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

5 thoughts on “Hiraeth – making peace with our longing, conclusion

  1. Fab! Wise and well written words. Your denouement echoes a lot that I’ve been reading this week in Richard Rohr’s OMF daily email. HES BEEN WRITING ABOUT MYSTICS AND NON DUAL THINKERS such as Jean Pierre de Caussaud and St Terese of Lisieux.
    Truth is eternal and there is nothing new under the sun and it is a delight to know that there is a corner of Christendom that is rediscovering these truths.
    Thank you for your contribution to the rediscovery in this generation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I too read those dailies from Rohr. And, by the way, if you’ve never read anything by Jean Pierre de Caussaude, DO. He’s an unbelievably engaging and creative writer.


  2. pakehamack

    I love your notion of “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”…”Rob!
    Richard once explained to our men at a MROP like tis: Most of Christendom is familiar with the Rio (river of the Church) but there is also the “río debajo de la río” (the river beneath the river) which speaks of the deeper faith that comes with the descent journey.
    I think I understand it in this way:
    1. There is a deeper Voice of God, which we must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of one’s deepest self. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing stream
    2. Paul Ricoeur, the great French philosopher, spoke of three stages of life: a first naivete, in which we take things at face value, a critical phase, in which we question everything and try to find the complexity behind the initial simplicity, and a second naivete, during which we return to an acceptance of simplicity, but with the full recgnition of the complexity behind it. This second naivete has, at its heart a vote for some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction to the universe. Faith is somehow saying that God is one and God is good, and if so then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too.
    3. Second naivete is not so much blindly optimistic as hopefully wise. This new coherence, a unified field inclusive of the paradoxes, is precisely what characterizes a second-half-of-life person. It feels like a return to simplicity after having learned from all the complexity. Finally, at last, one has lived long enough to see that “everything belongs,” even the sad, absurd and futile parts. In the second half of life, we can give our energy to making even the painful parts and the formally excluded parts belong to the now unified field – especially people who are different, and those who have never had a chance.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. pakehamack

        Amen, dear brother! Thrice amen! I with you all the way! I knew we had a spiritual connection… even back in Kelowna dayz. Namaste, Alan

        Liked by 1 person

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