16 January 2015

Do you avoid or embrace your desires?

Longing :: Week 2

Longings are like growing pains in that their origins can be difficult to trace, and yet they give indication of something deep and profound, something immediately true of us. In that respect, noting our longings and looking more deeply into them can function as a sort of “thin space,” in which God pierces our desires and then redeems them with a more devout understanding for how we can live in relationship to God, one another and all of creation.

Christopher Webb explains longing with the help of the Welsh word hiraeth (pronounced “hear-ithe”). One of the places the word hiraeth is found in the Welsh- translated Scriptures is Psalm 63:1: “YHWH, my God, you are the One I seek. My soul thirsts for you, my body longs (hiraeth) for you.”

The word hiraeth is not easily translatable into English. It means more than longing. It indicates an all-consuming homesickness. It cuts to the bones, soul and DNA of our being. It indicates a longing for where one belongs.

Longing signifies a desire for more. It stands in stark contrast to the complacent life. Complacency is a stalemate to the journey. Longing propels us forward. It’s difficult to sit in the ache of longing, so sometimes we avoid it. But when we embrace that gut-level discontent, we are moving and growing. Because the ache of longing can be so agonizing, it is a consolation to be accompanied by others in the journey.

My spiritual director is a great companion in my journey. She has a way of pulling out of my heart’s longings.

In a recent session, she gave me the courage to articulate some very personal longings. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face. I was experiencing that gut-level discontent that wanted to be recognized, but it had been all too easy to ignore and avoid the ache.

In spiritual direction I could no longer avoid that part of me. With her loving, accepting and supportive invitation, my director helped me find the courage to be real and honest.

The trouble with articulating our longings is that we feel we might somehow be disappointed if we expose them to the light. What if we don’t get what we feel we most want?

As my director helped me hold my heart’s longing, she also helped me invite God’s presence there.

In this patient, difficult work of longing and waiting, my material and physical desires point to a deeper desire to belong—to live into the fullness of my life. I begin to see that the answer to that desire has less to do with outward circumstance and everything to do with my perspective and heart-stance. When we achieve this, we can agree with St. Paul that it is possible to be content in all circumstances.

And so, for example, as I hold my desire for a new home and wait for it to be realized, space within me opens up to be grateful. To be grateful for the home I currently have and all the provision I’ve been given. I can then express that gratitude while at the same time truthfully hold the desires that propel me forward in my journey to greater fullness. If a new home will help support that fullness, great; but as I wait with my honest longings, a work is being done in me regardless of the outcome of pursuit for a new home.

In the spiritual journey it’s rarely one or the other. It’s often, as Fr. Richard Rohr aptly puts it, “both and.”

We grow as we hold both our gratitude for what is and our desire for something more.



  • What consumes you?
  • What have you longed for with the intensity of homesickness?
  • How would it be for you to invite God into your longing(s)?


*photo credit :: Jennifer Speight

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