Life in the Ground

Precious little of our lives in Yakima reminds me of life in Calgary. Not that it should. I’m just a comparison kinda guy.

Calgary in winter

Calgary in winter

In Calgary, we’ve had snow every month of the calendar year. Even August. Here, we’re lucky to get snow at all. When we do however, life becomes unlivable. Not the kind of unlivable that has one kicking the dog or hoarding the Communion wine. It’s more a slush-ridden slide of faith down valley hills on tires never sufficient to the task. The dampness of Pacific Northwest snow makes it heavier than the objects upon which it falls. Plants cower under the weight, almost like Atlas bending under a muscle-twitching burden. Roofs have been known to collapse. More people own snow blowers than shovels in this valley, since even body-builder knees buckle shoveling this snow.


Photo by Mike Sauer

In spite of endless sunshine, most often appreciated by lizards and sun worshipers, I’m most miserable during the Yakima summer. My Canadian blood, trained by a temperate climate promises a hazy kind of heat-induced droopiness that drags on endlessly when parts of you are sweating that never did before. I suppose it’s the opposite of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). While most Yakimites keep a loaded revolver in the glove box just in case winter’s grey leaves them overwrought, I whine like a banshee without enough rain and grey skies. I should probably have that checked out.

A Calgary heat wave usually meant a few days of low to mid 90s that promised bitchy parents. Drivers and pedestrians alike grew more aggressive than usual, and tempers got shorter than the summers themselves. As kids growing up in the not-so-balmy regions of Alberta’s grasslands, such unreasonable temperatures meant longer days for exploring and defining ourselves against the shenanigans of our troublesome friends.

Make it through the super-heated Yakima summer however and flaunted lavishly before us is a superlative fall, beautiful to the point of garish. Leaves change more slowly here. The sage green and spittle browns of summer are swapped out for yellow, auburn, orange, and other colors I can’t even begin to name. 

The historic Barge-Chestnut neighborhood in the Fall.

The historic Barge-Chestnut neighborhood in the Fall.

A Calgary Fall came quickly and with a vengeance. The colors were there one day, gone the next. Winter was the only decisive time of year. Calgary’s favorite color is the peaty-brown grass that climbs its gentle slopes and clings to her Rocky Mountain-shadowed foothills. Stands of poplars, deciduous minority brothers in the more ubiquitous pine forests further west into the mountains, groped for sunshine, teasing each other beside the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Elbow River, Calgary

Elbow River, Calgary

From there, the Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, Sturgeon, and ample Pike taunted many a fly-fishing line and studied the undersides of canoe and kayak meandering their way down her rippling spine. Besides, if the fish weren’t biting, the mosquitoes most certainly were.

Bishop Grandin High School, 1 block from my street

Bishop Grandin Catholic High School, one block from my street

Life in the Calgary of the sixties and seventies was decidedly more pasty and wan than it is now in a sprawling cosmopolitan soup of oil-nouveau-rich yuppies. Before Bishop Grandin High School was built in the early seventies, we could look out our kitchen window and see the animals frittering about on Harry Hays’ farm a block away. In fact, our street was almost the southern most boundary of the city proper. For my parents to drive me for bagpipe lessons in Midnapore, then a separate town, now one of many annexed communities, required high beams and good suspension on dark, bumpy back roads.

A Calgary winter could be the most indecipherable mess of meteorological phenomena. Her geography has her cupped in the palm of a significant mountain range but with her head tucked in the nape of the foothills that ridge her neck. Some have compared it to Denver in this regard. It was not uncommon to scrape our windshields one day, after twenty minutes of pre-warming the car in -30 degree weather only to ditch our down jackets for windbreakers the next day as Chinook winds brought temperatures even into the 50s (10+ degrees Celsius of course). It was the meteorological equivalent of multiple personality disorder – about as complicated, but less fun.

