Wordlessly watching he waits by the window and wonders
At the empty place inside – Crosby, Stills & Nash
The last few weeks have been quite a special and important time for me.
But if I could underline one main feeling that has threaded its way through this time it would be empty longing.
Faith is a bit like this for me. I’m walking through a desert and every now and then I find a small pool of crystal clear water. Pure and cool, it soothes my parched tongue. But I have to move on and I stagger onward through the shimmering heat.
But always I long for the next pool, the next place of revival. They are always unexpected. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever reach another one and sometimes I doubt if I did in fact actually find one.
Often I feel foolish for entering this desert, frustrated and angry. Sometimes I want to stop, or maybe turn back but somehow I know that I must keep walking and somehow I do.
This longing for that cool water, this desire to be filled, to be content to me speaks of a deep human desire for God. I believe everyone can relate to the feeling of not ever really being completely satisfied. We’ll never have travelled enough, seen enough, done enough, made enough or received enough likes on Facebook.
But why do we have this desire in the first place? How can we desire a perfect contentment if we have never experienced it? How can I crave the water if I have never seen or tasted it? I was created to drink water. I need it to survive. So, I can conclude that I was created for perfect contentment too.
If we distract ourselves enough we can fool ourselves into thinking that desire is not there but in the loneliness of a dark night, we know.
Coming back to my empty longing, this can sound quite bleak at first but this empty longing is paradoxically a feeling of closeness to God. In the very fact that I desire God to be with me and within me and the frustration at the feeling that He hasn’t satiated that desire is a closeness and peace.
I spent a week in The Taizé Community in France at the start of December. In the people I met, in the chants we sung, in the quiet presence of the brothers I was drawn into a stillness and calm. There was no lightning bolt moment or emotional outburst but just a contentment with my discontent.
Perhaps this is what joy is. An underlying “okayness” despite exterior circumstances or feelings.
This empty longing has underscored my experience of Advent this year. It wasn’t conscious. Advent is traditionally a time of waiting, waiting for the birth of a saviour, but also for the ultimate fulfilment of our longing for God. But I didn’t try very hard to enter into this waiting, the waiting came to me.
This Advent has placed Christmas in its proper place, the pinnacle of this waiting. The point I can stop and realise that although I am walking through a desert, God is walking next to me.