Liturgy of Longing


Today, on the kind of postcard-perfect fall day that only one who has lived through sub-zero winters can truly appreciate, I felt the magnetic pull to change my scenery, take it all in, get out and go. So pushing pause on all obligations for an hour or two, I hopped in the car and drove north, past the oranges and reds of autumn on one of the countless country roads that twine through these gentle New York hills. I didn’t know where I was headed. I knew there would be coffee involved, and I had snagged my notebook and a pen. But what would happen when I got … wherever I was headed, was entirely unwritten, like the blank pages in my book. I was waiting, the prayer of anticipation on lips – “Show me something amazing.”

If, as Augustine and others suggest, we are longing creatures, we are born to desire, then there is always something pulling us toward it. It’s the force of love, our true north, if you will. Of course, far too often, instead of being drawn toward true north, I’m pulled in a different direction, a free-falling chunk of rock hurtling through space, out of control and out of orbit until it crashes down in some cow pasture in Nevada and wonders, “How’d I find myself here?” Too often, there is clutter, chaos, or worse, utter numbness.

But I don’t want moments like that. I want the moments that pull back the curtain and show the truth in all its goodness, beauty in all its transcendence. We’ve all had them. They’re moments of wonder which stop us cold and awaken the longing inside us. They can seem spontaneous, as if we stumbled upon something lovely amidst the daily routine, like today’s sudden drive. 

But do they have to be? Can we schedule them? Can we craft a liturgy of longing?

I think we can, because we must. We dare not wait for these moments. Sometimes they do hijack us, take us by surprise, tie us up and demand we pay attention. But often, we must be the catalyst. We must schedule anticipation. We must, I am realizing, make a ritual out of preparing to be taken by surprise. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ll put it on my calendar. I’ll plan my day around it.

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives,” writes Annie Dillard. “What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” So what are we doing? I’m well aware that the rhythm of my life doesn’t always leave enough rest for these such activities. I don’t always land on the right beat, and I end up trapped inside other routines, liturgies of materialism and self-gratification. But these activities are vital. They pull us out of our story into the larger Story. They awaken something that sleeps inside us, opening the eyes of our spirit to something bigger.

My friend Jon and I have been talking about scheduling hang time. The plan, as best we’ve worked it out, is to go grab a burrito, find a table, and … 

We don’t know what we’ll talk about, or where our time will lead. But we’re going to share our stories and see what happens. It’s exciting, isn’t it? To consider the possibilities of what might happen when we schedule time to anticipate wonder? I pray for the courage to clear away competing voices and reorient my compass toward true north, not just when the whim strikes, but regularly. Constantly. Reliably. 

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