Gratitude and Longing

Last week, I spoke of our inner core, our heart, not only as our sacred centre, but also as a place of longing, a longing for beauty and love, for wisdom and compassion. We tune into this longing especially in times of silence, but also in listening to music as well as stories and other forms of art.

Many years ago, Jane Ripley and I published a book of reflective verse, prefaced with brief introductory reflections. One of these was on longing.
“Longing is the voice of love in its aching for completeness and wholeness.. Longing is the voice of our heart in its recognition that we are ever on a journey, ever pilgrims, whose words, actions, and lives, never fully embody who we long to be. Longing is the voice of our heart in its recognition that, not without a tinge of anxiety, that we wish to, yet never quite share who we are with another.

Yet, longing is not a restless dissatisfaction nor a negative judgement passed on self and others. Rather, longing is a gentle openness to embrace and share our lives as they have been and are. Longing is a gentle openness to grow beyond where we are now, to move with another on our journey, as we trust the unfolding process of life, within us, between us, and beyond us.”

Gratitude for self, one another, and for life itself, is a way to relieve some of the troubling restlessness in our longing. I recently started reading a book of the Essential Spiritual Writings of Ron Rolheiser. He writes “Gratitude is the ultimate virtue, undergirding everything else, even love. … We are mature to the degree that we are grateful.”

If we combine gratitude with longing, perhaps we may encounter an underlying sense of our own sacred worth as foundational. To have a sense that we are of value, and to come to recognize that value at a gut level, evokes a sense of gratitude. If our life and who we are is a worthwhile gift, then we may experience ourselves and our lives with gratefulness. To do so leads us also to experience the life of others and their very selves as having a sacred worth.

Yet there is at the same time a real challenge. The experience of limitations, faults, and even betrayals, in ourselves and others, can obscure that underlying worth. It can evoke resentment. It can push us to feel our lives more as a burden than a gift. It may lead us to try to pretend to be or become other than who we are. We may take on a script that is other than our own. There is also the social script with its pressure to see our worth in what we do or what we have rather than who we are. If our worth depends on doing and having, it is at best precarious and uncertain.

Having gentle time being with ourselves and being with others is essential to uncovering our underlying sacred worth. The words “being with” are identical to the word “presence” in its Latin source. It is a question of being at home to ourselves, rather than an absentee landlord in our own lives.

Gratefulness does not demand an unreal perfection or completeness. This awareness is expressed in the novel by Chaim Potok. A son tells his father that he is troubled by the realization of death. The father replies that something does not have to be forever to be good; it can be precious precisely because it is not forever.

Gratefulness may ease the restlessness of our longing, so our longing may then be felt as the unfolding of our own sacred worth and that of others, and the attempt to live out that worth. It involves the gradual realization that the love which we long to receive and give is already present in some way.

Fragments of the thought of Plato and T. S. Eliot come to mind. Plato spoke of knowledge as remembering. I think that this can mean that when we come to awareness of basic truths about life, it is like an uncovering of something we already somehow knew implicitly. And remembering is perhaps less about past facts than coming home to who we truly are. I have long appreciated as well the words of poet, T. S. Eliot. ““We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.”

May you come to experience that what you long for may already be present within you, and that a challenge is to care gently for its unfolding within and around you.

Norman King, June 5, 2023