“For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9
The human heart beats to a rhythm known as longing. It is this rhythm that much of our society has learned to capitalize on and, in turn, make a profit. Indeed, the consumerist urge that drives the season of Christmas is simply another expression of longing and an example of our society’s ability to leverage that longing into a transaction that will leave us longing for more.
Every year, it seems, the Christmas season extends as Thanksgiving celebrations shrink. In fact this year we were not too deep into November before I began to notice Christmas decorations adorning the hallways of our supermarkets. A couple of weeks ago I noticed a lawn already decorated with the fullest of Christmas joy – two weeks before Thanksgiving.
I love to decorate our lawn and Melissa loves to decorate our home. But two weeks before Thanksgiving? Some might argue that it’s okay to get into the Christmas spirit a bit early. In fact, such a course might even help us extend that good old Christmas cheer in a culture where cheer is often in short supply.
However, I have a hunch that such a pursuit of Christmas cheer might be another expression of a deeper longing. A longing we all too often seek to fill with resources that leave us longing for more. After all, it was not all that long ago (less than a year) when we celebrated last Christmas.
The feast preceding Christmas – Thanksgiving – does provide a degree of satisfaction. It is, after all, a meal received that leaves one satisfied and anticipating the leftovers yet to come! I suspect that this will be the case next Thursday. We will not only leave the table satisfied, but we may even have enough left over to satisfy ourselves again later that night and even on into the next day.
I, for one, look forward to that opportunity! I love the gathering of family members I haven’t seen in years and the opportunity to laugh, pray, converse and just be with for a while. Yes, in that moment – in those moments – there is a sense of satisfaction.
A sense of contentment.
A sense of satisfaction.
Such joy and satisfaction are birthed from the depth human relationships. Such satisfaction is the outcome of the love we share, the hope we have, and the joy we take in being with one another.
There remains a problem, even when the satisfaction is filled with communion; steeped in community.
The problem is that we will hunger yet again.
Bottom line: you and I were made to long for more!
We are creatures driven by and toward our desires!
We are creatures linked to and lost in our loves!
Our problem rests not in the fact that we are a people who desire. Rather our issues rest with the direction or aim our desires take! The forthcoming season of Christmas over-consumption is but one indication of misdirected desire. Longing – or desire – is one of what I call the Signature Affections of Creation. There are about a dozen of these affections. These affections are hold overs, placed by God within the soul to remind us that we are made for more and that this is not the end. As Tolkien once wrote in The Letters of J.R.R. Tokien, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” God longs for our longings to be directed toward Him. It’s in Him where we find the hungry heart sated!
More recently James K.A. Smith has observed, We love, therefore, we are.¹ If Smith is right, then to desire (love) is to be human. If Emerson is right, then our desires (loves) also have an aim, a trajectory, an end. If I am right, then our joy is contingent upon both. Centuries ago Saint Augustine noticed this reality in the natural world and wrote, My love is my weight! I am borne about by it, wheresoever I am borne.²
This is why the call to pay attention to our desires is a most important call! Our desires direct us toward a certain aim or end. Our desires – loves – point us toward what or whom we consider meaningful, magnificent and majestic. Our desires direct us toward places where the heart might find it’s hope revealed and hunger fulfilled!
Emerson once penned,
“That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”
As we move into another season of consumption as celebration; as we embark upon another Thanksgiving and celebrate another Christmas, may we not forget that the attempts to fill ourselves with temporary resources will prove to be just that – temporary. May we not forget that there is a resource whose well never runs dry and whose ears never grow deaf! May we not forget, as the Psalmist reminds us, that it is God who “truly and finally fills the longing of the human soul and satisfies the hunger within!”
Celebrate Thanksgiving this week by longing for God. As you carve that free range turkey and load your plate with a gluten free feast, pause and thank God for a hunger not easily satisfied!
Indeed, allow Him to direct your desire and orient your soul to His presence in your midst. Discover the promise of His presence in the midst of a season in which overpromise and underdelivery is a sure – and often abiding- reality!
I am attaching one of my Soul-full, Sacred and Satisfying practices that you should be able to download and print if you so choose. I encourage you to take a few minutes each day and ‘practice’ the art of allowing the Messiah to direct your desire and orient your soul to His presence in your midst (available as a pdf version as well).
Disrupting to Renew!
¹Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker
²The Confessions of Saint Augustine: Confessions of St.Augustine (Image Books) (Kindle Locations 6055-6064). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.