A favorite part of Calgary life for me was the continuous rivalry between Calgary and Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton, a couple hundred miles north. CFL (Canadian Football League) teams, the Calgary Stampeders vied for supremacy against the Edmonton Eskimos (Canadians are allowed to use this word because I think we invented it) in clashes a lot less polite than is typically attributed to the Canadian demeanor. Betting was fierce. Petty, verbal jabs even more so. Broken ribs and missing teeth most common of all.

The Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames

What did I care? I loved hockey, a sport as definitive of Canadian citizenship as God Bless the Troops bumper stickers in the States. Even before the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980, I knew every player on every team. I even knew first round draft picks and the names of a few general managers. Ask me the most obvious question about anything football and the blank stare will tell you what you suspected all along.

The far too many uprootings in my family wake has made me grateful for the stability we’ve known here in Yakima. It’s surprising how God’s vitals become more pronounced when one isn’t always out of breath and one’s heart isn’t pounding in the ears. It makes inner silence and listening so much easier.

God has found me here. I may not always feel the same sense of DNA-level familiarity with my environment, I may be living in the U.S. but Canadian as the day is long, I may not appreciate all the cultural inside jokes or regional quirks, but I’ve heard God’s heart beating. It’s quite soothing. There has certainly been life in the drifts, but there’s more life in the ground, buried and out of sight, that nourishes and stirs dead things to life.

I’ll still whine from time to time about ‘home’ (whatever that is). I’ll still cringe whenever I see the Trumpster or the Palin-doll in “the news.” I will never understand the correlation between guns and “freedom.” I may not feel as connected or authentic when stumbling through the American national anthem. My friendships may barely exceed a decade. But God has planted me in a distant soil to bring me and mine closer to the deepest harvest, that of the heart.

Until then, I’ll keep bitching all through Yakima summers in the knowledge that seasons change. Like all of us.

I know, it’s annoying, but I kinda like it that way.


Yakima Valley pic found here

Calgary in winter pic found here

Bishop Grandin pic found here

Calgary Flames pic found here

Yakima in Fall pic found here

“Do you want to be healed?”

“Do you want to be healed?”

For the longest time I had attributed it to the insistent paradigm of the poet’s logic, the lover’s unrequited dreams, the shifting clouds of the philosopher’s quest – all searching for something – a reality as numinous and perfect as it is deceptively secret and stubbornly resistant to conquest.

An ever-present sense of melancholy, a numbing ache, an unnameable yearning – desolation even – has draped my consciousness for many years. It seems I am a walking advertisement for mood enhancing substances and the pharmaceutical drug trade (or, maybe just self-pity?)

Sometimes, and inexplicably, my soul is shot through with little darts of light – suggestions of heaven, of how things truly are. They come unbidden mostly as ghostly sojourners, inhabitants of a more perfect realm come to slake my wheezing soul with wine, bread, and perhaps a song or two.

In recent days, this ubiquitous, verbose Demon of Grey Souls has gnawed at me for so long that it seems, by virtue of that fact, to have overplayed its hand. The hide ‘n seek after contentment, so long now the haunt of my days, has been smoldering behind its best hiding places under new rays of sun. I had willingly become a pawn in a cat and mouse game and my overseer has grown too fat to hide well.

New light, still diffuse and weak, but less coy or troublesome, is asking me a question; the ironic question Jesus once posed to some poor bugger by the Jerusalem Sheep Gate: do you want to be healed?

On the surface it’s a question as ridiculous as asking two young lovers, separated by time and circumstance, whether they’d like to make love. Upon reflection however, it reveals shear genius and a profound knowledge of the human psyche. In asking such a question, Jesus becomes more than just miracle-worker, more than a first-century doctor. He becomes psychologist and spiritual director.

He gazes beyond the obvious malady to which this fellow is chained and sees something else. His question is aimed at the man’s fear, not of remaining ill, but of the unknown world that might just open to him in the face of his healing. To be healed is to rejoin society. It is to refuse the Hogwart’s sorting hat from placing you once again into the House of Sufferin’. It is to relinquish the comfortable role of pitied and pitiful, dependent on the succoring cries of others, and take up one’s place responsibly as contributor and co-builder of a just and compassionate world.

