LONGING – FOR WHAT?

With the ever mounting death toll, life-denying restrictions and the constant appearance of suffering, the whole world is longing for the day when the Covid menace and mask wearing will disappear, taking our daily anxiety with it. We have read of those, unable to take the strain any longer, committing suicide.

Beneath the current pandemic there are other longings that rise within us. We long for an end to corruption, deceit, stealth, famine and war. No matter where we live, or what we have achieved, or what age we are, or what we have experienced, there rises inside an uneasy feeling, a dissatisfaction with what is happening around us, a recurrent longing difficult to define, leaving us unfulfilled, searching for an answer.

Longings are a natural aspect of our nature. Spend a few moments reflecting first on the longings we, as human beings, share in common with other creatures. We are born ready to draw nourishment from the breast. We rise from sleep to look for food in order to sustain the life of our body. We look for company and, on reaching maturity, desire a closer relationship with another. We share the longing for water and a place to rest. However, at some point we begin to realize there is more to being human; as Jesus said ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’(Mt4:4).

There are hungers, yearnings, longings, cravings that differentiate us as humans, some healthy and good, others ultimately destructive to both body and mind. We have a longing for recognition, acceptance, understanding and love. We can suffer heartache and home-sickness. In loneliness we find the night unbearable and long for morning light. Separation can create longing within us for the renewal of companionship, a familiar face or voice, St. Paul writes ‘I long to see you again’ (Rom.1:11), and ‘You whom I long for’ (Phil.4:1). Literature presents us with love-letters that express the deep feelings of attraction in heart-rending, romantic, tear jerking prose, or poetry.

The psalmist takes us to another level of human longing rising from our spirit in response to God’s own Spirit. ‘I thirst for you, my whole body longs for you’ (Ps 63:1.) ‘My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord’ (Ps 84:2). ‘He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things’ (Ps 107:9. ‘I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands’ (Ps 119:131). The humanity of Jesus is seen when he looked down on Jerusalem and wept with longing ‘’how often I have longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you were not willing (Lk. 7:34’. Later in Gethsemane his hunger for company is simply expressed, ‘Stay here and keep watch with me’ (Mt26:38).

Perhaps we should pause once in a while and ask ourselves “What am I really seeking?” I have bought many books and still find them hard to resist. When I asked myself what I was doing, the ‘ah, ah moment’ came when I realized beyond the search for knowledge for the mind was a deeper hunger for God, craving food for the soul and heart. We read that Dorothy Day ‘spoke of her search for God as a long loneliness’. Augustine expressed it saying, ‘Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee’. Whether we realize it or not deep inside us lies a hunger for God.

The story is told of a young priest who came to an elder with the question “How can I find God?” The elder took him to the river, then held his head beneath the water. When he came up gasping, to fill his lungs with air, spluttering “Why did you do that?” The elder answered, “When you long for God as much as you longed for air, you will find him’. Longing can be a prayer in itself, expressing an unspoken desire. Jesus said ‘Blest are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled’ (Mt.5:6). On another occasion he said, ‘Let him that is thirsty come to me’ (Jn.7:37). Look again at the uneasy feeling of hunger, or longing, or dis-satisfaction that periodically rises within you, could it be you are hungry for God? The hunger may be both his gift and a sign of his presence.