‘O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.’
The above prayer is the second collect for Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England.
As the MA work is complete and ordination to the diaconate approaches (I will be made deacon in Salisbury Cathedral at Michaelmas -29th September) -I’m beginning to be aware that the distractions of the actual new ‘job’ could be a potential hindrance to the day to day business of actual Christian discipleship: relationship with God, in Christ.
With all the meetings, weddings, funerals, conversations, planning and housework -one could quite easily occupy oneself with the activities of being a parish curate without ever really stopping to breathe! And it could surely only get worse with the added responsibilities of being a priest in charge.
So the other night, as I lay in bed with my head spinning from a busy day and the awareness of finished academic work being nothing to the work that continued to lie ahead of me; reflecting on my youth ‘and my transgressions’ as the Psalm runs (Ps.25:7);and considering what might lie ahead, and how I was to look forward – I prayed, ‘Lord please let me want what YOU want me to want, so that I long for the right things and not the wrong things, don’t let me wander off down paths of pride or career or vain projects’.
And as I continued to lie there I suddenly began to feel really sad and angry… which is unusual for me after praying… I didn’t feel peaceful or contented at all and there was no sense of resolution although I knew God had heard me. So I looked at the indeterminate anger that was growing and I confessed, ‘I feel so angry God! … but um, thank you that you have heard me, and that you always hear my prayer, so I suppose I must thank you for this anger.’
And as I thanked God for the anger, which was really uncomfortable, I realised it was not anger at all but unfulfilled desire -desire for something so far beyond me that I could not comprehend or resolve it-not desire for something known, or something rather like something known, that could be simplified and downgraded to fit inside one’s head… it was desire for the One I could not possibly comprehend, know or simplify.
And then I understood -God had answered my prayer instantly; I had been so incredibly smallminded, expecting God to give me a desire for a new youth group or for theological reading… but he had totally surpassed my expectations and given me a void of longing that was almost incomprehensible -so great and strange and deep that I couldn’t think where to begin to understand it -it hurt so much it felt like anger. I had asked for water expecting a manageable bucketful, and found myself suddenly deep in the ocean, totally disorientated.
‘YOU!’ I found myself saying out loud. ‘You want me to want you.’ And then I really was grateful for the strange unresolved desire that suddenly made me feel so uncomfortable -how could I possible resolve it – I couldn’t, any more than a flower could express its longing for the Sun. But nor did I wish the longing away, contentment would be like closing my eyes on the ocean, like closing my heart.
I will never be able to hold God in my heart nor will I be able to understand him, but so long as I have this intermittent ‘ache’ I will know that what God wants more than anything else, is that I should want him, mysterious as he is, and that he must remain my desire regardless of whatever I end up actually doing with the time he has given me.