The Spirit of God is revealing to me just how long I have sat beside my own Beth-zatha (see Jn. 5:2ff) with the expectation of healing but full of excuses for why it shouldn’t have or hasn’t yet happened. The brooding and mysterious artist persona, complete with philosopher-poet mystique and generous helping of eyes-down, hood-up melancholy is no longer a big enough hiding place for the overwhelming presence of this question, posed by Jehovah-Rapha (God, our healer).

Perhaps it’s about timing, we must wait until our own “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4)? Perhaps God is content, as in the case of Job, to let us sit in our sackcloth and ashes long enough to remove all doubt that we’re so buried that only another can save us? Perhaps it’s just “our turn?”

Says Marilyn Gardiner, “We sit, often for years, with our paralysis. It may not be physical paralysis, but it is just as debilitating and defeating as physical paralysis. It prevents us from truly living, from being who we are called to be.”*

Whatever the case, I am ready to answer ‘yes’ to the question of Jesus. I am ready to shed one skin, now old and overused, and don a better one.  I am ready to see what has always existed just below the surface of my murky water. 

I think I’m ready to say ‘yes.’

I’m ready to say ‘yes.’

I say, ‘yes.’


Will you?


*Excerpted from Marilyn R. Gardiner’s wonderful blog, Communicating Across Boundaries

Going Home, and the Way There

It was 1989. My wife, Rae, and I had just completed a call of duty as mission workers to youth at Granton Baptist Church, Edinburgh. We enjoyed our first anniversary on Culloden Moor, near Inverness and were now enjoying a few weeks to just explore. I recall quite fondly the first time we stood together within the ruins of Tintern Abbey, not far from her birthplace in Wales. The mystery of belonging, and the sheer weight of home was overwhelming.

Tintern Abbey, Wales

Tintern Abbey, Wales

A Celt at heart, I think and write a great deal about the spirituality of ‘home‘ and the ache it engenders. The human heart is uniquely designed to yearn. It knows what it wants and diligently seeks it out – sometimes in unsavory, even desperate, ways. Our sacred procurements can quickly become what derails us from procurement of the sacred. But God knows our heart and the passions to which it is given, both good and bad.

What do you think of when you think of ‘home?’ A family room, lavishly bedecked with Christmas finery? A dining room table around which sit the people who grace your life? A certain place to which you return for solace when life goes south? For Rae, my wife of twenty-seven years, it is Britain. We both grew up in Calgary, Alberta on the uneven foothills that slowly crawl their way up the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. But the ancient Celtic hillsides, grey and mournful skies, and songful souls of Wales are for her, home.

Calgary, Alberta

Calgary, Alberta

We met while in mutual mourning. I had just lost my father to cancer a few months earlier. She was a girl in the throes of anguish, watching her mother waste away with the same plight. Rae is an only child, not because that was the desire of her parents, but because she was the only one to survive of numerous pregnancies. A survivor she remains to this day.

Only-children learn to be self-sustaining, imaginative, and scrappy in order to live their lives outside the interdependency of other kids in the family. With the lack of siblings, they often grow deeply independent, and extremely close to their parents, taking on signs of maturity well before others. All this is true of Rae. 

She lost her mom in August of 1986, almost a year after I lost my dad. She and her dad, now alone, forged a new life together on their own. In a sense, Rae took over many of the aspects of care and mutual friendship that previously existed between her parents. They often spent evenings simply crying together. Her father was lost without his partner, and the many tendernesses known only to lovers. His habitual journey from kitchen to bedroom every morning with tea and toast for his wife was now enjoyed by Rae. In honor of this tradition, I bring her coffee every morning. These little things help keep the big things in place.

The friendship born of the mutual bond of grief has lasted to this day. Since losing her parents, any family of origin are gone. In a sense, she is alone on this continent. To help her contextualize this and many other competing voices within her, she started writing a novel a little over three years ago. It is, of course, based in the UK.

