Magazine article The Christian Century

Kingdom-Sized Desire

Magazine article The Christian Century

Kingdom-Sized Desire

Article excerpt

I FELL DESPERATELY in love at the age of 17. I'd run to the window overlooking the street, hoping "he" would arrive unexpectedly. Even when I knew he was far away at college, I flew like a trapped bird toward that window in a kind of irrational frenzy, not knowing what to do with the energies of my desire to see him. Long after he found another girl, and I, chastened, settled into an unhappy first marriage, I noticed that the longing I once associated with love formed the landscapes of my soul. Longing formed a permanent crater from which all paths led. Atmosphere, scenery, the byways, scents, moods, silences--all unfolded from the moment of conscious longing. Longing opened my soul to infinite exploration, providing the passport, the vehicle, horizons and destination. Even the nourishment offered along the way tasted like longing.

As the mystic John of Ruysbroeck said, "The inward stirring and touching of God makes us hungry and yearning; for the Spirit of God hunts our spirit; and the more it touches it, the greater our hunger and our craving. And this is the life of love in its highest working, above reason and above understanding; for reason can here neither give nor take away from love, for our love is touched by the Divine Love." I suppose my lover did me a big favor. Fortunately, through the series of coincidences that often takes place around the time of religious conversion, I found a literature of longing--biblical, spiritual and mystical.

I found relief praying the Psalms: "My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water" (Ps. 63:1). "As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God" (Ps. 42:1). In addition to Christian mystics, I found that mystical literature of every religion uses erotic imagery without shame or apology. We're all longing for love. Wherever we look we find the language of longing at the heart of the quest for God. Are we made for love? This perpetual longing, the unquenchable thirst for intimacy, the gargantuan appetite for love, seems to me the most natural state of being.

Fortunate are the ones who realize early enough that another human being can't possibly respond to this unrequitable need for love! (Fortunate, too, the would-be lovers who can't fulfill our desires.) Even more fortunate are men and women of prayer who realize that peace comes by embracing the longing itself. Addictions and loneliness can mask this deeper longing for God. Our material culture exploits these natural longings. …

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