Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Hunger and Thirst in the Human Heart for Union With God

I am approaching 85 years of age. I have discovered that every decade of my life has been happier and more peaceful than the last. As my body grows older, my spirit becomes younger. I know that this is a gift from God for which I am grateful. As the years have gone by my prayer life has undergone a radical change, from a prayer of the head, a prayer of words, concepts and thought processes, to a prayer of the heart. God has given me the grace to be continuously aware of a longing in my heart for a greater intimacy with the Spirit of God indwelling in my heart. My conscious awareness of God is based on not only what I have already achieved but what I am deprived of, what I need and dont have; what I am yearning for; what I have a hunger and thirst for and have not yet achieved!

Privation is a paradoxical concept. Classical philosophy defines privation as "the absence of that which ought to be." To experience something as a deprivation is an experience of absence in presence or presence in absence. To experience God as privation, then, necessarily means that I have already had an experience of God's presence and now I yearn for more. I like to compare it to a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle. If I see it, I will know it because there is only one piece that will fit into that empty space. In St Augustine's prayer, "You made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts will never rest until they rest in thee." This is a dynamic reading of the static statement that humans were created in the image and likeness of God.

My personal knowledge of God has little to do with any intellectual definition. All the great mystics saw our efforts to capture God with concepts and dogmas as self defeating. They recommended in prayer that we should empty our minds of thought and enter "the cloud of unknowing".

My knowledge of God comes from the hunger and thirst in myself. In the words of Psalm 63:!:

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

My prayer life consists in being in touch with that hunger and thirst, not letting anything fill it in or block it off from me. Rather, I strive to be in touch with that hunger and thirst, to consecrate it by converting it intentionally into prayer and identifying with it.

My prayer life then is very simple. I spend a lot of time just being in touch with that longing, being open to it and waiting. I continually ask God to come and fill in the deep deprivation within me. I identify with the desert waiting for the rain to come and soak in. As a result my prayer is continuous with my conscious awareness.

I set aside time to enter into myself, empty out all thought and rest in the presence of God. I also spend some time everyday "praying" the New York Times, formulating a prayer appropriate to every headline and article. In this way I strive to let my prayer reach out to the whole world.

At a recent Easter vigil I heard this passage from the Psalms:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soull longs for you, O God!
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God! (42:1)

Suddenly I was in touch with a profound longing for union with God, a longing that was at the same time painful and pleasurable, and I began to cry. I am grateful to God for that moment and see it as a great grace. Since that time I am consciously aware that what I want is intimacy with God, and I will not settle for anything less.

I am aware that being in touch with that longing is already a kind of awareness of God through privation. This awareness is God's gift and promise.. All other touches of intimacy in my life - the intimacies of family, friendships, intimacy with a lover - are all foretastes of that ultimate intimacy, But the only intimacy that can meet my needs and fill my heart is the intimacy with God.

I particularly love the words of St. Augustine's prayer in his Confessions:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new; late have I loved you,
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unlovliness I plunged into the lovely things that you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness,
You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me and now I long for your peace!

jjmcneill@aol.com

2 comments:

  1. "My prayer life then is very simple. I spend a lot of time just being in touch with that longing, being open to it and waiting. I continually ask God to come and fill in the deep deprivation within me..."

    If there ever were truer and more profound words to describe spiritual intimacy....you sir have done it.

    I applaud the simplicity of your vision for how a life with God is lived. All too often we seem to clutter life with definition and illusion for what God is like...or even what God wants for us to do...Instead, you have described a life of willingness to learn how love and life is suppose to work as a manifestation for how one feels at peace with The One (God) within.

    Truly, you embody the love and the life Jesus had shared and still shares with The Father through us all.

    PEACE

    AngllHugnU2
    Author of IM with God

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  2. John, I concur with your description of inner hunger and evolution of the human heart . " wisdom is knowing that I am nothing and love is knowing that I am everything" Nisaefsdatta Maharaj an Indian mystic has captured your thoughts so well. Our understanding of divinity is based on the complete understanding of the humanity. When our hearts are tuned and eyes are open we can experience the presence and absence of God. Here the presence cones through the absence. Indeed "Late have I loved thee.. Tom

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