Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Off To Somewhere - Chapter Two: The Longing Way Home

Here's Chapter Two of The Longing Way Home. All the conditions listed with Chapter One are still in place. I hope we can keep this work going for the near future, anyway. You can help me immeasurably by letting me in on your thoughts, suggestions and questions. Or just by letting me know you're reading it as I write it. I consider it a joint effort since it explores what I think is a basic, primal human connection to God. Thanks and blessings. Ted


The title of this books, The Longing Way Home is meant to suggest my conviction that all through our lives we are on the way somewhere even when we don't completely know quite where or even seriously think much about it beyond choosing a college, a marriage partner and a job or career. Usually we're a bit like Woody Allen who says about himself, "Wherever I am, I wish I was somewhere else."

Our somewhere else is usually not a geographical place so much as it is a higher rung we desire on the status ladder with various degrees of intensity and tend to label with variations on the theme "Our Way of Life." We're constantly urged by every well meaning group to take the readily accessible ways, including "education, hard work, ingratiation, connections and conformity," to get to that somewhere which supposedly anybody who is anybody is headed toward except ... "you know, those who aren't our kind." (And who exactly are they? Martians maybe?)

Still, life as we live it isn't as dependably structured or easily defined as that. As is life itself, our particular lives are an always unfolding, dynamic process, never a static, stable condition. However imperceptibly, that process conditions our thinking, our emotions, our behavior, our relationships, our self-definition and direction. Much of our process of going somewhere is so routine it's almost knee-jerk. and usually relatively short term but fairly repetitive. It involves the sort of logistical choices, plans, intentions and schedules we put together as we set out for the day, or a week, or whatever the next stage is in the drama of our life.

Our short term motives and objectives in that process are quite specific and relate to our work or a meeting, a shopping expedition, an appointment, schlepping kids around, standing in lines. going to social events, the various activities it takes to keep things going without very much reflection on the more crucial somewhere we're headed beyond the checklist in our head or date books. For the most part, any larger or over-arching or undergirding sense of where or what somewhere is gets mostly taken for granted, tucked away in that seldom opened file, "Way of Life," the direction toward which we assume everyone else is generally living, too, as well as how and why.

But the hard truth is that neglected examination of our way of life can slowly change that way until it becomes something different than we assume or profess it to be. Even as we implement our short term choices, plans and goals they continually change because of unexpected encounters, interruptions, conflicts, claims that alter our thinking and decisions however slightly or severely. Those alterations require adjustments in the how, what and why of our seeking as we proceed both in the present moment and in the immediate future.

Those adjustments, however, are usually only practical ones and are made with pretty much the same proximate goals or desires that drive us. Those sort of experiences are so familiar to us that we scarcely give them much thought. We come to deal with them reflexively rather than reflectively, that is, without considering the cumulative impact they have on the way we live or how they dull our consideration of the somewhere toward which, however subconsciously, we might have thought we were headed. In the haste and swamp of all kinds of information, much of it just huckerism, we can become numbed to ourselves as well as the people around us, reducing everyone to objects and just part of the landscape.

An example of what I'm referring to is from an experience which Annie Ernaux had in a subway car in Paris and reported in her haunting little book, Things Seen: "A voice sounds in the RER: 'I'm unemployed. I'm living ... with my wife and child, we have 25 francs to live on a day.' What follows is the story of ordinary poverty, repeated probably ten times an hour, in the same tone of voice. The man is selling Le Reverbere, a newspaper. The words express humility: 'I'm not asking a lot from you, just a bit of small change to help me.' He makes his way through the car. No one buys the newspaper. When it comes time to get out, the man shouts threateningly: 'Have a great day and a good weekend.' No one looks up. The irony of poor people does not count ..." *1 Then over time and almost unnoticed, no one counts. Numb's the word.

That scene could be in any city in the United States from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Chicago to Phoenix. and smaller towns around the country. How often has something similar but slightly different, happened to you midpoint on your way to somewhere? Probably we don't keep track, or remember, or just lose count because those experiences simply become minor annoyances, like some little pile of trash on the sidewalk we have to walk around or a flecks of lint to brush off the shoulder of our ever distracted humanity. Numb's the word and slowly becomes our reality.

