Listenings: Our Intense Longing

Lest the spiritual life be viewed as essentially metaphysical or philosophical, Evelyn Underhill turns to the fact that the centrality of God in our lives creates an intense longing for God.  Using St. Francis as her example, she says that the finite “is able to apprehend, and long for, Infinity.” (p.56)

The idea of longing is meant to communicate the naturalness of the spiritual life.  Because we are made in the image of God there is a natural correspondence between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit.  We do not have to abandon our humanity in order to find our spirituality.  On the contrary, the pathway to God runs through life as we live it every day.

This longing is to the soul what appetite is to the body.  We do not have to create an appetite, we only have to acknowledge it.  In the same way, we do not have to create a desire for God; it is already there.

But we must give careful attention to how we satisfy our longing for God.  Just as we can satisfy our appetite with junk food, so too we can satiate our desire for God with cheap substitutes.  The fact that something is natural does not mean it can be properly dealt with any way we choose.

In classic Christian spirituality our longing for God is satisfied by Love.  It begins with God’s love for us, and we respond with love returned to God.  It is love which takes the spiritual life out of the abstract and roots it squarely in the concrete.

It is love which both reveals and expresses the intense longing of our hearts—put there by God.  We are at the core of the spiritual life when we know we are loved by God, and when we desire to love God through our worship and service.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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