My last post represented my current state as being rather unsettled. I am not alone. It is part of the human condition to be unable, despite its eternal importance, to describe in detail the spiritual hunger that we all feel. When I say “we,” I am giving no regard to country of origin, race, religion, sex, creed, or any other false distinction that we make amongst human beings. Spiritual hunger abides in all people, whether Christian or Hindu or Muslim. It can be found in agnostics and even atheists. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote,
“Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”
The “us” does not refer to Christians only, but to all human beings. We are all restless.
When I say “we all feel,” I am not suggesting that we all feel the same thing. Many would describe their inner selves as “restless,” or “uneasy,” or “hungry.” Others would describe a sense that there is nothing “out there;” there is no God. Whatever the case, human beings are extraordinarily creative and resourceful when it comes to addressing this deep spiritual need, however undefined the need and however flawed the efforts to satisfy it may be. We are driven, it seems, to fill the inner void. Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées,
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.”
The hunger within is so poorly understood that we attempt to satisfy it with any created thing that seems to fit. The finding that nothing satisfies, that the emptiness persists, is a mystery. We know how to satisfy our hunger for food, our hunger for air, our hunger for sex, our hunger for creativity, our hunger to be entertained. Despite the availability of a nearly endless array of methods and objects, there remains an ill-defined inner hunger, “this craving and this helplessness.”
The mystery of my inner void, my spiritual hunger, is intensified by the knowledge that it can only be “filled… by God himself.” Other hungers are easily satisfied by created objects. Why not this one? No object of creation, nothing with which I am familiar, will occupy that space within. This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself. Who or what is this “God” who will fill my deepest need? The Scriptures tell us of a transcendent, majestic being:
“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.”
This One, whom even the heavens cannot contain, will fill me? Is it not a mystery that the One who intends to fill me cannot be contained by “heaven and the heaven of heavens… How much less this temple which [Solomon] built!”? His transcendence implies more than the fact that He cannot be contained. He cannot be fully known, or taken apart and studied. Or tamed.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
I have been created in God’s image and the mystery that is His transcendence is reflected in the mystery that is my spiritual hunger. I do not like insoluble mysteries; they are unsettling, unnerving. But, awareness of the mystery of my spiritual hunger is of great benefit, because it helps me to come to terms with the mystery of God’s transcendence. My inability to understand my own spiritual hunger is God’s gift to me.
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing poetically conveys this sense of mystery:
For at the first time when thou dost it [that is, “the first time you lift your heart to God”], thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection.
It is the very fact of “unknowing,” of experiencing a “naked intent unto God,” yet having this intent while engulfed in “this darkness and this cloud” that deepens my appreciation for the transcendence of the God whom I seek. I may not understand God’s transcendence, but because of my own mysterious inner workings, I “get it”. The cloud of unknowing in which my own spiritual hunger is immersed fires my imagination about this transcendent One who is a light so bright that He appears as darkness to me. “He made darkness His secret place.” The hope that “the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness” moves me in the depths of my spirit. He is no fool’s gold; He is the pearl of great price and to take hold of Him who cannot be held is worth everything that can be held. One mystery pursuing another mystery. “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls… Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.”