(Lead me Lord,) by the yearning of a hungry heart.
Perhaps one of the poems of Saint John of the Cross will serve as a segue between yesterday’s devotion about the hope of finding our true home and today’s wonderment — the yearning of a hungry heart.
“On a dark night
Kindled in love with yearnings
Oh, happy chance!
I went forth unobserved,
My house being now at rest.”
-Saint John of the Cross
For Saint John of the Cross, having his house “at rest” is the context from which he was able to embark on his dark night of the soul. Even when his house was at rest, he nevertheless experienced profound yearnings kindled in love. Those yearnings drew him into the journey which shaped his soul.
This stanza of a Pilgrim Prayer ends with the hope that we will be led by the “yearning of a hungry heart.” We most often associate progress in our lives with the satisfaction of yearning, or the answering of a question, or the attainment of some status. But those who walk the path of the Spirit know that it is also by our yearning that we come to know what is truly good, lasting, and beautiful. The theologian Belden Lane writes beautifully about the ache of longing in the prologue to his book, Ravaged by Beauty:
“To learn desire one necessarily sits at the feet of those who are thirsty. The satisfied never make good teachers. It isn’t mastery of truth, but a relentless longing for it that qualifies those who become trusted guides for others. Mark it down as a rule: the desert alone possesses the secret knowledge of water . . . ‘only what we deeply long for do we ever really know…’”
It is true that only those things we deeply long for become the things we really know. It is the yearning and the hunger which keep us connected to someone long enough to have our relationship tested and found resilient. Our yearnings and hungers can draw us to the God who loves us if we listen for the voice of God in them with care and attention. My friend and mentor Ben Johnson (who credits Joan Chittister for prompting his thoughts on the subject) wrote:
“In the end we are all yearning for what cannot be seen. Yearning is, in fact, a sign of the spiritual life even if it is unnamed. Those who do not yearn for God do not know God. But yearning for God requires us to allow the Life within us that is also the energy of the universe to connect us to Life everywhere, in every one, at all times, always.”
This Lent as we practice our disciplines of fasting, prayer, service, and devotion to God, we would do well to ask, “For what do I feel the deepest yearning?” In what way is my yearning connected to the presence of God in my life and how might my yearning show me the way to faithful, obedient, and joyful discipleship?
Daily Collect: Lord for whom our hungry hearts yearn; You have taught us saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:4-5]. Lead us by our hungry hearts so that we walk in your ways and bear the fruit of your Spirit in all that we do and say in private and in public. Amen.