We have spoken lately of the inseparable joy and sorrow, fear and love, labour and rest, darkness and light that are bound up with every human life. We have also referred to the images of eternal rest and perpetual light which ancient peoples used to express their longing for meaning and fulfillment. We have also mentioned that one element in grief is the felt experience of incompleteness–of a life, a relationship, even a conversation. Each person who enters lovingly into out life holds a place that no other can occupy. When they depart, that space remains empty, except for the love that remains there. The key theme is that the degree to the person is loved, the greater the loss. Yet memories may turn from pain to gratitude and even joy.
I think that at the root of felt incompleteness, arising from the contradictions of life and the whole spectrum of feelings, there is a profound longing, a yearning for a something more. This thought is echoed in the words of theologian Daniel McGuire:
Persons look at themselves and the world around them. They see the bird in flight, the rose in bloom, the infant blessing us with smiles, and they utter the primal expression of religious consciousness: ‘There is more to this than meets the eye.’ The religious inference is that deep down in things there is a creative presence, a directing force, that underlies the complexities and the beauties of our setting.
This longing seems ever present, even if unnoticed, and arises from the deepest level within us. Sometimes the busyness of our lives may cover it over for a time. Or we may expect that the next thing we acquire, the next relationship we form, or the next adventure we undertake, will relieve this inner ache. Yet we may then hear a piece of beautiful music, or be visited by an undefined sadness, or notice how swiftly our days are passing. Then once again we feel that inner longing. As I once expressed it, we go through life with a question that reaches farther than any answer we receive, and with a yearning that reaches further than anything we attain or receive. There remains always an unanswered question and an unstilled longing. As one writer put it, our hopes are always more than can come true, our demands on life are always larger than life is willing to give.
Theologian, Karl Rahner comments that we ourselves and all persons, things, and institutions we encounter are finite—that is, limited, fragile, perishable, contingent. And we are drawn from our inmost core to reach out, consciously and freely, for something more than, beyond the finite, an outreach for “the infinite.” The deepest dimension of all human experience, Rahner says, is a hunger for the infinite. From the inmost core of our being, we are drawn to reach beyond all that is finite for the infinite.
In more concrete terms, we are looking for something somewhere over the rainbow. We are seeking a beauty beyond the storms of life; a home beyond any we presently experience. Perhaps this is what Plato the philosopher intimated when he spoke of the world of ideas of which the physical world is just a copy. The beauty, truth, and goodness, the lasting home of our longing, is somehow suggested by our experience but not contained by that experience.
These thoughts are very elusive. But they recall the example of the child asking the question of where he or she came from. The child is not seeking a technical answer, but a story, a story in which he or she is the main character and is welcomed into the family or, hopefully a caring group. The child is really asking, we suggested: “Am I important and do I belong?”
This appears to be a question that remains always beneath the surface of our lives. It suggests that our infinite longing may be expressed as longing that the story of our life be a good story, That is to say, a story in which we have a sacred worth and a lasting belonging and purpose. It is a longing for a life of enduring meaning. As we have said, we cannot prove such a worth, but only discover a worth already there, as did Narcissus. This discovery implies a recognition of that worth as a gift. It is something always there, As such, it evokes a sense of gratitude for what is, rather than a desperate and futile attempt to prove a worth that ever appears absent. Often it is a caring or caring others that treat us a having an intrinsic value that makes possible this discovery.
Another image comes from an understanding of compassion. Compassion might be understood as a caring space around another’s pain or suffering. That space is empty in the sense that it is free of the caring person’s own clutter, empty of their persona agenda, preconceived thought, or advice. It is simply a being with, a being present to another.
An analogy to Plato’s approach is perhaps found in the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. Susan Cain, in Bittersweet, describes it this way. “In the beginning all of creation was a vessel filled with divine light. It broke apart and now shards of holiness are strewn all around us. … Our task is simple–to bend down, dig them out, pick them up. And in so doing, to perceive that light can emerge from darkness, death gives way to rebirth.”
This story suggests to me is that the light we seek is beyond all the shards. Yet our concrete response is to the shards. We recognizing both the infiniteness of our longing and regard the shards as our glimpse of that infiniteness. We express our respect for the sacredness of life–as a gift beyond all seizing–in our striving to be compassionate and just. We do so through our response to concrete persons and situations in our actual life circumstances.
In a similar vein, but with a different image, theologian Karl Rahner notes that if we persist in remaining silent for a tine, we may notice that everything is as if suffused by a nameless remoteness, as if surrounded by what sense like emptiness. He then suggests that we may trust the emptiness; it is not nothingness. Perhaps we may envision the universe as pervaded and enveloped by an underlying unseen energy, whose thrust is towards compassion.
These words seem somewhat stammering and elusive. Yet the core is simple. Life is certainly ambiguous and mysterious. Perhaps all that counts is to hold fast to the sacredness of persons and of all reality, and to try to embody that conviction and hope ever more fully in our concrete lives. That is perhaps the essence of our longing and our path to home.
October 09, 2022