Jul 032012

Some of us know people who despair of knowing God, maybe including ourselves from time to time.  When we are in these psychospiritual spaces, we desperately want to feel God’s presence in our hearts and minds in the way it is so often glowingly described in song, poetry, and prose, yet fear it may never come, or never return if it has come before.  Even despite our passionate faith, God can seem hopelessly remote, detached, and unconcerned.  We may lament that we want to love God, yet wonder how we can love someone or something we do not know.  At these times, it may not be helpful at all to hear that God is the Great Mystery, as we mystics so often like to say.  It is certainly true that one of the greatest tests of believers, mystics or not, is when we don’t convincingly feel, hear, or see God in any way that we can recognize.

It sometimes angers me that God seems so unconcerned with souls going through those dark nights described by St. John of the Cross, and so touchingly illustrated in the private letters of Mother Teresa.  I wonder how God can be so still and silent, so apparently unresponsive, as a soul begs in agony for some small touch of confirmation.  It is like those moments when a beloved sits impassively as the lover pleads, “Do you still love me?  Oh, my love, do you care?!  Did you ever?”  Sometimes we are even too fearful to ask, or rather so hopeless as to stop trying, though our love for the beloved remains.  I am powerfully moved by compassion and sympathy when I think of people suffering like this.  We all know what it is like to feel the absence of our beloved and even slip into the fear that our love is unrequited; it is miserable, and even fatally unbearable for some.  And yet, there are possibilities of awakening in the fact that we can and do suffer so.

Even though I had grown up in a home of strong faith, and even though I had been touched by a couple of powerful spiritual experiences in my youth, there was a time in my life when my spirituality was so riddled with anxiously feeling God’s absence that I embraced a very skeptical and even cynical agnosticism.  And while I have retained much of the “unknowing” of that time, I did ultimately realize that the word “God” addressed something very real to me.  The impetus of this realization was that rich and painful mix of desire, hope, despair, and yearning I felt for God.  It was all recognized as evidence that there was within me a kind of knowing that didn’t depend on the rational empirical approach to knowledge.  Even though I couldn’t intellectually grasp God, I still somehow knew God.   It was, and is, an intuitive knowing in the truest sense.  It is faith, and it is will.   It isn’t merely emotional, and it cannot be reduced to ego defense mechanisms.  This knowing is certainly intertwined with existential concerns, but it is not simply fantasy to cope with fears of aloneness, meaninglessness, and impermanence.  All of my thoughts and feelings about God, all my desires to know God in every possible way, were realized as aspects of my love for God, just as they would be for a human beloved.  I accepted that I was in love with God, and that my love needed no other evidence, excuses, or explanations.

Yet what relief is there in realizing one does indeed love God while that love continues to feel unrequited?  In ways, this can feel even worse!  It can be shocking to find no satisfying response from God in the wake of such a final acquiescence to the fact that one’s love for God is undeniable.   It can be so disappointing that some people give up all hope.  On the other hand, we might ask if there is something God would have us learn through this suffering, or rather what meaning we might find in it.  At the very least it can develop one’s compassion for others suffering in this way.  For some of us it may also build strength and self-reliance, and perhaps even facilitate self-realization and self-actualization.  In these ways, God’s silence may be for us like the apparent coldness of a mother bear ignoring her young, forcing them to leave her and get on with their lives.  It is as if God is saying, “Stop expecting me to make everything safe, comfortable, and meaningful for you.  It’s your life to live, and I’ve given you the freedom to make of it what you will, so go on and live it.”  Or is this God’s way of encouraging us to actively love God in and through relationships with other creatures rather than keeping our attentions turned within the cloisters of our own souls?  Perhaps that is one among many ways we can become more sensitive to God’s presence, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.  It is in that vein that I want to share another avenue of meaning that opened for me.

One day in early autumn of 2006, I was musing on this whole issue, and after the briefest pause of contemplative silence these words of St. Francis struck me anew:  “You are that which you are seeking.”  The following poem came out of that moment:

This Yearning Itself

Today, Mysterious Lord,
for you pours out this pining.
It is a sweet grieving.

As though for a dear father
who has left this world,
or a lost first love,
your memory haunts me.

Reaching out to embrace you
these arms enfold emptiness
and wrap themselves
back upon this burning heart.

Yet here you are
in this very melancholy,
the darkness in waiting,
and the longing light,
this yearning itself.

Our feelings of love for God, even the most painful ones, are evidence of the Holy Spirit stirring in our souls!   With further meditation, it struck me how well that fit with St. John’s assertion that God is love.  I realized I was in love with Love Itself, and that every experience of love was therefore in some way, to some degree, an experience of God, a mystical experience.  So, in November of that same year, I tried to express this awakening with the following prose, which I have at times called my manifesto:

After all these years in the study and practice of philosophy, psychology, and other crystallizations of human knowledge, after thousands of meditations and prayers, and countless dreams in both night and day, I have fallen in love with Love. After so long lightly kissing Her hand with the lip service of sophistication, I find myself reeling head over heels into the grand romance, to be seduced by the sacred Lover that is Love and Light and Life Herself. For long enough now, I have been coy with Love and settled for fascination with Her many adornments – the jewels of science that rest upon Her flawless breast, the silky rainbow of arts that are the garments veiling Her blinding perfection. I long to no longer fear being a fool for Love, and I wish to abandon myself in Her, for She is the essence of all wisdom. All the most precious sentiments and noble passions stirring in our hearts, all the most illuminating ideas within our minds, are these not the echoes of Her holy voice?

