Yearning

(This is my final reflection that will be written during this week at the Academy – after two sessions tomorrow morning, we catch an early afternoon flight home.)

Our afternoon session – fourth of five on Liturgy and Spirituality – focused on baptism, specifically the rituals with which we mark this occasion. In the early church, baptism was a major event – and the description of it shows this. However, I didn’t write that down, don’t remember it all, and it’s not the focus for this. “Yearning” is…

So, as a part of the session, the presenter showed us a blasted chick-flick movie clip (from Under The Tuscan Sun), to share how even in non-religious settings people take the ordinary to mark the extraordinary. One clip of two scenes, with three movements to them, summarized here:

  1. Woman has had baby, her friend takes the baby from her arms and asks her name. Repeating the name – and with narration informing us that the Italian words for giving birth literally mean to welcome to the light – the woman takes the infant to the window and throws it open to a beautiful sunrise with church bells ringing…
  2. Woman’s house remodeling has been finished, and she takes a moment to pause with the workers, who mark the occasion by taking pictures. The film freezes into black & white stills for each picture…
  3. Now that the house is finished, Woman goes to find her friend to see if she wants to go to town, and sees the mother joyfully dancing with her newborn baby…

Okay, here’s the thing – the new mommy in the picture was a slim woman with dark hair (an Asian actress who I think is on Grey’s Anatomy). So… the newborn scene wrings at my heart just a little bit (for obvious reasons), but nothing too strong.

But seeing the mommy dance from a long shot – it could very easily have been Lynn, dancing around with a baby Will or baby Kate. And that did tug at my heart. For the first real time this week, I felt a strong desire to be at home. I was almost homesick, just yearning to be with Lynn and the baby…

It was palpable. The kind of emotional pull you can feel in your chest. Do you know that kind?

Consider that for just a moment. A yearning so strong that there is an actual physical, physiological aspect to it. A stirring in your chest. Almost a weight… I wanted to go home – I yearned to be home with Lynn and Kate so much that I actually looked at plane tickets and, were I not a cheapskate, might have considered paying the fee to change. (However, I remained, obviously…)

Now…

…wait for it…

The whole reason I am here, and one of the things I reflect on in this blog, is my yearning for God. I say I desire to be close to God. I want to know God, to see God, to live with God. I want to know the purity of heart that only God can work in my heart and life.

And all of that is true. I do desire and yearn for God…

…but what if I, or others, yearned for God with the same magnitude – yearned so strongly that we felt it, that it compelled us to respond?

I imagine the great mystics of Christian history – Teresa, Francis, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, etc – yearned for God in such a palpable way. And, if we believe their writings, they experienced God in a more dramatic way.

Is the depth of our experience of God related to the depth of our longing for God? I wonder…

I guess there are times when my yearning for God is more acute – just as my yearning for Lynn & home was more acute today – and at other times it is there, but manageable. And perhaps not so much manageable, but just subsumed under all the “other stuff” of life. Part of what has made this week not so hard to be away is that I’m engaged in things that I’m enjoying, that are challenging, that are uplifting.

Maybe our yearning for God – and, thus, our attentiveness to God or our experience of God – can be limited because of all the other things in our lives. Perhaps we need to make more room for God.

One other thought I just had, though…

The yearning for Lynn and home was not simply by happenstance. There was a trigger, something that was not the same but similar enough; something that stood as a symbol for Lynn and our relationship…

As a Christian leader, particularly one who leads worship, a key responsibility that I need to recognize is that I’m called to use the ordinary to help people connect to the extraordinary. We use ordinary elements of water, fire, and bread (& juice in Methodist churches) to help people connect with the extraordinary mysteries and reality of Christ and God. When I plan and lead worship, I need to recognize our need to connect with the extraordinary, the ephemeral, the mysterious, the sacred through the mundane, ordinary, concrete elements that surround us – that become symbols for us, triggers that help us feel more acutely both our yearning for God and God’s presence with us.

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