Rae, my writer, wifey pal

Rae, my writer, wifey pal

Because I so keenly identify with her longing for home, and because, as a writer myself, I am her biggest fan, it has been my desire to help her return. I have developed a Giveforward crowd-based fundraising campaign to assist in getting her back to Britain where she may visit her remaining relatives, and finish research for her book.

If you feel as pulled toward home as we do, please consider making a donation, however small, to help her feet once again touch her own hallowed ground. You may do so here.

Diolch yn fawr iawn (thank you very much in Welsh)

Picture of Calgary found here

I’ll Carry You: Companions On the Dark Journey


Just recognizing how utterly dependent I am on the companionship and wisdom of others.

Originally posted on innerwoven:

He no longer knew the day. There was no more separation between the sweet, calm of morning light and the creeping fingers of night. All had turned to the grey ooze of nothingness. For him there was only the long, unending dark of time’s unwieldy march onward, onward, ever onward – the relentlessness of burning necessity. All that once was had thrust its long, oily arm down his parched throat and wrenched from him all remaining strength. Hope was but a word, void of substance, reality’s parody of happier men in better days.

Or so it seemed.

There was another; a soul knit to him not by mere chance, but by sheer devotion. It was the kind of centripetal friendship known only among the angels and those about to face their doom. The lostness of his friend only served to drive deeper the tent peg of determination into the heart…

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Prayer of the Blind

“There are none so blind as those who will not see” – attributed to John Heywood, 1546. A response to the Umpqua massacre of September, 2015


I pray, O God, for those of squandered chances,

(if mine remain available and plentiful.)

I pray for those with withered hopes,

(if mine remain consistently fresh.)

I pray for those without the means to self-sustain,

(as long as I remain winsome and productive.)

I pray for lives, untethered,

(if mine blissfully carries on.)

I pray for the lonely and un-gathered,

(while on my iPhone, among friends.)

I pray for hearts in atrophy,

(as long as I remain emotionally nourished.)

I pray for he whose place is gouged, whose work, ravaged,

(if I remain safe among the secure and blessed.)

I pray for a church, united,

(if it doesn’t cause me discomfort.)

I pray for the addicted,

(as long as no one checks my history.)

I pray in gratitude for my wife,

(as long as she stays pretty and polished.)

I pray for the poor and emaciated,

(while eating prosciutto and gruyère in my car.)

I pray for others to “find Jesus,”

(assuming I don’t have to forego anything.)


Most of all, God of life,

I pray for an end to all the killings,

(if it doesn’t ask me to quit worshipping the means of their demise.)


Thanks be to God.

Passaging well


On the occasion of my fifty-second birthday, I repost a few thoughts I had just prior to my fiftieth. Those thoughts remain the same, even if the numbers do not.

Originally posted on innerwoven:

Our lives are a series of passages. One tributary leads to another, which in turn yields to something else on its way to waterfall or harbor, estuary or eddy. At times we are stuck, unmoving. Or so it seems. To be stuck can actually be a decision not to decide something. Perhaps it’s a slow, deep spot before being sucked back out into the rapids where we easily lose our sense of direction and the not unreasonable expectation that we’ll fly ass over tea kettle into the frothy spray. There are even times when our boat slows almost to a crawl and we find ourselves in the enchantments of a Pirates of the Caribbean style rendezvous with delight. DSC_0019

Whatever the case may be it should be our goal to passage well. That is, when faced with life’s bone-chilling decisions, we learn to listen for the most gracious, compassionate means by…

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10 Ways American Christians Are Compromising Our Own Testimony In The World


Nothing to add. I will let his words do the talkin’.

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

Not listening

If this were a prize fight, organized Christianity wouldn’t quite be knocked out yet, but it would certainly be on the ropes and we’d be way behind on points coming to the bell.

It’s no secret that people are leaving the Church in record numbers and although they may not all be rejecting Jesus, they are surely saying no to the faith that bears his name—and for many good reasons.

