There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind – wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.
So writes Toni Morrison at the end of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved. So too, in some way, has written every poet of the heart. There is a loneliness that roams, that can make us strange to ourselves, that haunts the soul.
All of us experience it. We ache at our center. There, where we would wish a stillness, we find a longing, a loneliness, a relentless ache for consummation that does not go away even when we do not sleep alone. This kind of loneliness can not be soothed by a rocking chair. No. It drives us outward, to far-off places.
And we wander to those places, the sound of our own feet strange to ourselves, forever wanting some affection, some attention, some love, some achievement that eludes. Yes, the very beat of the heart brings a pain: to be one with that someone special, to leave a mark, to celebrate and to not have darkness, to dance and to not have shame, to play and to have delight, to display so as to be seen for all we are. We have an ache in the heart, to fly, beyond our skin.
What’s to be done? What’s to be gleaned from our wandering? Has loneliness a design? Is there a secret to be learned?
What we learn from the longing is that we are more, more than any moment in our lives, more than any situation, more than any humiliation, more than any achievement, more than how we find ourselves right now. Longing takes us beyond. What we know through possession is small when compared to what we know through longing. Possession is limited; longing is infinite. Possession puts fences around us; longing takes them down. Only in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable do we know that we are more, more than the limits of our bodies, marriages, jobs, and particular places where we live and die. Longing is the great teacher.
It teaches us – better yet, it lets us touch through desire – God’s deep design for each of us. In our longing, as the mystics have always told us, we intuit the Kingdom of God. In our yearning we see the deeper blueprint for things.
The Kingdom of God is not, as we know, a question of earthily pleasure (“eating and drinking”) but, as Romans puts it, a matter of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
And justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit are precisely what we ache for in our longing. In the end, our longings are about consummation, oneness, completeness, peace, harmony, and justice. Granted, some particular fantasies, which concretize our longing, may not, on the surface, seem much centred on God’s Kingdom. Fantasies of sex, revenge, fame, and power hardly suggest that the Kingdom of God is being intuited. And yet, even in them, be they ever so crass, there is present always something deeper, a hunger for justice, for peace, for joy, and for oneness in Christ’s body, as well as the knowledge that we are more than what we are limited to at present. In our longing, constantly, we are driven to know that we are more than what we are at this given moment. In our longing we intuit the Kingdom of God.
Advent is about longing: It is about getting in touch with it, about letting it teach us that we are more than the limits of our present, about intuiting God’s Kingdom through it, about coming to a new hope through it, and about getting pregnant through its seed. That is what Mary did and the end result was Christmas.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once suggested that peace and unity will come to our world when there is a high enough psychic temperature to create such a fusion. Behind that metaphor lies an understanding of the lesson of advent, namely, that longing is not something to be denied, repressed, or denigrated, but something rather to be entered into, deepened, and evangelized. In longing are the deep seeds of hope. When we long, the Holy Spirit prays through us.
There is a loneliness that can be rocked. There is also another kind that roams and this kind drives us into advent.