The last time we mentioned how the beauty of a work of any art, from story to sculpture, or the transparent goodness of another person, can be like a mirror that reflects us to ourselves. The story of Snow White notes that the mirror always told the truth. It has often struck me that we cannot see ourselves with our own eyes but only by looking in a mirror. I would add that the true mirror of any of us is found in the eyes of someone who loves us. As also noted before, the story of Narcissus suggests that essential to our personal growth and authentic relationships is an image of ourselves as loveable, as capable of being loved and of loving.
We also wrote that, unless blocked by fear and its attendant hostility, the experience of beauty and goodness speaks to what is deepest within us. It reveals our deepest longing for lasting meaning and calls us to become the person we can be. It invites and challenges us to fashion ourselves according to our own and others’ sacred worth, to make of our lives as lasting work of art.
We might recall that the word voice comes from the Latin vox and vocare, voice and to call. The challenge of creating of our lives as a lasting work of art is to tune in to the call we hear from our own deepest centre. It is to discover, not just our job or our profession, but our vocation. It is what we are called from within to make of our lives, in light of our own deepest inner voice.
Theologian Theodore Steeman writes: “Human life is really an open-ended question, a question which does not contain its own answer. But it is a question to which the answer must be given by every person. …. Our hopes are always more than can come true, our demands on life are always larger than life is willing to give. Nevertheless, life is a task, an invitation, a challenge. It requires the courage to be, the courage to live. … I think that the best moments of our lives are when we do not feel closed upon ourselves or concerned about ourselves and we see life as a task before us, when we are aware that self-concern hinders honesty. These are the moments when we know that life is good, embedded in a mystery of goodness and love and that we have to make our own lives such messages of goodness and love.”
Another way of putting this thought is that we go through life with a question and a quest that reaches further than any answer that we receive. There remains within us an unstilled longing. It could perhaps be described as a longing for meaning, for a sense that who we are is of value, that we belong in this life, and that there is some purpose, something to live for in our life.
Sone years ago, Jane Ripley and myself published a book of reflective verse, called Touching the Spirit, Reflections from the Heart. It included a number of introductory sections including one on longing, which I’ll repeat here;
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, we wish to,yet never quite share who we are with another.
Yet, longing is not a restless dissatisfaction nor a negative judgment passed on self or 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.
I may trust this endless, fathomless longing. I may feel its pain and beauty in silence. I may share its vulnerability and hope in friendship. I may give it voice in music and art. I may embody it in social struggle. I will let it become a caring space around what is precious here and now, yet let it ever remain a space that is never filled, that allows and draws me to reach further, with and for others, in a hope that strives both to realize its hopes, and to grow beyond them.
May the longing that you feel in your deepest heart not lead into sadness and sorrow, but move rather to a sense of hope that embraces but moves beyond your vulnerability to grow in understanding, and in caring for yourselves and for one another.
Norman King, January 24, 2022