Longing for God
It is a common spiritual discipline to begin the day in prayer. When we wake up, for those first moments, our minds and spirits are less distracted/off track. We have not yet met the day’s tasks, worries and concerns. To begin the day with five minutes of quiet, recognizing the presence of God with us can change the entirety of our day—when immediately, the first thing we do is open ourselves to God’s being with us throughout the balance of the day.
I have heard about this simple practice often as I have explored spiritual practices over the last ten years or so. Just five minutes of silence in the morning. However, at every retreat center I have been to— centers with the intent to bring us closer to God—coffee is available for all who need a little wake-up before their morning silence. A spiritual mentor, who teaches classes on Christian spirituality, once described her morning routine as ten minutes on her porch with her coffee. The coffee is a non-negotiable, tied up so tightly in this moment of peace for her and, as someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I heard this but never quite understood the power of this drink – until a few weeks ago.
I’m a decaf drinker and was feeling a little out of sync, low energy. Around 4:00pm I stepped out to get a little cappuccino. Typically, I just have a cup of tea or something at these moments but something special seemed appropriate this day. I ordered a cappuccino—decaf– and brought it into the office here. As I was writing emails, I suddenly felt really bright—full of energy and these emails were flying by. I thought why am I sitting in my desk right now so I cleaned my office—like I was on top of the world. But that wasn’t enough—so I went outside and walked around Good Shepherd’s campus several times—I felt awesome—bring on the world, nothing can stop me now. It was a really good afternoon—and around 10p that night…I realized this may just have been regular coffee and not decaf. I understand better now the power of the drink.
I didn’t understand the power of it because, well, I’m not sure anyone had really told me about why they like coffee. I knew people drank it a lot and there’s sort of an art to roasting beans, but no one had described this perk to me before. Thus, I didn’t really understand the appeal. But for those of you who’s morning spiritual practice includes a cup a’ jo, I understand much better now.
While this taste of coffee didn’t convert me for life, there are some experiences which are worth pursuing lifelong. Longings we can spend our entire lives seeking. And the longing that drives all others is the one given to us by God for God.
Ronald Rolhieser, a Catholic theologian who lives in San Antonio, wrote a book called The Holy Longing. One of my late nun friends read through this book sentence by sentence for years. She was regarded highly in her community and I trust her choices and wisdom. He describes that each one of our desires and longings is the same–our deepest longing comes from and returns to God. This longing is “the heat that forges the soul.” However, as humans, we choose to channel this desire differently. Since this longing is one only God fulfils, we seek to satisfy it in a number of ways. The way we channel our longing determines who we are and how we live.
His example in this book is of three women all with the same longing–deep and passionate–but channeled in different ways: Janice Joplin, Princess Diana and Mother Theresa. All had a taste of the divine—this fire burning within them– but took different paths towards it. Janice Joplin rather than focusing her desire spent it on many things, through drugs, sex and rock and roll. Mother Theresa, a woman of fierce energy focused, instead, more singularly on prayer, compassion and service. Princess Diana torn between these two extremes. Each had tasted the Divine and the longing to return to God at times got mixed up with a longing for other, more temporal, ways to satisfy it.
Of course, we all walk between the holy and the profane. But the point is, our longing for God is powerful. So powerful that it can be frightening–what would happen if we were more in touch with our longing for God? If we believed the promises of Jesus Christ that speaks to this greatest longing?
Today it is unusual to meet someone of great faith. Thankfully, we have scripture to remind us of how powerful God is in case we ever lose sight of what our longing is for. In Mark’s gospel today, people beg Jesus to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak–they believe in him that much. “And all who touched it were healed.” We live with a different worldview than our brothers and sisters in Mark who lived in 66-70 AD and were persecuted for being Christian. These people who reached out for the cloak—they hungered for healing and forgiveness–they wanted it more than food, or drink–they needed Christ for their survival. They lived with a different worldview, but it’s not a different world and we are not different people. Alice Miller, Swiss psychologist, suggests that, “the primary spiritual task of the second half of life is our need to grieve, to deal with the bitterness and anger that come from our wounds, disappointments, bad choices, and broken dreams. Her formula for health is simple: Life will hurt, it will be unfair. Don’t try to protect yourself from that – you’ve already been hurt! Accept that, grieve it, and [move on to continue living fully].” We can get pretty good at covering up our longing even for wholeness–for a life of overflowing love and gratitude again.
What if what we hunger for is the loving gift of Christ–the real forgiveness promised to us by Him more than anything else? I think we all seek a life free from that which is in our past, or present or worries about the future—and Christ’s power of love sets us free.
We may be scared about how far away from this Christ knows us to be–we’re scared to look and see how far away we have gotten. And we have never strayed too far away—much of the NT is about just this. That distance is our sin. The sin Christ forgives. In Christ there is no East or West, what there is infinite, unconditional love, and forgiveness. That is what we fall onto the ground begging for–and I don’t think that’s overly dramatic but a natural response—just as we kneel at times in the service in reverence and honor of how great God’s power really is.
I think today we are having to learn this power of God again. Not to be glib, but it’s a bit like drinking coffee–I had no idea what the power of it was, no one had told me. It was either assumed everyone knew or for some the power of it is routine. My sister, a regular coffee drinker was only recently reminded of this with an afternoon cup that kept her up later than usual. I don’t think though we can forget Christ like this. Although we live in a different world than those in Mark’s gospel we are still created with this same longing for God. We are having to rediscover the source of our longing– Our desire to return to God and who God intends us to be. Loved. Fully. And Christ promises us this. Really–it’s real. But today we have constructed lots of ways to distract ourselves from this deepest longing and our deepest truth.
The coffee was awesome. I was flyin’ high there for a bit. But later that night, it wasn’t the same kind of enjoyment. God, Christ’s love for us is always there. Always here. And of course, we don’t feel it all the time– we fall in and out of awareness but every time we breathe every time we drink we are called back as Christ’s beloved forgiven.
In case that doesn’t quite sink in, we then go to Jesus’ table and share the bread and wine–the body and blood–with the words spoken—”Drink this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant. It is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink it in remembrance of me”–me who died so that you may believe.
 Rolheiser, Ronald. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
 Rolheiser, Ronald. “Longing at the Centre.” 1997. Ronrolheiser.com.
 Mark 6:56
 Rolheiser, Ron. “Longing for God’s Justice.” 2007. Ronrolheiser.com