Longing for God

“I feel this longing for God.”

Sister Margaret, my spiritual director, sat across from me in a comfortable armchair as I shared this, her bible open on a small table next to her. She always has a scripture ready for me. I needed to talk about this longing, though, this desire for God that I had been feeling, but not able to satisfy. I needed to confess and felt my apprehension reveal itself as I did, my forehead wrinkling and my eyebrows lifting in concern.

Sister Margaret smiled and nodded in response, as if my longing was good. But it didn’t feel good to me. It disturbed me. Why can’t I find God? Why can’t I satisfy this desire to know and feel God? I have in the past. So why not now? What’s different about me now? What am I doing wrong? Where has God gone? Or, was God ever there at all?

Sister Margaret just kept smiling and nodding. She approved. In fact, she applauded my longing as a form of prayer—like the Psalmist crying out, “Where are you God?” and then waiting for God to answer.

But I don’t like to wait, I told her. Waiting is uncomfortable—because as I wait my mind starts to wander and wonder whether God will ever show up. I start to doubt that God is listening or even exists at all.

I recently read a description of Western upper-middle class life as like “living between two mattresses”—a well padded existence where we can satisfy every craving, every want, every desire almost instantly. In my affluent, well-padded world, I find it easy to distract myself from what C.S. Lewis would call sehnsucht – a German word used to describe the primitive impulse lodged deep within the human heart, a yearning or craving that can hardly be put into words, but that nevertheless motivates everything we say or do. Such longing cannot be satisfied by a trip to the mall, a late night raid of the refrigerator, or a glass or two of Chardonnay. The satisfaction these indulgences offer are fleeting and never run deep enough. I want and need something more.

“What do you think God wants you to do with this longing?” Sister Margaret asked.

“To not run from it, to honor it, to keep seeking,” I responded immediately, instinctually.

Maybe it was simply what I was supposed to say. But it helped to hear myself say it. It also helped to see Sister Margaret smile.

 

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What do I believe?

1010219236_a00e9d4ef3_oWhat do I believe?

I oftentimes forget what I believe, until I stop to ask. People may assume I have my beliefs all figured out, given my profession as clergy. But I could ask myself this question every day. And every day the answer might be different. Some days I don’t ask at all, which is a shame—a waste of thoughtfulness—a missed opportunity for introspection—a day of going through the motions. I have too many of these kinds of days.

What do I believe?

I don’t believe in myself. So I sure hope there is someone else at work to make up for me.

What do I believe?

 When I’ve had at least eight hours of sleep, I believe in myself. I believe my actions matter and that my words can influence.

What do I believe?

When complications arose during my daughter’s birth, I didn’t believe God could pull out the baby stuck in my womb. In fact, I’m not sure God was present at all in that terrifying moment. I needed someone, though, so I turned to my husband. I pulled his ear close and whispered my prayers to him.

What do I believe?

I believe God was present after Tom died of diabetes. I hesitated in the door to his hospital room where his body lay in the bed, covered halfway by a white sheet tucked neatly under his arms. His widow, Diane, was sitting beside him. Even in the doorway I could feel that the room was thick with something. Sadness, yes, and the weight of loss, but something else, too. Or rather, something more. Someone else might describe it differently. Or not experience it at all. But I named it “God” because it felt like love to me. I swam through it, like molasses in the sterile, hospital air, to sit beside Diane and take her hand. Overcome, I prayed a halting, ineloquent prayer. Driving home afterwards, the experience clung to me like a stranger’s sweet cologne.

What do I believe?

I believe in evil. It’s not some shadowy figure out to get me, but it can present itself at any given moment. In the social inequity that confronts me every time I drive by the local, maximum-security prison and see all the African-American faces in the yard; in the image that haunts me of a young man in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling before his hooded executioner; in the degradation of our climate and in cruelty to animals; in all the ways we humans could do better, but don’t.

What do I believe?

I believe in the wisdom of the newborn sparrow who surprised me, unballing himself at the end of my driveway as I was heading out for a run. I had mistaken him for a leftover clump of dead grass. His feet, each with three long, hooked toes, were bigger than his whole body. He stood, and cocked his scruffy head to get a good look at me. Directly above his eyes, a shock of feathers stood up like a scruffy cowlick, or a bad case of bedhead. Thinking he must have just fallen from his nest, I wondered what I should do about this tiny life? He, perhaps, was wondering the same about me. Where are his parents? I scanned the trees around our yard, full of maniacal chirping. No one came to claim him, though. Or at least, not while I was around. Are you my responsibility, or do I leave you for another? Where are we in this world together? Then, he surprised me again, unfolding two tiny wings from the ball of his body, and he flew.

What do I believe?

I believe everything, God included, is in process. Towards what, I don’t know, because I also believe in mystery. But I hope (maybe even believe) it is somewhere beautiful.

 

[Feature Image: Dr. Wendy Longo] 

 

What I Know and What I Don’t

crop380w_istock_000003401233xsmall-question-marks“Why did this happen to me?” She looked directly and desperately into my eyes as she asked, tears welling and spilling from her own. I had moved to her good, right side so she could see me after her husband had slipped out of the room to speak to the doctor. In this brief moment of privacy, she wanted me to answer her “Why?” because I was the one who was supposed to know.

She was 37-years-old and in two days she had two strokes, with more blood clots lurking in her lungs to possibly cause even more damage. Her body was swollen and bruised, deep purple, brown, and yellow shapes covered her arms and her chest where CPR was administered for almost an hour. She was paralyzed on her left side.

“I don’t know, baby.” My feelings for her in that moment caught in my throat as I choked out this unsatisfactory answer. I don’t know why I called her baby. It just came out of me and the affection I felt for her. I wanted to offer her something. I wanted to say something meaningful. So, in response to all I didn’t know, I decided to tell her what I did.

I know you are strong, I told her. I know you have work to do, because you are still here. And I know this is hell right now. But, you are surrounded by love. You don’t have to face this alone.

She nodded as if she understood. But I don’t know what my words meant to her. They came from a deep place of passion, though, for life and for her life, in that particular moment.

Sometimes I wonder if I believe more in the divine gift of life than I do in God Himself. Because God doesn’t seem to be able to intervene in terrible, tragic moments like these. Wouldn’t God intervene if She could? Life can intervene, though, and love. Life and love can inspire us to find our way back to living while lying in bed at 37-years-old after suffering multiple strokes. Maybe this is how God works, then—through life and love and the community that surrounds us in our need? I don’t know.

I do know a deep desire to be helpful to the one desperate with questions. Is this enough, though? God?