So little by little a great deal changes in and for us. The sad thing is that is exactly what we're numb to. In the process, the somewhere we assumed we were going toward moves a little further away and in a different direction while we unthinkingly keep changing our course in yet another direction a little at a time, just enough to add another mini-degree to the cumulative and debilitating change in the way of life we thought we were living even as we go on living it anyway, one way or another?

The irony is that our successes in living the process of "our way of life" can be might even more deceptive yet instructive than our assorted irritations and anesthetizing experiences with it. What our way of life successes or achievements reveal, sooner or later, is that none of them really satisfy or quiet the longing in us. Instead, they continually pose the unanswered, if not unanswerable, question, "What's enough?" which leads quickly to another, "Will more of it make any real difference?" The answer to the second question is, "No, almost never."

Let's take, for example, the exciting, pleasurable, delightful experience of sexual relations, one of the most desired and intimate experiences of our lives. It's often referred to as "making love" which it really is not! At best, sexual relations express love rather than making it. And Yes, they can also just be pleasurable, enjoyable activities on their own. But sadly, they can also disappointing and dehumanizing in using of others for our own ends or even be a brutal, criminal act of rape.

Still, the point is, when they are truly intimate and satisfying in the moment, few human experiences can put us more in touch with our longing than do our sexual experiences. However close, however sensual, however fulfilling, however wonderful they are, or just because they include those good qualities, sexual relations seem finally to leave us sensing that we've been brushed by something that tapped into a persistent but vague longing for something mysteriously deeper and more fulfilling but always just out of reach .

Of course, wanting more sexual experiences is programed into us as is hunger, sleep, survival. And yet, however many we have, no number of sexual experiences can truly quiet or satisfy our longing. Now, many "experts" assert that the reason is that the desire for sex is for the survival of the human race. That's true but it misses the point here. As I stated earlier, my point is that desire is not the same as longing. If we pay close attention to our longing we sense it isn't really for more of something, it's for something different, something beyond or deeper than any finite, limited experience can be.

What our finite experiences can do is either orient us in the direction our longing mysteriously summons us toward, or they can misdirect us to something less than that. That's the point of my using the example of our sexual experience. I think the same essential truth holds for other temporarily realized desires such as wealth, status, learning, stylish appearance, popularity, material possessions, honors, leadership positions, whatever is on your list or anyone else's.

An experience Annie Ernaux reports in her book gives a hint of how our finite experiences an nudge us in the direction our deepest longing calls us toward. She writes: "Today, for a few minutes, I tried to see all the people I ran into, all the strangers. It seemed to me that, as I observed these people in detail, their existence suddenly became very close to me, as if I were touching them. Were I to continue such an experiment, my vision of the world and of myself would turn out to be radically transformed. Perhaps I would disappear."

However much we talk about wanting our lives to be transformed, we aren't too
clear about what that means except perhaps being vaguely better, more peaceful, content, happy, less anxious or whatever. But what Ernaux suggests about her vision of the world and of herself being radically transformed is quite scary to most of us. What would that be like? What would it mean to "disappear"? Who wants to do that? Intentionally? Thanks, but no thanks. That cannot be in any way what my or anyone's longing could be about. If it is, I'll stick with temporary satisfactions.

Okay, we can leave it at that but with an uneasy feeling. Perhaps our uneasy feeling might be tempered if we gave some thought to what Ernaux might mean when she says: "Perhaps I would disappear" if she continued with her experiment of trying to see all the people she ran into on one day. Or at least, if we considered what I think it could mean to say that.

I think the "I" she mentions and means might disappear is not her "self" but rather her self-strangulating entrapment in her ego, her stupefying preoccupation with her own protective, isolating, little personal, private concerns. I think the "I" she refers to would disappear by expanding and deepening into more significant relationships with other human beings.

That is, I think it means her "I" would begin to disappear as an isolated, self-promoting, entitled me first "Way of Life" toward a who in hell knows somewhere. Maybe, her true self, like Lazarus, would reappear from the tomb of her disappeared "I' and become a person of love and in love. I think she would lose her "I" in order to find herself, as Jesus said was necessary, because we are essentially alive only in relationship with others and creation itself.

Now, you may be thinking I'm trying to make too much out of too little, that I'm trying to make a hearty stew from too few ingredients in my effort to examine the process of our "Way of Life." As result, it may seem I've concocted only a thin gruel of unwarranted conclusions concerning the nature of our persistent, mysterious experiences of longing.

