We are fired into life by a madness that comes from our incompleteness. We awake to life tense, aching, erotic, full of sex and restlessness. This dis-ease is, singularly, the most important force within existence. It is the force for love and we are fundamentally shaped by our loves and deformed by their distortions. Shakespeare called this our “immortal longings” and poets, philosophers, and mystics have always recognized that, within it, there is precisely something of immortality.
Religiously, we have surrounded this longing with chastity and mystique. Ultimately, our restless aching was seen as nothing less than the yearning within us for God. Augustine’s interpretation of this eros was seen as the proper one: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The longing was understood religiously: Adam, missing his rib, longing for Eve, man and woman, woman and man, longing for a primal wholeness in God and each other. This was high longing, eros as the spark of the divine in us, the fire from the anvil of God imprisoned inside of us like a skylark, causing hopeless disquiet!
In the light of such divine restlessness we lived as pilgrims in time, longing for a consummation in a kingdom not fully of this world, caught, in Karl Rahner’s words, “in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, inconsummate, but knowing that here in this life all symphonies remain unfinished.” In such a view, we pursued each other, embraced each other, and loved and made love to each other against the horizon of the infinite, under a high symbolic hedge. Love, romance, sex, and passion were sacred things, surrounded by much chastity and mystique.
Today that hedge is lower, the mystique and the chastity are less. We no longer embrace against the horizon of the infinite and our aches are no longer seen as longing for the transcendent. Instead, for the most part, we have trivialized this longing, making it mean something much more concrete. The longing is for the good life, for good sex, for good successes, for what everybody else has, for the sweetening of life. There is little mystique in this. Plato, in his Symposium tells of his students sitting around “telling wonderful stories of the meaning of their longing.” Mystics, in their writings, tell of their deep longing for consummation within the body of Christ.
Today we rarely sit around and tell wonderful stories of the meaning of our longing, and, ordinarily, there is little talk of aching for consummation within the body of Christ. Our stories are, for the most part, of yearnings more concretely channeled. It is a rare self-understanding today which lets one believe that his or her aches and yearnings are mystical. We are not accustomed to think in such high terms, our symbols are more humble. Our aches and longings are seen as directed towards what we can attain, practically, in the here and now, achievement, success, sex, limited love and enjoyment.
There is nothing bad about these things, but, in the end, if we define our deepest longings as directed towards them in themselves, we end up in erotic despair. Eventually, we no longer believe that we can recover a primal wholeness through the embrace of another, the perpetuity of our seed, and the contemplation of God. We lower our sights. We trivialize our longing. We no longer see our longing as a congenital and holy restlessness put in us by God to push us towards the infinite. Instead it becomes a tamed and tame thing, domesticated, anesthetized and distracted. We are restless only in a tired way (which drains us of energy) and not in a divine way (which gives us energy).
And so we should ask ourselves the question: What kind of lovers are we? Are we still fired into life by a madness which lets us understand the insatiability of our hearts as a call to infinite love? Do we still see ourselves as pursuing each other, embracing each other, and loving each other against the horizon of the infinite? Do we still understand ourselves as meeting on holy ground with all the mystique and chastity that this implies?
Or, do we believe that life is best lived without such mysticism, high romance, high eros, and high chastity? Do we still tell each other wonderful stories of the meaning of our longings or do we discourage each other from raising our eyes above the immediate?
Do we cry with each other and support each other in the frustration of our incompleteness or do we give each other the impression that there is something wrong with us because our lives are inconsummate and our symphonies are incomplete?
Do we still take our longings and emptiness to God in prayer or do we demand that life give us, here and now, the full symphony?
Do we lovingly and gratefully receive the spirit of our own lives, despite the tensions, or do we live in angry jealousy?
Are we loving against an infinite horizon or is our eros directed only towards the concrete sweetening of life?
What kind of lovers are we?