In preparation for writing the introduction to the spiritual practice of Yearning, this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com, I decided to do a search for what appears to be a nonexistent word: the opposite of nostalgia. You see, if nostalgia is, as the dictionary says, “A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations,” then Yearning seems to me to be something that points in the other direction, a longing for some unknown future with those same personal associations with happiness. Anyway, there’s no word for that feeling, but I’ve experienced, as we all have. It’s a bittersweet feeling when we acknowledge that things could be better, but we’re not sure what it would take to make them that way. Or perhaps it’s more of a feeling that we have all we need to be happy, but we know that it will never last. I’m guessing that the religious concept of eternity grew out of the simultaneous sense of yearning for something more and never wanting to lose it. At any rate, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat suggest that the music of Bruce Springsteen often captures that sense of longing. When I read that, I was reminded of Springsteen’s album Nebraska, which I pretty much wore out with repeated listenings back in the early 80s. Not only for the lyrics and the stories they tell, but for the overall sound of the album—just Springsteen on the guitar punctuated with a mournful harmonica. One song in particular, however, really captures that sense of Yearning for me. If you can track down “My Father’s House,” it’s worth a listen.
Our longing is an echo of the divine longing for us. Our longing is the living imprint of divine desire.
— John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes
An Excerpt from Words of Common Sense for Mind, Body and Soul by Brother David Steindl-Rast
Brother David Steindl-Rast salutes proverbs as cross-cultural wisdom that appeals to our common sense. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of yearning.
Jesus, if he came back today, might look bewildered at what has become of the movement that he started. Would he recognize it at all? Would he think it has much to do with the message he preached? I think he would feel more at home in a twelve-step meeting than in most churches, let alone in the Vatican. . . . Twelve-step programs rely on no other authority than common sense. Jesus would recognize his spirit alive and active today as soon as he walked into a twelve-step meeting. This should not surprise us, since the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were fervent Christians. And there is an even deeper connection between sobriety and common sense. Don’t we call people who use common sense ‘sober minded’? What then is the addiction that makes most of us, again and again, fall off the wagon of common sense? It must be an enormously strong addiction to draw so many into its spell.
What is it that attracts us with such power? For many years I was searching for an answer to this question. What is the desire that draws us away from common sense? Gradually, the answer dawned on me: It is our longing to belong. But does not this deep desire in the human heart aim precisely at that all-embracing communion from which common sense springs? Isn’t our homesickness a desire for the cosmic household of which common sense is the family spirit? Indeed it is. But we fail to go all the way. We settle too soon, settle for less, before we reach our true home.
Questions: Share a story about the ways in which your desire has expressed itself in a relationship, in a creative project, or at work.
Check-out/Likes and Wishes
Longing is a compass that guides us through life. We may never get what we really want, that’s true, but every step along the way will be determined by it.
— Joan D. Chittister in The Psalms: Meditations for Every Day of the Year
To Practice This Thought: In what directions are your yearnings pointing you?
For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Yearning.
For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.