I spend a great deal of my time each day listening to many of these good folks and they educate me. Based on what I see from where I am and what I’ve learned from nearly two decades in church ministry, here are some ways we Christians are obscuring Jesus and hurting people, and severely damaging our testimony in the world in the process:

1) Vilifying non-Christians.

In the face of attrition and growing public ambivalence, too many Christians and Christian leaders lazily lean back on attack language…

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Solace outside the monastery walls

“I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the strivings and sufferings of the world…Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day. One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life…All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die; all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering…” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – from Hymn of the Universe
The history of Christian mysticism is peppered with rich fare, the heady extrapolations of soulish delight uniquely the territory of those fearless ascetics, monastics, hermits, and contemplatives who journal their journeys. It is the stuff of heavenly lore with heroes of inner battles fought and won, the likes of which we lay-folks can only imagine. One finds there a burning cauldron of purgation, a gleaming mirror of illumination, and the sweet rest of union. I read them lustily, with an aching expectation of tiny droplets of light for my faltering journey.
That same history is fraught with the cheap thrills of mystic wannabes, hucksters, and spiritual amateurs unsuited to such a dangerous pilgrimage. The existential nature of mystical theology makes it particularly vulnerable to either deep-diving into shallow waters or worse, shallow-diving into deep waters. And it can be hard to tell the difference. Even the Church from whence sprang these instructors of the spiritual way had difficulty determining where mysticism ended and heresy began.  
Here’s the deal. To be honest, as I read the mystics, I am struck by a number of things. Firstly, there is an undeniable courage required to mine the depths of God. From Augustine to Thomas Merton, women and men of rigorous faith coupled with a thirst for perfect union with their God, have sought to unpack their way in the Way. The literary legacy left behind has formed for us the corpus of Christian spirituality. It is the library to which I turn time and again for a way out of my tunnel and into God’s cave.
The more I read however, the more I see that they can be just as systematic and linear as academy theologians even as they describe the inner motions of the soul on its journey toward union with God. The roots are similar, but there are only so many ways to peel a banana. One has this threefold way, the other this sevenfold path, still another refuses steps altogether.
This is my struggle, one not unique to me – what is so often lacking is a clear connection between the complexities of the soul’s journey to God and the equal challenges of the dusty and broken world that is the home for all souls under construction. Inordinate amounts of time and energy is spent discussing their own soul’s progress in their own conversion. They almost seem to be in competition with one another as to who has experienced union with God most profoundly. There is much talk about God but turned, as it were, consistently inward.
Make no mistake, I love the mystics and will read them for the rest of my natural life. Moreover, I am usually combating the prevalent North American spiritual philosophy of ‘git ‘r done pragmatism. These matters are not generally ones that concern me to this degree. But, some questions vexing me these days: What is the relationship between the soul’s call to continual conversion and the call of the Church to be the redeemed and redeeming community? If one can discover the mysterious movements of God in the deepest parts of one’s own soul, what use do we have of one another? Of liturgy? Of Word and Sacrament? Of the Moral Law? How does all of this translate to the peasant farmer with far too little extra time on his hands to even be concerned about the threefold way, or the thirteen steps of Marguerite of Porete or anything close to an Interior Castle? Not everyone has the benefit of monastic solitude, a spiritual director, access to helpful resources, perhaps the ability to read the same(!), or a brother/sisterhood of likeminded seekers intent on finding their souls. Without that clear connection, it would seem to be too similar to the program of gnostic therapeutic dualism of contemporary evangelicalism.
The Gospel has both an inner and an outer intent. The aim of the Gospel is the ongoing restoration of the cosmos, souls and all. And the cruciformity of the Gospel calls us, nourished or not, whole or not, unified or not, in sacred ecstasy or not, into a world that badly needs these discoveries. Everyone must learn to find solace outside the monastery walls, mystic and lay person alike.
The above piece by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gives me a peek into that kind of active contemplation. It speaks of offerings and gatherings, of sustaining grace amid the sufferings of the world. My soul cries out for the depths of the contemplative life (“as a deer pants for flowing streams…”). But my heart cries just as loud to share what I see with those around me who have no frickin’ idea what I’m talking about, but who long for it all the same.
Does that make sense? What do you think? Help a guy out, will ya?
* * *
Image 1, “Hesychast”, by Oleg Korolev, found here
Image 2 found here

