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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Yearning Spirit

As I try to do every day, this morning I turned to the lectionary reading for some reflection time.  The lectionary is a daily selection of Biblical readings.  It is constructed around the day monks live.  So there are readings for morning and a series of other times throughout the day, culminating with some that monks do before retiring for the night.  I certainly do not do all of them

Given the way my day typically is structured, I more likely look at the morning readings or the evening ones.  Every session has some readings from the Psalms.  I appreciate this since in my growing up years---even in the Quaker context---we were seldom exposed to the Psalms.  Like many I memorized Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd…”  Beyond that, I would not have known there are 150 Psalms and would not have much of an idea what is to be found there.

So reading the lectionary regularly has afforded me the opportunity to be with the Psalms on a consistent basis.  I still feel like I don’t know them well or, perhaps, even understand some of them.  There are some strident, tough passages there.  The Psalmist pulls no punches.  However, there is much real life there---not all sweetness and life.  The question is how God and people deal with this?

When I saw the Psalm for the Morning Prayer today, I was delighted.  It has become one of my favorites.  The first line of Psalm 42 somehow resonates with me.  I have read it often and it happens every time.  The translation I used reads, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”  Other translations say, “yearn for springs of water.”  I have to smile.  Deer become a simile for people.  We are like deer who long for a drink from flowing streams.  A great deal emerges from this comparison.

One key aspect of this picture is a deer that is thirsty.  Thirstiness symbolizes an emptiness or lack.  The deer wants something---water---and ultimately must have water to sustain life.  So key to the story is the longing for water.  The deer longs for a basic, necessary element of life.  Without it, death is certain.  At the metaphorical level, this easily becomes a spiritual point.

That is the part that always resonates with me.  There are many ways of characterizes human life, but one way to do it is to recognize that to be human is to have longings---yearnings.  It may be as basic as acknowledging we have a human will.  We talk about will in the way we articulate our wants and needs.  Necessarily, I will long for the things crucial to life---food, water, and shelter.  But the human usually operates beyond longing simply for the things we need.

We also develop yearnings for things we say we want (but don’t actually need for our lives).  We want to be rich; we want a new car.  The lists of wants can be pretty extensive and, often, expensive.  Sometimes we are happy if we get what we want.  But the happiness does not always last.  Often we wind up wanting other kinds of things.  Sometimes I get the image of panting after things I want, but fail to find real satisfaction when I get them.

When that happens, it is always spiritual.  One way to understand the spiritual journey is to see it as a process of getting what we need and sorting out the wants that do not add anything positive to live.  Spiritually speaking, I realize how perilously close my wants come to being idols.  If I get too much stuff, it takes up my attention and my time.  I wind up cultivating the things that will not satisfy my spirit.

I recognize the peril of getting stuff instead of the Spirit.  I am not surprised by the confusion.  Stuff is usually easier to come by.  Indeed, much of it I can buy.  It is mine.  The Spirit---God---I cannot buy and it never becomes mine in the sense of being possessed by me.  I am sure this is why like a deer, my soul longs for you, O God.”  If I become to preoccupied with stuff, my soul has the good sense to long for the real need---the Spirit who gives life and love.

Spending some time in reflection helps me remember and pay attention to the deeper, healthy longing in my soul.  The Spirit will feed my soul.  Stuff fuels my greed.  More is not necessarily better.  If I don’t spend some time reflecting, I begin warping my longing for things like candy, instead of candor---truth.  Candy is temporarily satisfying.

Candy is not soul food.  The Spirit provides the communion that feeds the soul.  This day I long for that kind of soul food.      

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