my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory.
For your loving-kindness is better than life itself;
my lips shall give you praise.
So will I bless you as long as I live
and lift up my hands in your Name.
My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
- Psalm 63:1-8
I remember talking with my brother Seth one year about the fact that Christmas was coming. We were boys, and we were longing deeply for that joyous day. Suddenly, Seth shouted, “Christmas attack!” and started to run around the house, letting off steam, hollering “AAAAAHHH!” because his longing was so great he couldn’t contain it anymore. I knew exactly how he felt … so I did the same.
I fear I’ll never be able to recapture the delicious childhood agony of waiting all those weeks to find out what Santa would leave under the tree. In this era of Amazon wish lists and economic struggle, it’s even harder to get excited about the unknown. Never again will I experience the thrill of finding that, yes, despite all fears to the contrary, the Millennium Falcon is there, just waiting for me to place my Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures inside its cockpit!
But we adults are not finished with longing. C.S. Lewis wrote about Sehnsucht, a German word that he expressed as “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.” He wrote:
That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of “Kubla Khan,” the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
Have you ever felt that longing? That’s what Advent is for. These four weeks of preparation are meant to lay our souls bare, to empty us completely so that we can receive the one thing our souls most long for: union with God. And the beauty of it is that we don’t have to perform death-defying feats or cross a great Eastern ocean to get to God, because God is coming to us.
If you have ever felt imprisoned, lost in darkness, or exiled, you’ll know what I mean. You just want to be ransomed, to see the light, to go home. Home … the longing is there, embedded in the very sound of that word. Home. Some people, as their lives draw to an end, develop a new vision of Home that means they’ll never have to move again.
But it’s not all melancholy. There’s another aspect of Sehnsucht that is pure, quivering excitement—the thought that you might not actually want to receive the gift, because if you do, you’ll have to let go of that wonderful longing feeling.
“Kyrie eleison” … Greek for “Lord have mercy.” Here’s Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.”