Tonight I want to talk about longing.
I thought about longing this week as I read this Psalm
and went about my weekly routine.
I thought about longing in line at Trader Joe’s
and as I went through the turn style into the subway.
I thought about every person I passed on the street
what do they long for?
Longing is very particular type of emotion.
It goes deeper than the kinds of wantings that we all of us experience.
We may want a better job or a nicer place to live,
but longing --
longing has an ache to it.
When we long for something,
we long for it with our whole bodies.
We feel it in our flesh and our bones.
The Hebrew word for longing in this Psalm is taarog.
And it means both longing and thirst.
They’re the exact same word.
Which makes a lot of sense to me
because of that physical element of longing.
When you thirst, you feel it with your whole body.
Your body is straining for something that it needs.
I’ve spent some time longing.
I’ve longed, at times, to be a relationship with someone.
I’ve spent some time,
perhaps more than I would care to admit,
longing that someone who I really wanted to be with,
would realize that they wanted to be with me too.
I’ve longed for something intangible
that I can only identify as...home.
For certain times in my life that I remember as idyllic
to be somehow restored,
so that I might live there again.
All of these longings,
I’ve felt in my body
I’ve felt them all
with a need that outweighed logic or reason.
These longings were beyond language --
I couldn’t express them or capture them,
all I could do was feel them.
It’s interesting to me that,
each time I’ve felt intense longing in my life,
I’ve also felt, along with it,
an intense feeling of shame or embarrassment.
as I longed for that relationship
or that person,
or that time in my life,
that my longings were ridiculous and over the top.
That things would really be much better
if I could just get over it and move on.
I chastised myself for my longings.
Tried to pry my heart away from them.
And yet that never seemed to do any good.
If longing is indeed a thirst,
then I wonder if, like thirsting for water,
longing is a thirst for something that we really, truly need.
No one would ever tell a man dying of thirst,
“Just stop thinking about it so much and move on!”
And yet we say this all the time to those people around us
whose hearts are filled with longing.
Perhaps a longing is a thirst
for something very real,
and very much needed.
And that thirst that cannot be repressed or forgotten,
but continues to make itself known.
The psalmist is longing.
Longing for a God
whose presence he used to feel
like the thundering of water over a waterfall.
But now God is gone.
And he is filled with longing
and memories of how things once were.
He is thirsty -- he pants
for the presence of a God who he needs,
like an deer in the dessert panting for water.
And yet he does not find God.
All he has are the memories
of how he used to feel in God’s presence.
It strikes me that our longings
almost always center around
things that we have no ability to change.
To find someone who we cannot make appear.
To be loved by someone we cannot make love us.
To restore something -- a time or a place or a person --
that cannot be restored.
The psalmist calls out to God in pain.
He waits for an answer, and gets none.
He cannot manufacture his next encounter with the living God.
He cannot fabricate the thunder and the waves.
He cannot make God appear to him.
There is a foolishness that goes along with longing.
Because your heart longs after something
that you can’t fix or change or control.
And yet we go on longing anyway.
Do we ever get what we long for?
I can’t think of a single time when I have.
My loneliness was never eased by the partner I imagined would ease it.
I can’t think of a single time when that person I so badly needed to love me
And never have I found back a time or a place or a person that had left me.
My longings have never been fixed,
but they have been, over time, dissolved.
As if living in longing for a while
had steeped me in some need or desire
that I needed to be better acquainted with.
And once we really knew each other -- me and longing --
longing made a subtle exit.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes,
“...Creatures are not born with desires
unless satisfaction for those desires exists.
A baby feels hunger:
well, there is such a thing as food.
A duckling wants to swim:
well, there is such a thing as water.
Humans feel sexual desire:
well, there is such a thing as sex.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Perhaps our longing draws us to the outermost limits of our desire.
Calls us to explore that farthest boundary of our need
and live there for a while.
We will never get what we’re longing for.
Rather, longing is the landscape of our love
for all that is unattainable, unknowable.
Longing is the road we follow toward God.
It seems that God has given us a thirst that cannot be quenched.
A thirst we endure
that keeps our eyes focused on some horizon of heart ache
that will never entirely let us go.
We thirst for something we cannot find in this world,
but will find only in the next.
Until we find it, we will go on aching
in anticipation of this God who always seems just out of reach.
Our longing cannot be fixed but perhaps it will lead us somewhere,
though it sometimes it is painful to follow.
As Lewis reminds us,
“our best havings are wantings.”
We share the sermon at St. Lydia's, and so I invite you spend some time in silence, and if you are moved, to share a story or experience that was sparked by the text.