The great virtues of body, mind and spirit are nothing more than reflections of Love’s transcendent beauty. No mortal can hope to cultivate or command Her, for She is the Supreme Virtue to whom we can only surrender and serve. No mystic realizes union with the Divine but through Love’s unfathomable grace. St. Paul was right that faith, hope and even miraculous works are nothing without Her. Yet few of us are able to keep the eyes of our souls upon Her at all times, with all people, in all things. In our moments of failing vision, faith and hope are means by which we open ourselves to once again fall into the immediacy of Love’s embrace. To have faith in each other, to trust, to give our fidelity, to have hope for our mutual benefit, to cultivate optimism and confidence that together we can give birth to peace and joy, are these not the caresses of Her fingertips?

Join me and let us be lovers of Love. Let us find Her even in those we might hate for their ignorance and fear of Her. Let us sacrifice our own ignorance and fear that we might see Love’s singular light even in the distorted reflections we call evil. In Love we need not conquer or destroy, but nurse all harm into healing, and nurture all suffering as the pains of rebirth.  Join me and let us be lovers of Love.

The fall of 2006, the surrender as it were, wasn’t the end of my spiritual and existential struggles and suffering.  Sometimes I still feel a profound sense of frustration when I don’t experience Love’s love the way I want it – warm, reassuring, nurturing, tender, affectionate, uplifting, inspiring – but now I am more likely to patiently attend to these times, knowing that they too are moments of communing with the Holy Spirit.  I hope you might know this as well.


  16 Responses to “On Yearning for God”

  1. WOW, Chuck! Clearly, you have seen this truth. When everything we know about God has been stripped from us, including the name “God” itself, we are left with the simplicity and purity of our yearning place.

    God does not exist. God is manifest.

    God’s Peace.

    • Well said, Steve. If the name “God” is going to mean anything worthy of the significance we give to it, then God must transcend existence in any way we can conceive of existence, yet nonetheless be manifest to us in the most intimate of ways.


  2. Beautiful.

    And can’t the longing somehow make the relationship that much deeper and more wonderful – despite the pain it causes us? When Mother Teresa’s letters were first published, there were some people who took her darkness and doubt as evidence that she was really a fraud. But all I could think was “Thank you, Jesus, that someone else feels the same way!” It made me realize the profound emptiness I felt was legitimate. I spend a lot of time walking around feeling like I had a piece of jagged, rusty metal for a heart. It was a great relief to know that someone who is on her way to sainthood felt the same way.

    • Thanks, Seth. Yes, I think you’re right that the longing adds much to the relationship. In fact, it is Mother Teresa’s longing, absolutely heartbreaking at times, that shows us the depth of her love for and faith in God.


  3. Chuck,

    You said: “All of my thoughts and feelings about God, all my desires to know God in every possible way, were realized as aspects of my love for God, just as they would be for a human beloved.”

    You have expressed a beautiful truth in your words above, and I think it would benefit us all to realize this in our own thoughts about God – even the those thoughts which some might consider negative. It is in this realization that our negative thoughts could then be turned into positive emotions!

    Thanks for this wonderful post!
    The Spirit of the Scripture

  4. Beautiful, Chuck, beautiful.

    I appreciate how honestly you’ve expressed our human challenge of feeling God’s presence. Sometimes I’ve looked at Michelangelo’s quintessential portrait of how we want to see God in “The Creation of Adam” ( http://www.prlog.org/11409306-the-creation-of-adam.jpg ) and have thought with cynicism, “Yes, Michelangelo, this is our ideal picture of God: reaching with great strength and commitment toward man, and this is our understanding of man: casually drawn backwards, trying with so little effort to reach his Creator. But, sometimes, in reality, Michelangelo, it feels the opposite: man reaching as hard as he can toward God and God leaning back.”

    The way you’ve expressed your own “manifesto,” coming out of similar thoughts, is beautiful and encouraging. Our feelings on our connection with the Creator will sway to and fro, but becoming lovers of Love inspires us forward.


    • Thanks for the nice words, Karina. Your reflections on “The Creation of Adam” made me both chuckle and sigh.

      You wrote: “Our feelings on our connection with the Creator will sway to and fro, but becoming lovers of Love inspires us forward.”

      Yes, precisely. Understanding my life as a love affair with Love has been with me ever since that fall of 2006, even in my darkest and most helpless moments. Looking back, I can see now that this was the hidden truth of my life much earlier than that, but I hadn’t yet realized it. I know it has been the only thing to keep me going more than once, and the most worthwhile thing I have to share with others.


