life?
What struggles have you encountered as you’ve tried to align your desires with what it means to truly love?
What is the definition of chastity, and why does the Catechism proclaim chastity as the “promise of immortality”?
What is your reaction to Christopher West’s description of the marble statue found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?
Describe the significance of the unicorn. What is the difference between “vertical” and “horizontal wildness”? How does the beautiful image in St. Peter’s help us to understand the meaning of chastity?
Explain how chastity is a positive “Yes” to the dignity of the human body and human sexuality. How is chastity an important virtue, not only before marriage, but in marriage?
West calls chastity “a training in human freedom.” What does this mean, and what role has chastity played in your life?
Chapter 12: Freeing Freedom
Explain the difference between freedom and license.
Describe a situation in your own life (or family) where the abuse of freedom has had negative consequences.
How can being dominated by your passions have a destructive impact on others?
Do you see God’s law as helping or hindering you to be free? Is there a particular area in your life where God’s law feels like a burden? If you have become hardened toward God in some way, pray and ask God to change your heart.
What should you do if you realize that you’ve abused your freedom in some way?
Chapter13: Loving Love
Why does the work of salvation begin with eros?
St. John Paul II observed that the lack of wine at Cana could be interpreted as an allusion to the lack of love that threatens relationships between men and women. What new insights and perspectives can you gain from looking at the miracle at Cana this way?
How does love differs from lust? Describe some of the effects that love and lust have on a person.
Reread the author’s story of how he experienced selfless love from the woman who would become his wife (pp. 151–152). When have you experienced this type of love, and what effect did it have on you?
Describe the characteristics of mature, benevolent love. Who have you felt this kind of love toward in your own life?
If you haven’t already, watch the movie Toy Story 3. What can the toys can teach us about true love?
Chapter 14: To Infinity and Beyond
Have you ever looked to another person to fulfill you? Describe the situation, and its outcome.
What is your view of heaven? How does it compare to St. Bridget’s description of heaven as a “great lake of beer” meant to be full of delight (p. 164), and West’s description of the communion of saints (pp. 167–169)?
According to Benedict XVI, how are we to understand the term “eternal life”?
Read the little story of the mystic-nun on p. 171 who spoke about her “nuptial union” with God and the response of the agnostic psychologist. Who do you think was right, and why?
How can a person be celibate without their desires being repressed and denied?
How thirsty do you feel for God? What can you do to increase that thirst?