Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once suggested that peace and justice will come to us when we reach a high enough psychic temperature so as to burn away the things that still hold us apart. In saying this, he was drawing upon a principle in chemistry: Sometimes two elements will simply lie side by side inside a test-tube and not unite until sufficient heat is applied so as to bring them to a high enough temperature where unity can take place.
That’s wonderful metaphor for advent. What is advent?
Advent is about getting in touch with our longing. It’s about letting our yearnings raise our psychic temperatures so that we are pushed to eventually let down our guard, hope in new ways, and risk intimacy.
John of the Cross has a similar image: Intimacy with God and with each other will only take place, he says, when we reach a certain kindling temperature. For too much of our lives, he suggests, we lie around as damp, green logs inside the fire of love, waiting to come to flame but never bursting into flame because of our dampness. Before we can burst into flame, we must first dry out and come to kindling temperature. We do that, as does a damp log inside a fire, by first sizzling for a long time in the flames so as to dry out.
How do we sizzle psychologically and spiritually? For John of the Cross, we do that through the pain of loneliness, restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, frustration, and unrequited desire. In the torment of incompleteness our psychic temperature rises so that eventually we come to kindling temperature and, there, we finally open ourselves to union in new ways. That too is an image for advent.
Advent is all about loneliness, but loneliness is a complex thing.
Nobel Prize winning author, Toni Morrison describes it this way:
“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smoothes 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 seems to come from a far-off place.”
All of us know exactly what she is describing, especially the latter type, the roaming kind of loneliness that haunts the soul and makes us, all too often, too restless to sleep at night and too uncomfortable to be inside our own skins during the day.
And what’s the lesson in this? What we learn from loneliness is that we are more than any moment in our lives, more than any situation we are in, more than any humiliation we have experienced, more than any rejection we have endured, and more than all the limits within which we find ourselves. Loneliness and longing take us beyond ourselves. How?
Thomas Aquinas once taught that we can attain something in one of two ways: through possession or through desire. We like to possess what we love, but that isn’t often possible and it has an underside.
Possession is limited, desire is infinite. Possession sets up fences, desire takes down fences. To quote Karl Rahner, only in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable do we know that we are more than the limits of our bodies, our present relationships, our jobs, our achievements, and the concrete situations within which we live, work, and die.
Loneliness and longing let us touch, through desire, God’s ultimate design for us. In our longing, the mystics tell us, we intuit the kingdom of God. What that means is that in our desires we sense the deeper blueprint for things. And what is that?
Scripture tells us that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, of simple bodily pleasure, but a coming together in justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, that is what we ache for in our loneliness and longing: consummation, oneness, intimacy, completeness, harmony, peace, and justice. Sometimes, of course, in our fantasies and daydreams that isn’t so evident. God’s kingdom seems something much loftier and more holy than what we often long for – sex, revenge, fame, power, glory, pleasure. However even in these fantasies, be they ever so crass, there is present always a deeper desire, for justice, for peace, for joy, for oneness in Christ.
Our loneliness and longing are a hunger and an energy that drive us, always, beyond the present moment. In them we do intuit the kingdom of God.
Advent is about longing, about getting in touch with it, about heightening it, about letting it raise our psychic temperatures, about sizzling as damp, green logs inside the fires of intimacy, about intuiting the kingdom of God by seeing, through desire, what the world might look like if a Messiah were to come and, with us, establish justice, peace, and unity on this earth.