I am not by nature a contented person.
I wish I was, sometimes. But more often than not, I wander around the world with an achey exuberance. I feel awakened by all the beauty and meaning in the world, called out by it, invited. And yet, I feel pierced through by the sadness, annoyed at the general lacklustre of ordinary life. I want more seriousness, I want more levity. I want harmony and resonance in my beliefs with my ways of living. I want to be still. I want to dance. I want to be rooted. I want to fly.
And so I hover in an existence of happy discontent, each experience of beauty and life making me at once more joyful and more full of longing.
Apparently I don’t respond to icons properly.
This week in class we studied icons as a chapter along the development of religious art. While discussing a particular icon, I noted that they seem so charged with quiet emotion. According to my professor, this is not the intention of the icon writers; they are meant to draw you into a quiet mood of acceptance and contemplation. They are meant to sooth, to quiet, to subdue.
And here I am feeling things again.
The face turned full force towards the viewer. Eyes unflinching. The deep, jewelled colours. The sense of movement, and stillness. It makes me think of a line from Malcolm Guite’s poem The Singing Bowl… Timelessness resounding into time. And something in me is awakened by the beauty, invited by the person and stories to which this written painting testifies. It makes me want to drink from the springs of life eternal, surging through the goodness and beauty that survives through every generation.
But, I am told, my emotions are in the way.
I used to feel guilty for wanting so much out of life. I felt it I were a little more mature, more Godly, I would ache a little bit less. Rejoice a little more quietly. I would be satisfied.
But, I’ve learned to listen to my longings. And in them, I find the echoes of a deeper reality, a richer faith, a fuller humanity. In the midst of one of my achey days, I read this..
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I think one of the great faults of our present world is the inability to sit with emotions and longings. To listen to them, and let them be. To not try to medicate or philosophise or spiritualise or numb them away. I think sometimes we are frightened that if we give these old longings the time of day, they will swallow us whole, or that they won’t go away.
And you know what? They often don’t go away.
Sometimes the ache remains.
But in it, we find a testament to something true and deep. I find that, in my better moments, my discontent is often only a longing for the deeper, richer life for which I’m made. It protects me from apathy. I motivates me to press in and dig deeper in Jesus to find the true bread of life.
And sometimes, in my aching joy, I find I experience the “Joy as poignant as grief” (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories , 1947).
And so, I am satisfied in my discontentedness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).