Hiraeth – making peace with our longing, conclusion


“Our longing is an echo of the divine longing for us. Our longing is the living imprint of divine desire. This desire lives in each of us in that ineffable space in the heart where nothing else can satisfy or still us” -John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes

Throughout our series I’ve sought to define the Celtic concept of hiraeth in the following way: “a longing, a homesickness for a home to which one can never return. It is the unrequited hope that produces ever more unanswered longing. It is a grieving for the lost places and moments of one’s past – a sense of loss for loving moments and places, fondly remembered. It sits in the dream world where longing, belonging, home, and wanderlust meet.” 

We’ve looked at the necessity of metaphor in our efforts to understand this, or any, spiritual concept. I’ve invited people into my own personal salve, applied generously on my own longing – writing. We’ve discussed how the spirit of childhood and its built-in mysticism (Jesus called this childlikeness or, humility) is our truest home and the perfect allegory for our own longing – the return to that elemental time of wonder and chaotic delight; to mystery. Finally, we’ve adopted Ronald Rolheiser’s idea that our spirituality is what we do with our longing, the end of which can lead us to God’s greatest gift: self-knowledge.

Longing, as rooted in hiraeth, is a double-edged sword. It pricks us with the sting of yearning while simultaneously acting as a reminder of our finitude. We long for what we most want but which we so often least require. In this way, Hiraeth can be a longing for longing itself. Except, when we return, we discover WE have changed. Capturing even the essence of something is then an impatient storming of the gates of the reality itself. We chase a shadow as though it were the substance of the shadow.


So, where does this leave us? This enigmatic Welsh word seeks to describe an idea without clear English equivalent. But it’s a start. It gets us somewhere. It has helped me grapple with an incessant gnawing thirst within me, never completely satisfied. And, as is the case with so many of our bugaboos, healing often comes with the process of articulation.

There is still a deeper level to which I am drawn as an apprentice of Jesus, for if anyone understood the exile of hiraeth it was the Son of God. It is here that I diverge from hiraeth in order to turn my attention to longing as understood and experienced in the harbor of Christ. 

All our discontinuities, our divestments, and disenfranchisement are subsumed into Christ Jesus, the exiled One. In the contemporary evangelical mind at least Jesus belonged anywhere but where he willingly chose to come. His truest “home” was within the eternal Trinity, that mystical scaffolding for all human relationships. If indeed one believes Jesus to be the image of the Divine Essence we call God, then his enfleshment becomes that much more jaw-dropping.

Prior to the Incarnation of God in Christ, the archetypal longing in the human soul was crooned in the poetry of the Psalms:

“My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times” (Psalm 119:20). “My soul languishes for Your salvation; I hope in your word” (Psalm 119:81). “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.” (Psalm 73:25). “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:2). “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalms 143:6).

Biblically, it is an ubiquitous concept. And, with the coming of Jesus, who understood the exile of longing better than anyone, we’re introduced to the promise of a never-ending thirst that is always and never slaked. It is the fulfillment of what hiraeth begins. The richer vein from which we draw means that boring underneath the irascible sea of our lives is an Artesian Well of nourishment. Jesus spoke often of the possibility of satiation found in the existential oneness we experience with God in his name:

“Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life”” (John 4:13-14). “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst”” (John 6:35). “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink”” (John 7:37).

From these sacred words we’re given a glimpse into what lies at the root of all our longing – the need to know and be known, to love and be loved; to be one with the One whose roots alone bring the nourishment from which we will capably thrive in our world fraught with the ache of hiraeth.


I anticipate much more thirst to come. But my life will never be without water.

