Thursday, December 13, 2012

Longings Within

These reflections which I share in this blog have the primary purpose of sharing a more personal side of who I am. My parishioners certainly see it in various ways, even in my public preaching; however, preaching isn’t primarily about sharing my personality but rather the personality, or better, the person of Christ in his relationships (with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, with his Church, the world, etc.)

So I've found that I enjoy this blogging and I even learn more about myself in the act of writing. Someone once said, "I write so that I know what I think." I used to write in journals a great deal, but rarely now  simply because of time constraints.

I was thinking today about Advent (of course) and how different it’s "tone" is than the "tone" of Christmas. What do I mean?  For me, Advent has a kind of  subdued, quiet note of yearning, of longing. It’s almost melancholy, but that’s not quite right because it’s not sad, in fact it can be quite joyful. This "yearning note" is classically sounded in the Advent Song "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

"Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!"
 (Listen to  a beautiful recording of the hymn HERE

I realize that I am very responsive to this kind of yearning in my spirituality. I thought about this today also and recalled a term introduced to me by a favorite professor from my young University days. I took a class with Dr. Corbin Carnell and he spoke of the concept of "sehnsucht" (pronounced in English as sane-zookt). I now want to find in my library Dr. Carnell’s book which he wrote on the subject. For now, wikipedia gives a good description of sehnsucht: "It is a German word literally meaning ‘longing’, which C. S. Lewis used to describe an ‘insatiable longing" for "we know not what’."

Wikipedia continues: "Sehnsucht represents thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. It has been referred to as ‘life’s longings’.....

"It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far-off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far-off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call ‘home’."

Advent is a perfect season to invoke such longings. We long for the coming of Christ. We long for that promise that when he comes again in glory at the end of time, there will be a new heaven and a new earth where the justice of God will reside. (See 2 Peter 3:13)

At other times, sometimes it is a piece of beautiful music that invokes this longing. Or it may be a particular image. I’ve begun saving some of these images when I come across them. Here’s one, for example:

There’s something about this image that invites me to go down that path perhaps to some mysterious, other place.

Let me close with a passage by Henry Suso, a Dominican mystic who died in 1366, who expresses what I’ve been trying to describe about divine longing which can’t be satisfied in this life:

"Lovable, gentle Lord, since childhood my spirit has eagerly sought and thirsted for something which even now I do not fully understand. Lord, I have pursued this desire for many years without overtaking it because I do not really know what it is, even though it attracts my heart and soul to itself and its absence leaves me without true peace.
"At first, Lord, following the example of my companions, I tried to find it in creatures, but the more I searched the less I found, and the closer I drew to it the further it receded from me, because before I could fully enjoy or abandon myself to any pleasure-yielding idea, an inner voice warned me: 'That is not what you are looking for.'
"Lord, even now my heart hungers for this unknown satisfaction and has often experienced what it is not; but what it is, that my heart has not yet discerned. Alas, cherished Lord of heaven, what is it, or why is it that this strange longing should make itself felt so mysteriously within me?" (Little Book of Eternal Wisdom ch. 1)
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