The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community, By Curt Thompson alt

The Soul of Desire

Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community

by Curt Thompson
Foreword by Makoto Fujimura

The Soul of Desire
  • Length: 238 pages
  • Published: October 05, 2021
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: A0211
  • ISBN: 9781514002117

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A Spiritual and Neurobiological Redemption of Desire

We are people of desire.

In The Soul of Desire, psychiatrist Curt Thompson suggests that underneath all our longings is the desire to be known—and what's more, that this fundamental yearning manifests itself in our deep need to make things of beauty, revealing who we are to others. Desire and beauty go hand in hand.

But both our craving to be known and our ability to create beauty have been marred by trauma and shame, collapsing our imagination for what God has for us and blinding us to the possibility that beauty could ever emerge from our ashes.

The Soul of Desire is a mature, creative work that:

  • Weaves together neuroscience and spiritual formation by drawing on Thompsons work in interpersonal neurobiology and clinical practice,
  • Opens up new horizons for thinking about the nature of the mind and what it means to be human, and
  • Presents a powerful picture of the capacity of the believing community to reshape our imaginations, hold our desires and griefs together, and invite us into the beauty of God's presence.

"This is an extraordinary testimony to the power of beauty in a broken and fragmented world. It is extraordinary not simply because of its unusually direct and winsome style, but because of what the author brings to his theme: a professional expertise in neurobiology. More than a testimony, it is also an invitation: to have our deepest desire set alight, our desire for the One from whom all beauty springs."

Jeremy Begbie, Duke University

"Curt Thompson's previous work on shame has been life-transforming for numerous readers. Here he continues his interdisciplinary exploration of one of the elemental human experiences that founds our sense of self—the desire to see and to share beauty. Disarmingly self-disclosing, deeply in touch with Scripture and classic Christian sources, and engagingly conversant with the advances and insights of current neuroscientific research, this book beckons us to a deeper, healing knowledge of ourselves and, ultimately, of God."

Wesley Hill, associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary

"The Soul of Desire by Curt Thompson is a deep and edifying book that emphasizes that we are people created with a fundamental desire or longing for beauty, goodness, and truth related to healing and wholeness. He helps us to take time to dwell, gaze, and inquire of the Lord to fulfill our desire for beauty in the context of community, as well as sharing our grief and suffering, preparing and practicing for heaven to come. Highly recommended!"

Siang-Yang Tan, senior professor of clinical psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective

"'An artist and a psychiatrist get into a car . . . ' sounds like the start of a joke, yet this is actually how I met Curt Thompson. And as unlikely a pairing as we appear on paper, The Soul of Desire seems like an equally absurd mash-up of ideas. But I am happy to say that we became fast friends, and this book, too, turns out to be a wonderfully balanced amalgamation of neuroscience, aesthetics, and Christian faith. Allow this book to help you let go of shame, put yourself in the path of oncoming beauty, and begin imagining that life can be lived as an expression of God's artistry."

Ned Bustard, author and illustrator of Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver and creative director for Square Halo Books

"In his previous books, The Soul of Shame and Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson integrated neuroscience and theology seamlessly, cheering us on in a hopeful, unhurried journey toward healing. In Curt's new book, The Soul of Desire, he brings it all back to the start, setting us right in the path of God's beauty. With the skillfulness of a therapist and the earnestness of an evangelist, Curt Thompson implores us to see how God desires for us to create beauty in the context of confessional community—that our lives would be authentically generative, like works of art."

Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and author of Send Out Your Light

"I am drawn to Curt Thompson because, like our Creator, he accounts for and carefully tends to the whole person in his work. With the wisdom of a master therapist and the heart of a well-formed disciple, Curt helps us see how our God-given desire can enrich our community and lead us deeper into the heart of Christ. If you are looking for a trustworthy guide to mentor and guide you along this life-giving path, I cannot recommend The Soul of Desire more highly to you."

Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church and author of Jesus Outside the Lines

"In The Soul of Desire, Curt Thompson shares a profound and uplifting message about what makes beauty simultaneously spiritual and human. This wonderful book will enrich the faith of readers as they seek meaning and purpose in the turmoil of life."

Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, author of Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt

"Everything Curt writes is life changing for me, and The Soul of Desire is no different. He connects the dots between science and faith through the lens of beauty and relationships. Further, the more you understand why you long for intimacy, the more empowered you become to receive it. We were never meant to live alone. You'll love this empowering book!"

Rebekah Lyons, author of Rhythms of Renewal and You Are Free

"Curt's latest book is really his most hopeful book, a challenge to cultivate the kind of imagination and embodied practice that shifts us from brokenness to beauty. But it's as much Curt's character as it is his wisdom that draws me to this. A remarkable life, a remarkable book!"

Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary, senior fellow at Newbigin House of Studies

"Curt Thompson is a master of integrating themes that invite us to a place of deeper connection with God, ourselves, others, and the world around us. The combination of his expertise in interpersonal neurobiology, his therapeutic work with groups and individuals, and his passion for the beauty of the gospel brings a fresh gaze to the topics of desire, longing, and healing. It's a perfect companion piece to The Soul of Shame."

Jill Phillips, singer-songwriter

"Curt Thompson has a keen eye for seeing beauty in the ashes. He's convinced me that beauty is an essential criterion for truth, a path into deep-level healing, and a sign of transformation. I'm grateful for his uncanny ability to integrate these insights as he walks clients and readers from alienation to belonging and community. Masterful!"