Series image found here

Shadows image found here

Bucket and well image found here

Hiraeth – making peace with longing, part 5


“The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature” – John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes

At the beginning of chapter one of The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Catholic theologian, Ronald Rolheiser‘s pivotal work, he implants the following poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“The Holy Longing”

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,

Because the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.


In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you

when you see the silent candle burning.


Now you are no longer caught

in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making

sweeps you upward.


Distance does not make you falter,

now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.


And so long as you haven’t experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.

Goethe voices something Rolheiser explores very well in his book. It is what we’ve been examining these past weeks: longing. Rolheiser maintains that longing, or desire as he calls it, is our primary dis-ease. He submits that “there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace” (p. 3). In fact, he believes desire to be stronger than the satisfaction for which it yearns. And everyone desires – longs – and our spirituality is what we do with that unrest.

Rolheiser goes on to say however that, although we all suffer deep longing, not everyone addresses it in the same way. He compares Janis Joplin’s longing, lived out in the erratic and scattered desires that ultimately led to her untimely death with the more focused and singular desire of Mother Teresa that allowed her a healthy integration and more restful existence. This of course recalls Kierkegaard’s definition of sainthood – someone who can will the one thing.

Stated another way, our spirituality is “about how we channel our eros…what we do with the spirit that is within us” (p. 11). This is for me the greatest challenge since I have so many competing and overpowering inner voices, all clamoring for supremacy. Indeed, willing the one thing first requires the monkeys to quit swinging in the mental tree (thank you Henri Nouwen!). It is also why desire and longing have, for me, been so intimately tied to identity: my is-ness.

I believe this concept is utilized best when determining the growth pattern of our inner lives, specifically our emotions. It does not deny the tiger claw tears in the fabric of our hearts that rich memories can bring. It invites us however to live there in a liminality of time and space, with one eye on the object of our longing, who in fact dwells comfortably where our elevator originates; Christ at our foundation.

And that is where our discussion will ultimately lead us. For now I want to explore longing as it pertains to the soul’s need for self-knowledge. And, at the root of self-knowledge is self-love that can find itself anywhere because it belongs everywhere. As an adoptee and one who has seldom truly felt “at home” anywhere, this can be a daunting, even depressing idea since it points to a (be)longing that, again, is never really be satisfied.

Numerous spiritual directors, almost all my friends, my therapist, and of course my wife, tell me I am my own worst enemy. I can talk myself out of anything. I will consistently deny the gifts apparent to others that elude me. I will be a willing martyr in order to delay or defuse conflict and, in my tireless efforts at ensuring my belonging in any crowd, will osmose into their particular zeitgeist like a chameleon in a tree. “Yup, I can fit here. Hmm, I can make this group work. Wow, this feels good. Now, who the hell am I?”

The result is that I have lived many lives, none of them my own. It makes me a blast at parties, a generally affable guy; the one you want to have sit at your table. It also means I am someone always willing to help change your tire, hear your story, or sing you a song of encouragement when you most need it.

But it can also have more sinister tones.

The loneliness and stress of living in the constant search for the “real me” often drives a relative blindness to boundaries as I push my way into everyone’s acceptance. It means the elaborate construct that has become my life lacks foundation and could all too easily topple into disarray, and often does. I wonder sometimes if it’s the adult version of the kid constantly tugging at the sleeve, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…” Eeewww.

So, you see my dilemma. The hard path ahead is finding acceptance without expecting it, exercising self-love without bounding over other people’s personal space, and learning to live, contented, in tension when none of it works all the time as I think it should. For me as for others, the longing I experience is most likely the soul’s vocal cries to express the deepest, truest self; the self that is free even in prison, safe even in danger, content even in deep darkness.

We find the satisfaction to our longing once we know we belong. We belong in God’s ongoing cosmological project. We belong to the broader family of beings with whom we co-inhabit this spinning little ball of wonder. We belong wherever we presently are. It means everywhere can be home. It means we never truly have to live as exiles in our own domains.

We are most home when we come home to ourselves.