Thomas Aquinas asks a fascinating question: What happened in your soul when it had its first thought? How did you first react when you looked out at life? He answers: With desire.
Technically, he says in his own language, “The first movement of the will is love.” For him, love has two parts: it begins in desire, which leads the mind to search the world, search our experience for something to match that desire; second, love ends in rest, in finally finding the thing we most desired from the beginning and being united to it. A fascinating idea, really, that since the very first moment of our life, we haven’t been happy by ourselves. We immediately began looking for something else to make us whole.
In this life, however, we struggle to ever reach that end, that rest. We remain stuck at the beginning, wrestling with desire. If our life had a soundtrack, it would be U2 played on repeat, with us searching and sighing always for something more…
Early on, we think we can get beyond desire and be at rest. A boy may grow up dreaming of the perfect girl, of living married life “happily ever after.” Then he actually gets married, and happy though he may be, desire remains. Desire for something he can’t quite name, or understand, churns inside of him. “Even after the most thrilling experience… when you are quiet and alone, you perceive deep down a small voice saying, ‘Is that all there is?’ Nothing is enough: not praise, not success, not youth, not love. You are a thirst,” writes Thomas Dubay.
Desire is a central theme of the season of Advent. As the People of God, we again fix our attention on the coming of Christ, the “Desired of Every Nation,” into our world and into our lives. Still, it would be too easy to say, “Desire placed in material things or human relationships will disappoint us, but in Christ we find our rest.”
Did not He himself say, “Come to me… and I will give you rest?” Is He not the one thing our souls have been desiring, the one thing we’ve always been looking for since our first moments? Only God can fill that God-shaped hole in us, and He so happens to be Emmanuel, God-with-us. Then why are we still not satisfied?
Once again, we can reference another U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” sung here with a Gospel choir. If we’ve found God, and we’re still not satisfied, it must be something about us, then, and not Him.
There is another song written by my Uncle Mark (whom I’ve written about in a previous blog post). He works as a lawyer in Pittsburgh but writes music as a passion and a way of processing. The song is simply called “Desire.”
Talking to him about it, he explained:
I’ve always had a desire to make sense of everything. But life has a way of beating you down, and there’s an instinct to not fight to make sense anymore. The tide’s coming, and you go with it and make the best of it. This life is so contingent… But through that, there’s still a desire you can’t shake. You can’t dismiss the greater purpose. If we’re supposed to just ‘get along,’ why does this continue?
Christ doesn’t take away our desire. He actually gives us a new desire, a thirst for God, not always easy to reconcile with our busy, contingent lives, filled with so much desire for other things. God, it so happens, is very different from us, and it takes a long time (and some very elaborate strategies on His part) for us to acquire a real taste for Him. Sometimes He blesses us, other times He lets our mortal dreams and mortal expectations crumble, like castles built in the sand. He does it all so we might learn to desire Him, which might seem selfish of Him, but after all, He’s God. He’s different. And He alone is worthy of our whole hearts.
So I, a Christian, sit here in this mortal life, still trying to make sense of things, still trying to love an eternal God. “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” how to love as we ought, and yet “the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8:26).
When pondering these things, there are two questions I love to ask, which I hope to take up again this Advent.
The first: Is Christ enough for me? If He doesn’t seem to be, I must beg Him to be. “Be enough for me, Jesus. You are what I seek. You are my life.”
And the second: Why does God love us? No theologian can help us here. We don’t know why God loves us. We only know that He loves us. “For to you is born this day… a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Some questions are not asked to receive an answer, but only as a way to express our wonder at being loved.
He is the pearl of great price that has been placed in our hands, in our lives. But we need to be constantly reminded of this, bombarded as we are by a million other thoughts and emotions, we who are always tempted to believe that those other things are more real than Christ is. So God speaks to us this Advent, and in all times of our life, in the words of the song: “Why are you so sad? Don’t you know what’s in your hand?”
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Durban Beach III