Bradley Jersak, dean of theology and culture at St. Stephen's University, New Brunswick

"Reading this wonderful, deep, and engaging book helped me to see and understand the deep longing I have always felt in my soul as God's factory-equipped desire for beauty, and ultimately for God. Dr. Thompson is once again a doctor of our souls, but in this book his prescription for our healing is to gaze upon, and to make, beauty. Beauty is captivating, and this book captivated me—because it is a beautiful book. I highly recommend you read it, not once but over and over again. This book will no doubt shape many conversations about the care and cure for our souls."

James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God

"There's something profoundly disarming and inviting about the way Curt writes The Soul of Desire. In its pages we encounter the mind of a biblical scholar, the wisdom of a psychiatrist, and the heart of a pastor. Drawing on sweeping biblical narratives, deeply tender stories of the human experience, and yes, neuroscience, Curt reminds us that even in a broken world we are people of desire with a longing to be deeply known. He boldly declares that beauty is integral for our healing, our transformation, and our flourishing, then shares—testifies!—on the power of a vulnerable community in earthing these realities in our everyday lives. I closed this book challenged, changed, and in awe of God's beauty."

Jo Saxton, speaker, leadership coach, and author of Ready to Rise

"What if the glory of God can be revealed in our places of shame? And what if we say yes to the generative work of creating beauty, even in our broken relationships? In The Soul of Desire, Curt Thompson names our fears, taps our deepest longings, and engages our imagination, inviting us to consider how beauty emerges from places of trauma and how God works through authentic and vulnerable community to make all things new. This is a timely, inspiring, and beautiful book."

Sharon Garlough Brown, author of Shades of Light and the Sensible Shoes series

"The Soul of Desire is a feast of new creation hope. Weaving together wisdom from Scripture, insights from neurobiology, and stories of broken lives incrementally made whole, Curt Thompson offers much-needed guidance to those beset by grief, trauma, and shame. His daring proposal is that beauty isn't a luxury but a necessity for our healing, and that this transformative beauty is best encountered and created in the context of vulnerable community. As a pastor, I'm eager to see this profound, even heavenly vision unleashed upon the church. As a person seeking to overcome trauma and shame myself, I'm deeply grateful for Curt's compassion for hurting people and his unmistakable love for the God of beauty to whom this book ultimately points."

Duke Kwon, lead pastor of Grace Meridian Hill and coauthor of Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair

"Curt Thompson's The Soul of Desire is a book full of beauty and delight that reveals the secrets of healing and tending to wounded souls. This is a remarkable book that weaves biblical narrative together with neurobiological insight and the arts to help us pursue answers to the profound questions of desire. With a disarming wit and sobering honesty, Thompson grapples with weighty truths, all the while grounding his integration in the redemptive work of a risen Savior. The author skillfully and tenderly walks the reader through stories—biblical, clinical, and poetic—that reawaken our sense of grief, revealing the imprints of trauma that have distorted and corrupted desire. He invites us to learn what is at play in our bodies, spirits, and relationships through the context of what he calls 'confessional communities.' A confessional community 'creates a space in which we gather to name our desires, lament our griefs and traumas—all acts of prayer—and out of them become outposts of beauty and new creation in the other domains of our lives.' Thompson is hoping not simply to awaken our minds but also our creative spirits as we hunger for the dawning of a new creation. At the heart of this book he desires that we come to know the G-d who deeply knows us: the one who would soothe us and redeem the stories we've been living and co-creating. This book will inspire you to risk desire, that your life can become a thing of beauty and goodness, even from what is a story of grief and despair."

J. Derek McNeil, president and provost of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology

"Pick up this book and read it slowly. The Soul of Desire will help you uncover the ways you've built up walls around the deeper places in your soul. With Curt's help, you will see firsthand what beauty can do for the human heart."

Jennie Allen, author of Get Out of Your Head and founder and visionary of IF:Gathering

"In this timely and necessary book, Curt Thompson gently and with great compassion leads us away from the idea that we are 'problems to be solved or broken objects to be repaired.' He reminds us that the original blessing proclaims that we are all created as beloved children of God for the purpose of working with God toward a new creation. By the time I read the last sentence I felt the freedom to embrace what I long for, to reimagine beauty, and to be part of a community created for the purpose of naming my desires, sharing my grief, and doing the work of transformation. And then, I read it again!"

Suzanne Stabile, author of The Path Between Us and The Journey Toward Wholeness

"Curt Thompson's The Soul of Desire is a superb example of the integration of theology, psychology, psychiatry, and neurobiology on an applied level. The wisdom he shares penetrates powerfully as it emerges in the lives and stories of real people in safe and transformative communities. Within a few pages, I was eager to reread this book, and I have already begun it again. My guess is many of Thompson's readers will do likewise—desiring, as I do, to live into its depth of insights and practices."

Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Makoto Fujimura
1. Desire: A People of Longing
2. Beauty: Desire Made Manifest
3. Beauty: Becoming What We Create
4. Trauma and Shame: A People of Grief
5. Confessional Communities: Telling Our Stories More Truly
6. Imagine That: Looking at What We Don't Yet See
7. Dwell
8. Gaze
9. Inquire
10. Practicing for Heaven: A People of Beauty


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IVP Author Curt Thompson

Curt Thompson (MD, Wright State University) is a board-certified psychiatrist and the founder of Being Known, an organization that develops resources for hope and healing at the intersection of neuroscience and Christian spiritual formation. He is also the author of The Soul of Shame and Anatomy of the Soul. Thompson and his wife, Phyllis, a licensed clinical social worker, are the parents of two children and live in Arlington, Virginia.