I’ve been doing a lot of longing lately. Every morning’s headlines shouting something I wish were otherwise, I long for the world to be different than it is. Not for the way things were (which has never been that great). But longing for the shared wellbeing and right relationship of Beloved Community, which points me toward tomorrow. This raises a question: what seeds can I plant today that might, in time, grow into the garden I long for, yielding a harvest that might feed my hunger for a different world?
The word longing is rooted in the Old English langian, which meant to yearn or to summon. More literally, it meant to grow longer, as if our own souls were stretching out away from us like elongated shadows at dawn or dusk, reaching across the ground, far from our planted feet.
This might explain why our understanding of longing has so often been linear. Whether we think of longing as nostalgia for the past or a steady march of progress toward the future, it can be tempting to think of it in a straight line, stretching out in one direction or the other from where we are now.
But longing is much more curvaceous and dimensional than that. This is abundantly clear in the natural world, where time does not march but bends around the cycle of seasons, where life itself circles back, dust to dust, whether of earth or of stars. Not without its own movement or improvement, Nature has its own emergent progress that unfolds over time. Each bold new blossom eventually bows back to the ground as seed – and rises again as sprout in the spring. Cycles like these create memory and expectation that dance across time, creating an embodied sense of longing in which we each participate, as “sons and daughters of life longing for itself,” in Kahlil Gibran’s words.
In my longing for the world to be different, I remember a poem I wrote for a dear friend’s ordination some years ago:
So much of our yearning
begins under the open sky.
A young girl
sits in the fields of her own longing,
thin blade of grass
connecting earth and sky,
swaying with desire.
To be of use, the wind
whispers in her ear.
You who have done this know,
the breeze moving through these fields
can blow for a very long time.
Now, years later,
ripened by life and love and loss,
toward what calls her.
She leans into her longing
as a plant tilts toward the light
that beckons it skyward,
the light that gives strength,
unfurls the plant’s leaves
like green banners, waving.
What would the world be like
if we all turned our faces
toward the light in this way?
If we let ourselves belong to our longings,
opened our ears to the voice that says,
I want you.
I need you.
Like this, the sun charms the shoot up from the soil
and coaxes the bud to release its tight fist.
Like this, the wind lifts the seed from the open bloom
and the soil calls the seed home again.
If you wish to write about this, consider what it might mean today to let yourself belong to your longings. Perhaps you might join me in asking: If I give myself to the winds blowing around me now, to what new soil will my longings be lifted? Where (and how) might my wishes for a different world or a different life be planted? What new possibilities might emerge from my longings as the seasons turn round again?
You might begin with this prompt, and follow wherever it leads: When I listen to my longings today….
Excerpted from “Belonging,” written for Dottie Mathews. With and Without Candlelight, ed. Victoria Safford, Boston: Skinner House Books, 2009.