  5. Wow. Powerful Chuck!

    Made me think of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV:

    Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
    As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
    That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
    Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
    I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
    Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
    But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
    Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
    But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
    Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
    Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

    Often I forget that I have to surrender to love. I would rather love overtake me so I wouldn’t have to give up anything. And even knowing that I never loose in the giving, that I always gain, I still cannot let go. Oh, that I could just be overcome in spite of myself!


  6. Thank you, David. What a beautiful poem by Donne!

    My attention was most drawn to this:
    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
    But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

    And I am definitely with you in the spirit of your last paragraph. I can feel every word of it.


  7. Chuck, thank you so much for this. A testament
    to the heart of flesh meeting up with the
    burning demands of supreme Love….. there is
    no drama greater nor sweeter, nor more agonizing.

    and even the bands of abandonment strengthen
    our tie with Her, and add deep reds to the sky
    we all share, a sky of everchanging colors
    that holds us.


    glad I’m here.


  8. Hi Chuck,

    This is late, but I’ve been busy. God has me “busily” studying all I can about atheism. It’s not me because I’ve argued the point with the Lord, “Are You serious?” And all I get back is, “yes”. Ha. You can argue with God all you want, but He always wins. I’m thinking about asking everyone on the site for input on this subject, we’ll see.

    I enjoyed your writing. I suppose we have all been agnostic or atheistic at some point whether it was before we accepted the Lord or during our walk with Him. As I read your insightful “grasping at straws as you’re drowning” experience with the knowledge of God’s love but still yet to have it seemingly not returned, I again reflected upon my entry about the epiphany of being in three places at once. The place of loving others with the love of God, the place of realization of knowing I need that love at the same time for myself, and the place of being in God’s presence to minister to Him and receive from Him not only for myself but for others all once.

    A Trinity realization of sorts. And I think this plays into what you’re speaking of. There is this union of God, me, and others and without it then it doesn’t seem like anything spiritual really works right.

    A knowing of love in the way of: I see God working in me, I feel His presence, I sense His awesomeness, I realize His being, and yet there’s even more that I long for. I accept His love, I allow it to flourish and consume me, I desire it to be a full saturation in my being and yet I desire more. I see others suffering and I want to help, I become overwhelmed with their grief and agony, I throw myself at the feet of the Lord on their behalf, and yet He requires more of me. An amazing turn of yearning. As I desire more of Him, He desires more of me to give to others.

    This tactile yet beyond the veil entering into the dimension where God abides is absorbing as well as releasing and removes pride down to its elemental level emptiness totally overcome by fullness, but it is still a continuous overflowing fountain of life to drink from and share the water with others.

    Hmm, what does that mean? Well, in less “mystical” terms. Without God, I am nothing. And if I am nothing then I obviously cannot help others except in a selfish unfulfilling manner. In other words, I’m doing it all on my own which ends up as my own righteousness as dirty rags. Therefore, I must seek, must know, must strive to go deeper into the fountain of life and bring others to that life-giving experience and the knowledge that God loves them. Then His righteousness will become mine and will be poured out into the lives of others.

    Does God become the mother bear? No, I don’t think so. I think God becomes like the impregnated male seahorse and is totally involved with the course of a person’s life from beginning to eternity. And, as I mentioned in another thread, it isn’t as if God needs us, but He chooses us and woos us to be his bride. I’m amazed that He has all of these angels, but yet looks upon us in a very special way. Having said that, then He will do anything for us, his bride, to keep us in check so we don’t go astray and if we do, then He finds us again, forgives us, and we go on. Why? Simply because for some strange reason He loves us. Since God is love, then falling in love with love analogy that you gave seems quite applicable, aren’t you in love with God?

    Have there been times when I’ve sought God and wondered where the heck did He go? Oh yeah! Then, I have only to recall, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Okay, that’s fine and dandy, but I don’t “feel” the presence of God like I desire, so then what? I almost hear God chuckling and bringing to my remembrance: John 20:29
    Amplified Bible : Jesus said to him, Because you have seen Me, Thomas, do you now believe (trust, have faith)? Blessed and happy and to be envied are those who have never seen Me and yet have believed and adhered to and trusted and relied on Me.


  9. Fred, great post. I don’t have much experience with atheism, as I have believed and loved Jesus as a young child. However, I had parents who refused to let me go to church until I was older with friends. I attended different denominations & fell away from going for awhile. I often wonder how many church going Christians actually know Jesus. The last couple of months I felt like my world almost turned upside down, as I never really understood until more recently the love Jesus has for us and we are supposed to have for Him. It is an amazing love, and I’m still learning.

  10. Fred, dag yo, to put it colloquially, great post.
    Your writing flowed like a rocket. What I love
    about inspired mystic/contemplatives words
    is the shot of LIFE, Jesus Christ, behind the
    words that really fills whoever receives it with
    greater life, and uplift. Your words did this!
    “In this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.”
    For this reason this is a blessed group indeed.

    I’m inspired by every single person who has been
    writing in at Christian Mystics. Hope everybody
    continues, it’s better than the heartiest breakfast.

    I’d been having dry toast and black coffee for so long, Ms. ascetic, yet, something new is coming, a certain growth beyond dryness: the desert floor is no longer shimmering with false promises, but truly turning into an open green meadow.


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