It was several years ago now that my spiritual director suggested I take on a kind of…journaling project. We both have an affinity for the old Celtic hymn, “Be Thou My Vision” .His idea was for me to consider each line of the song and write about what it means to me; my thoughts and impressions. As I did, I began to wonder if this “tid-bit” of ancient vision could address post-modern longing. I’d like to share some of my wonderings here.
Longing for Longing
Each of the following posts will cover one line in the song. But as I look back over it all, I see a theme emerging: Longing. Desire for intimacy with a transcendent God. It reveals that this longing existed in the past as well, but reading it in 2019 hints that it is rarely experienced these days. It speaks of a deep, pervasive need going unmet for 21st century people. A need in me that daily shows itself, and that too often goes unaddressed.
I say “unaddressed” and not “unmet” because I do not believe that satisfying the longing is ultimately the point. At least not in this life.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.St. Paul; 1Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)
Touched by God…with longing
We are made to experience longing. Desire is good. It is an essential element in human flourishing. If it were in fact possible to have every desire met, it would be a disaster. The human who had every desire met would simply cease to exist. Desire is, in a sense, what animates and sustains us. From food to sex to intimacy with God. It is that which “causes” us to live. Longing is a tool used by God to touch His lost children. To draw them to himself.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. “Jesus Christ; John 6:44
The danger of satisfaction
In an increasing number of privileged humans, we are seeing the negative effects of having too many desires satisfied. For example: apathy and perversion. When we become satiated and longing disappears, our NEED for longing does not. Therefore, we turn our need for longing toward the novel, the lurid and the exotic. Or we slowly die to the experience of longing altogether. Humans disassociate from a life that contains nothing to long for. We see this increasingly in young adults. After 3 previous generations who have succeeded in satisfying more longings than any previous generations, this generation stands on the brink. The brink of a life that is void of longing. It follows, then that it is also void or meaning and joy.
Be Thou My Vision
As we explore the longing in this song, we can super-impose our personal longings. What are we actually longing for? What longings have been satisfied and have they been replaced by new longings? Have I given up on longing altogether? Have I focused my longing to experience longing onto something corrupt? What would life look like if I longed for God like the ancient Celtic disciples did?
Part 1: Dèan dhòmh-sa tuigse, Cuir soills’ air mo smuain;
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Is this a plea? A vow? A dignified request? A demand? A statement of obvious fact? Perhaps all. Perhaps it depends on the moment and the context. For me, today it is a plea – even a wish. It turns out the old Irish word translated to “vision” has its root meaning in the word for “town”, “village” or “home”…
“Be thou my hometown.”
“Oh Lord of my heart…” Sovereign ruler of my affections, my desires and my hopes. Again, I wonder if this is a plea or some statement of fact?
Likely it depends.
PLEA: “Yahweh, please rule in my heart and guide me to the place of complete submission, where, your place of rule is my home.
FACT: “Yahweh, I declare that my home is wherever you choose to locate my affections and my hopes.
Maybe it’s both.
Read more about how we see our relationship with God here.