Well, that's certainly possible. But it's only Chapter Two, after all, and we're still trying to figure things out together. Like all process, writing a book can hit snags or wander track which reminds me of a line in Edward Albee's quirky play, "The Zoo Story." Maybe you know it.

Jerry, a strange young man in his thirties encounters Peter, forty something man in a park near the zoo in New York City. The two get into somewhat disputatious conversational jousting. When Peter asks Jerry what he was doing before he came to the park to go to the zoo. Jerry answers, "I took the subway down to the Village so I could
 walk all the way up Fifth Avenue to the zoo. It's one of those 
things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very
 long distance out of his way to come back a short distance

In some way, trying to find the longing way home may involve variations of going a long way out of the way to come back a short distance correctly. To my knowledge, the subject, or experience, of longing is not one with many, if any, even sketchy road maps so this effort is not only an experiment, it's also an exploration. It's not always clear what the correct distance is, so to determine that requires what may seem is going out of the way to explore territory and connected issues which it turns out are really critical.

So I end this chapter with another hint about longing for you to ponder. It is another vignette from Annie Ernaux in Things Seen. It's a different version of the earlier one about the man begging in a subway car and no one pays any attention to him. This one is about a woman in a another subway car at Christmastime.

"The subway car is full. A woman's voice is raised, powerful. 'Act a little human.' Absolute silence. A terrible voice, that tells of her misfortune, accuses people of selfishness. their asses nice and warm, etc. No one looks at her or responds to her anger, because she is telling the truth.
"On the platform, she collides with people carrying bags of Christmas presents, hurls abuse at them, 'You'd be better off giving money to the unfortunate rather than buying all that crap.' Again the truth.
"But we do not give to do good, we give to be loved. Giving to a homeless person just to prevent him from dying altogether is an intolerable idea, and it would not make him love us anyway." *3
And that, I suppose, is another truth. So what hint is that about longing? Well, I think, contrary to the song version, longing may be a hint of what love's got to do with it, even if Ernaux is right in saying giving to a poor person would not make him or her love us anyway. But there's another possibility here, another pointer toward longing, which is that such giving might be a start at loving your self. A start. Didn't Jesus say we should love our neighbor as our self? Hmm.

*1 Things Seen: page 17 University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London
Ernaux, Annie

*2 Things Seen: page 13 University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London
Ernaux, Annie
*3 Things Seen: page 46 University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London
Ernaux, Annie

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Memoir Supplement - Chapter One

You probably know I am experimenting by writing my blog as a book entitled The Longing Way Home. That means each post will be one chapter of the book with a second post being part of a Memoir that accompanies the preceding post/chapter.
It also means that my Blog's Posts are long and, hopefully, challenging and helpful as well as thoughtful and spiritual. Any and all comments, questions and suggestions are welcome, indeed invited, and I will respond to them in the best and most direct way I am able. Thanks for hanging in with me and thinking as well as feeling about it. Faithfully, Ted Loder

MEMOIR Supplement = Chapter One

Childhood memories are usually fragmentary and sporadic rather than coherent narratives. They bear little clear meaning apart from their singular intensity. Only later, upon recall and refection, do those remembered incidents yield clues of their significance and their influence on your life.

My Dad was a salesman and manager for a large, Midwest wholesale grocery company called Nash Finch. It was during the Great Depression and my Dad was stalked by the terror of losing his job. Like sheet lightning in the prairie sky, his depression terror would flash through the family bullying us toward cover. That was a common experience because in those grim days, everyone who had a job was constantly worried about losing it. Migrant hobos in wrinkled, stained suits and frayed shirts often knocked on the backdoor asking for food in exchange for doing a chore. My kind hearted Mom would give them a small peanut butter sandwich.

