Monday, July 22, 2019

Constant craving

There is in the heart of each of us some sweetly painful core of longing that often remains unrecognised, or else is mistakenly ascribed to a need for sex, or companionship, or achievement, or some other fulfilment common to human life. Of course one who lacks these things may quite legitimately long for them, but I am not talking about these everyday lacks and desires. What I am talking about is somehow insatiable in the ordinary course of events, and so, if misread, say for a need for intimate relationship, can lead to untold unhappiness and unthought unkindness; for even the best marriage, the closest friendship, will leave it unsatisfied and still empty. kd lang seems to have seen this as clearly as anyone, in her almost heartbreakingly poignant song 'Constant Craving':
Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin 
Constant craving
Has always been 
Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls towards truth
Or maybe it is life itself
That feeds wisdom
To its youth 
Constant craving
Has always been...
We are not used in our time to correctly identifying it, for it is yearning for God. Robert Llewelyn, in With Pity, Not With Blame, writes:
...yearning, though associated in a special way with conversion, will always be an element in prayer; indeed its intensity will increase rather than decline with advancing years. The soul which is awakened by the fulness of the joy which is to come must by nature long for its consummation. Julian [of Norwich] describes the experience as painful, even as a lasting penance which God mercifully enables us to bear. This suffering, borne in love, must remain until we possess God as our reward.
For myself - as, I suspect, for kd lang - this yearning, however painful, is something we would rather die than have removed from our souls. Jack Kerouac, in a passage I can't now locate, spoke of it as a endless longing for "sweet permanence", and of course it is in a way, since only God, the ground of being itself, is everlasting; everything else is subject to change and decay, as Henry Francis Lyle put it so well in his old hymn 'Abide with Me'.

I have found, after years of searching, that prayer is the only place to go with a craving like this. It doesn't, of course, satisfy it; but it is a recognition of its source and purpose, and a step decisively in the right direction. Contemplative prayer, in the broadest sense of the term, is probably the nearest we will get to it this side of death. As I hinted the other day, one of its great advantages is it doesn't require that we understand, or be able to describe to ourselves, what it is we are yearning for; we can simply approach the presence of God with our hearts filled with this inchoate, grieving desire, and ask without words to come in...


Thomas D said...

So glad to find k d lang here! I've always been deeply affected by that particular song.

In his book Three Prayers, the Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement quotes St John Climacus about "melodies that bear us up to inner joy, divine love, and blessed tears." Both Clement and St John make plain that the melodies can be sacred or profane, it matters not, as long as this quality that your post speaks of is present.

Somewhere in the Purgatorio, Dante has a marvelous line about the natural thirst that never quenches itself (la sete natural che mai non sazia). Dante's words come to mind in this connection.

Thank you, as always, for a rich and thoughtful post!

Peace and light.

Mike Farley said...

Thank you, Thomas, once again! It's too long since I reread the Purgatorio, but I do remember that line. Yes, precisely.

I don't know Oliver Clement, and I obviously should. I'll look him out. Thanks again, for the heads-up.