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We Are Waiting…

Advent! A holy season in which we connect again with our “inconsolable longing,” as C.S. Lewis called it – our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already – come as a child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let Him come to us again.

– Malcolm Guite


Pilgrim Year AdventSeveral years ago, just prior to the beginning of Advent, I felt a sense of dread billowing within my spirit. I didn’t have the energy to head back into another Christmas season, with its relentless pressures and obligations. Nor did I have the fortitude to stomach the superficial religious platitudes, and consequent secular defences, associated with the culture wars surrounding the meaning of the season. Equally, knowing my lack of discipline and restraint, I was already feeling bloated with excess before the season even started: too much food, too much drink, too much visiting, and too many gifts.

Something in me wanted desperately to distance myself from the excesses, but another part of me was still wanting something… longing for something.… waiting for something. One morning these words from Father John of Kronstadt’s prayer journal, My Life in Christ, evoked tears:

“My spirit still thirsts after understanding; My heart is still hungry… When will it be satisfied? When will it find full bliss?”

What is it we are waiting for? What is this “inconsolable longing” that dogs our days? According to Saint Paul, our longings are not always vice, but perhaps germane to creaturely existence:

Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
–Romans 8:19, 22-23

My father, a prison chaplain for most of his life, did a lot of work in addictions counselling. He and his colleagues came to understand that the drive behind most addictions was an acute longing for transcendence – for a profound and intimate connection to the Holy One who is wholly other – in short, for God. All of our strivings, appetite, and desires, all of our ambitions, rituals and even friendships are, in some recessed way, fuelled by an innate longing to return to the One who comes to us, and who meets us in Christ.

Nothing is wrong with our natural drives themselves, any more than there is something wrong with our thirst for water or our hunger for food. In fact, the very existence of hunger and thirst are the first reliable indicators that there may well be something like food and water to meet these needs. So, too, with the myriad emotional and spiritual hungers that rob us of peace and leave us restless and agitated. The problem comes when we medicate those drives with false consolations that only increase the appetite and leave us unfulfilled.

I am learning, or trying to learn, what Saint John of the Cross stated so succinctly regarding that which ultimately satisfies our souls:

Not the goods of the earth nor the goods of heaven, but only the honour and glory of God.

It seems almost too good to be true that one could come to be so utterly enraptured by the honour and glory of God enough to banish all other hungers… all other desire. And yet, anyone who has ever been in love knows the intensity of romantic love and how blissfully myopic a lover can be. Perhaps those sorts of romances, short-lived as they often are, are still, like the taste of bread and wine on the tongue, foretastes of the kingdom of love: a heaven unequalled by any other bliss.

Advent begins with focused attention to the agony of our most profound longings. The task is to let the truth behind those longings rise to the surface before suppressing them with lesser fare, because the longings themselves may be the first reliable indicators of the coming One who is our true fulfillment, satiation, and joy.

music by Steve Bell
lyrics by Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite
Appears on the 2012 CD release: Keening For the Dawn

Purchase Original Album  Purchase Pilgrim Year Companion Album

On and on the night goes on
Brooding dark before the dawn
We are waiting…

Worried lips rehearse our creeds
Bellies swollen with Your seed
We are waiting…

Hardened shards of broken bread
Small consolations in Your stead
Soured wine a tonic for the pain

Dutifully we take our fill
Still, we long to see Your face again

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of Your touch
We are waiting…
We are waiting…

Hungry work these endless feasts
Shrivelling as we all increase
We are waiting…

Wearied eyes take in the sights
Smarting under tinselled lights
We are waiting…

Break the too familiar word
Hearing strains we’ve never heard
A double edge that pierces through the pain
And all that we shall see fulfilled
The dawning day we see Your face again

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of Your touch
We are waiting…
We are waiting…

Read theologian/activist Brian Walsh’s poetic commentary on the above song.
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