Whenever Dad was transferred, we moved. It always happened just after Christmas near the first of the company’s fiscal year, which unfortunately came at the middle of the school year. That made those moves even harder for me. Leaving familiar surroundings and friends made me increasingly anxious as I was growing up. The challenge of going to different schools, finding new friends, making the sports teams, even as early as fifth or sixth grade, seemed overwhelming to me as we moved from Crawford, Nebraska, where I was born, to Clinton, Iowa, to Huron, South Dakota, then across town in Huron which meant changing schools, then to Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Finally, on my fourteenth birthday, June 10, 1944, after my Dad resigned from Nash Finch, we left Aberdeen, drove west to Milwaukie, Oregon, a town bordering Portland, where we moved into a rooming house and Dad joined his father in a small insurance agency. By then anxiety had become my constant companion, the worry that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I’d be rejected or have some awful thing happen to me. My sister, Rosemary, was four years older, talented, beautiful, socially gifted and effervescent, handled those moves much better than I did. She was definitely the life of the potluck party family dinner table, sharing what seemed to me every boring detail of her day’s events and conversations. I always ducked and loved her from afar.

Gradually, I slipped to the outskirts of the family. Clinton, Iowa was a rather short stop of about 18 months on the family’s journey. And yet, I now realize two memories from that time were of critical experiences in shaping my character. The first was when I was about to start kindergarten. What I remember is seeing my Mom sprawled on the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. She didn’t move. She told me to get a chair to stand on so I could reach the phone on the wall to call my Dad for help. She told me how to make a call and gave me the numbers to dial one at a time though I was crying and unsure.

I must have succeeded because the next fragment of the memory is being very scared as I watched my Mom being put in a red and white truck with a whirling light on top and taken away. Later, my Dad told me Mom was okay and she’d be back home soon. He said she had lost a baby who would have been my little brother and the doctor had to take care of her for a few days. I didn’t understand much except Mom was okay and I wouldn’t have a brother.

I immediately began to miss him. For years I wonder if it was my fault he was lost, that I didn’t call for help the right way, or I should have helped my Mom more. I felt sad and bewildered about it and vaguely scared without knowing why. I kept wishing for a brother. As I got older the longing for a brother transposed into urgently wanting a best friend but never seeming to find one either because we moved too quickly, or I didn’t deserve one.

Sometimes, in family gatherings, I heard references to Mom having miscarriages. I dimly realized that meant she lost babies. Had Mom lost another baby brother before I was born? I was confused and anxious about what it was all about. Where was he? What did "lost" mean? I was only sure it had something to do with me, something frightening that in someway troubled me for much of my life. It made me long for something I couldn’t have, some good I could never achieve, some peace I could never find. Something unfathomable in me was slowly making its presence felt. It still is. It is primal longing.

The second of those early experiences was another kind of initiation into the mystery of longing but in a less traumatic way. This time I was a five-year-old kindergartener. It a memory of a time near nightfall on a Christmas day after the few quite practical presents had been opened and the festive casserole dinner eaten. My slightly frazzled family was sprawled about the small living room, my sister and I on the floor, everyone quietly reflective, or perhaps just tired. It was an unusually comfortable, pleasant gathering, one commonly associated with holidays.

But slowly, then more rapidly it all changed for me. Everything began to feel very weird, unfamiliar, and remote. In part it may have been because my Mom was still recuperating from losing a baby. Or it could have reflected the Clinton was still a largely unknown town to us. Perhaps it had something to do with it being 1935 with the cloud of the great depression clinging to everything like the pervasive scent of decay and anxiety. Probably those factors did influence that experience, but not consciously. When you’re a kid, whatever your circumstances are seem normal to you.

My feeling was tinged with something like disappointment, though not exactly that. It wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten something I wanted for Christmas since I really hadn’t wanted anything special and was glad for what I did get. It wasn’t because I was unhappy about something; I wasn’t. It wasn’t because I was angry about something or worried; I wasn’t. It was just that something was missing. I couldn’t say what was missing except that it felt very important and wasn’t more of what was already there. It was just … missing. Maybe it was the brother I didn’t have because of Mom’s fall but it wasn’t that focused. It was more that something of me, or in me, or about me, was missing but at that moment I had no notion of that either. I was five years old! I got inexplicably sad. I wondered what was wrong with me.

A few nights earlier we’d gone to see a nativity scene laid out on a large hillside of an estate or farm on the edge of town. There were figures of angels and wise men and shepherds with what I thought were real sheep and maybe they were. What seemed a large number of cars were parked nearby surrounded by people commenting appreciatively on the scene. I was delighted to be there and knew, from Sunday School, what the scene us supposedly represented but that the figures themselves weren’t real. It was all like make believe play about something from long ago and far away, something somewhere out of reach of that hillside and that night. I wished I could see that somewhere, the real thing I could only imagine. Where was that? What was that? Those questions were still with me that Christmas night in my feeling of something missing. If it was real as it felt, why couldn’t we go there, see that?

