Meeting Place of Two Great Longings
01 October 2006

The realisation that God's longing for our love is as great as our longing for his and the role of prayer

I'M PART OF A GROUP OF VOLUNTEERS who visit asylum seekers in detention. We sometimes get touching letters from them, expressing what our visits mean. One man wrote to the person who was visiting him, 'You are to me what an oasis is to an extremely thirsty desert traveller.'

This man was thirsty for friendship, love, someone who cared about him in his desperate situation, someone who would listen.

On some level, most of us are thirsty for those things. And on some level, most of us are thirsty for the water which only God can provide, the spring that bubbles up to eternal life, to a different quality of being and living in the here and now.

The Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, expressed this deeper longing in a prayer poem which I love.

When the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life, come with a burst of song.
When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond, come to me, my lord of silence, with thy peace and rest.
When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, break open the door, my king, and come with the ceremony of a king.
When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O thou holy one, thou wakeful, come with thy light and thy thunder.

For years I was thirsty, trying to live a Christian life, to follow and obey God and to do his work, and somehow never quite finding the water. And of course in one sense we never do. But increasingly I am discovering that I cannot assuage my thirst by my own efforts. It's not about how fast I rush around frantically digging wells, but about how open I am to God's gift—and to finding it in unexpected places.

So often I have felt that my relationship with God depends on my effort, on getting things right, on trying harder, on earning his love. Yet actually my relationship with God has nothing to do with my hard work, and everything to do with his love, his free gift.

I can find that extraordinarily hard to accept. I used to know a toddler who, whenever you tried to do something for her, would say with immense determination, 'I want to do it by self !' And I'm a bit like that. I want to be able to cope on my own. I want to be wise, calm, patient, caring, centred. And when I find that I am stressed, ratty, irrational, irritable, scattered, I can be devastated at my inability to be what I want to be.

Yet when I come to God, as I really am, in all my frustration and powerlessness, he tells me that he loves me as I am, and that he will use me as I am. It's not in my perfection that we meet: if I was perfect I wouldn't need him. It is in my incompleteness, my imperfection, that he comes to meet me. When I have the courage to tell him who I really am, how I really feel, what I really long for—however exorbitant, or trivial, that longing may seem.

There is nothing I can do to reach God. All I can do is express my longing for his love. And as I do that, I realise that God's longing for my love is as great as my longing for his—and that prayer is the meeting place of those two great longings.