I realize now that what I was feeling that Christmas night was longing, nearly overwhelming longing. Those many years ago I wouldn’t or couldn’t have called it that. That night I only knew it made my eyes tear up, a lump come to my throat and a dim sense that whatever was missing would probably stay missing and I had no idea what it was.

It was only later that I could identify what I experienced that long ago Christmas night was longing and what was missing would indeed stay missing for me, for us. I can identify it as longing because I’ve had some form of that experience nearly every Christmas of my life. In fact, I’ve come to believe that an experience of longing is one of the sacred gifts of Christmas and is close to what the celebration of Jesus’ birth is about – the stirring of longing for our truest home and for what is missing in the partiality of life, however much we might pretend or wish it to be otherwise. It’s the keen awareness of living in exile.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Living in Exile - Chapter One: The Longing Way Home

As I indicated in the first post of The Longing Way Home this is an experiment in writing a book as a Blog - at least for me. Beginning with this one, I propose to submit successive posts as chapters of the book. Following each post, I'll add a segment of a memoir to illustrate the personal ground from which the book and, as closely as possible, the preceding chapter emerged. I'll also do this as an attempt toward limiting the length of the chapter as well as shifting the tone and character of the writing.

I am not at all sure how this will go, or what degree of interest it will evoke from those who may access my blog and posts. For that reason, as well as for critical response, I invite you to raise questions or make comments as I/we proceed. It may be that this experiment will not work and I'll abandon it or continue it in some other way. Your responses will help me make that decision so I thank you for them in advance.

I must necessarily add that any and every part or portion of the written form and substance of The Longing Way Home, including this blog and all posts, is under copyright, 2010, and all rights reserved. No part can be reproduced in any manner except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews without prior written permission from the author.

That said, here we go.


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

Beginnings need a compass, an operative North Star. Otherwise what follows from them is often rather pointless meandering; interesting perhaps, or entertaining, even challenging or vaguely satisfying, but as a rule more than vaguely disappointing.

That observation applies to any subject. Even more crucially it applies to life itself. The difficulty is that life’s North Star, its point, its dogged meaning, usually takes time, perhaps a lot of it, to be discovered or discerned. It may take thirty or forty years, or longer. Or it may never happen. The point is there but we miss it, or mistake it, or dismiss it. And during those years, life can be experienced as a rootless wandering without a compelling point or with too many points that are more confusing than clarifying. These memoir-meditations are about life itself, including my own. They do have a point. Over the years, I’ve discovered and rediscovered it countless times. Since it’s a process that constantly involves me, I am constrained to disclose it at the outset. To do that, I have to start nearer the end than the beginning of my life.

My point is longing – yours, mine, everyone’s -- for I believe longing is a common human experience. Our longing is persistent. It is insistent. It is unquenchable. Although it takes many different forms, the longing itself is universal. It can be intense, it can fade but it never ends as long as we live. So I suggest that longing is our primal connection to God, and is the ground of faith. Longing is a basic way God relates to us more deeply than our belief systems, creeds, scriptures, practices, philosophies, institutional expressions of religion, or the rejection of any or all of these. I also suggest that longing is a gentle, quiet but trustworthy guide in our lives. Simon Weil, a Christian mystic, says, perfect attention is prayer. In that profoundly spiritual but unconventional sense, I believe paying close attention to our longing is essential to spiritual life, indeed to our very humanity.

These are huge, perhaps presumptuous assertions. I’ve arrived at them over the course of many years, nearly half of them as a minister, author, theologian, husband, father, grandfather, as well as a lifetime of being a mortal, seeking, struggling, flawed, awed, blest, grateful human being. These memoir-meditations are about how I’ve come to these assertions. I write them in the hope they will engage us in a dialogue together.

To begin with, longing is hard to define precisely even though it’s a prevalent, frequent experience. Often it’s assumed to be the same as having a dream, or passionate desire, or wanting, craving or wishing for something. While longing can be similar in some ways to those views, or a factor in them, it is not quite the same. To me, desire, wanting, wishing, dreaming have a more specific and limited quality to them. They are typically directed toward a particular person, object, status or goal, many, even most, of which can be reached or achieved and the desire or wanting can be satisfied at least temporarily, sometimes permanently.

In my experience, longing is much more elusive. Rather than relating to specific things, longing infuses our experience of nearly everything. It persists even after any specific desire, dream or wish is met. It lurks unabated at the edges of the glow or exhilaration or satisfaction of the most personal or intimate experiences or achievements or triumphs. It also remains unwavering through disappointments, disillusionments and defeats. That is, longing refers to an enduring condition that is unquenchable and yet is irresistible and unavoidable. That paradox is the abiding mystery of longing while constituting its spiritual quality and power.

Spiritual is a term that usually makes me uneasy. Too often it is used to refer to a new age types of personal, basically private self-improvement ventures which are accountable to no one or nothing other than the attitudes, preferences and objectives of the individual or his/her mentor. While that can be a quite accurate view it’s perhaps a too narrow one. I’ve come to occasionally use the term spiritual to designate a generic human impulse hardwired into each of us. It’s pre-religious and, as I said, does not necessarily find resonance and expression in religious communities, creeds and practices. I posit longing as that essential condition of spirituality that affects all of us whether personally acknowledged or not.

Therefore, our common spirituality makes longing relevant as a guide and teacher in life for everyone and is accessible both within and outside of any particular religion. Being a Christian and serving for 45 years as a minister, I contend that paying attention to the prompts of our longing is a critical factor in the continuous reformation and renewal of faithful persons as well as religious institutions and life itself, certainly of Christians and their churches. That’s a large piece of what I’ve learned in my life and why I’m beginning nearer the end than the beginning of my life. In truth, that contention is a deeply held belief and a major motivation for writing this book.

Home is a powerful new novel written by Marilynne Robinson as a companion work to her beautiful, almost devotional book, Gilead. It’s set in the same small prairie town of Gilead, Iowa. It deals with some of the same Gilead characters later in their lives, in particular retired, old Presbyterian minister, Reverend Robert Boughton and his two middle-aged children: Glory who has come back home to take care of her father after the breakup of her engagement to a duplicitous man; Jack, the rebellious, black sheep agnostic of the family who left and stayed incommunicado for twenty years and reappears at the family home one day without much explanation to anyone. The core of the novel is the dynamic between these three characters.

So Home explores the questions, “What is home?” and “What does it mean to come home?” In one of the most poignant lines comes toward the end of the book as Robinson sums of the experience of Glory and Jack this way: “Home. What kinder place could there be on earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile?” (1)

That question comes close to the heart of the human condition. It’s what longing is about. A sense of exile! No matter how comfortable or troublesome our place on earth may be, no matter how safe or threatened we may feel, no matter how much we know or don’t know, or have or don’t have, no matter how certain or shaky or absent our beliefs may be, our longing keeps whispering to us that somehow we are living our lives as exiles. Or as one reviewer summed it up, “Eden is exile, not Heaven.” (2) Put simply, living in exile is to be living away from our own home country.

There can be many explanations for our intuiting that condition – neurological, political, choice, war, being taken there among them. But the most existential reason is simply that as human beings, we are actually born into exile. However close to Eden, or the promised land, we may strive to be, even feel or think we are, we are still away from our real home, away from the country or kingdom to which we most fully belong but at best only partially belong now.

At strange times and in curious ways, we sense that partiality. It happens through the common, public arena of science as physicists try to pulverize atoms in the effort to discover and share with us the secrets of the origin of the universe, of matter and life, of where humans came from and are going. It happens in neuroscience which explores brain function to try to determine how or whether it conditions our relationship to reality or if it's the other way around. It happens in the social, political area as we go through the ritual of reciting our complaints and failings and argue over how deal with them in order to fashion a more perfect future. It happens in the intimate personal arena in those fleeting fragments, slivers of moments, glimmers of awareness, those occasions of either delight or defeat when we feel personally, however vaguely and briefly, that somehow we really are prodigals in a far country and a kind of homesickness stirs in us. That is a condition of mortality, of finitude. That is the refrain longing keeps humming to us in those times when we listen. That is why I maintain that longing is our primal connection to God. Reflecting on personal experience has led me to this conviction.

(1) Marilynne Robinson, Home (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 282
(2) James Wood The New Yorker, September 8, 2008 78