by Father Robert Lauder
Fifth in series
JUST AROUND THE time that the members of my discussion group and I were discussing Father James Martin’s book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” (HarperOne) the Jesuit weekly, America, published an essay by Father Martin that was adapted from his book. I was delighted because I thought that some who would read the essay might be moved to read the entire book.
I was also delighted because the essay is excellent. It is so good that after it appeared I talked about it for several weeks and called the attention of many of my friends to it. The essay is entitled “Get Closer” and is in the March 21st issue of America.
Stating that he believes that our desires are one way that God communicates with us, Father Martin points out that our deepest desire is for God. Noting that some people may be surprised when informed that their deepest desire is for God, he offers some insights into how the desire for God manifests itself in our lives. One way is through the experience of incompletion. We feel restless, a feeling that there must be more to human existence than what we encounter in our daily experiences. The feeling of incompleteness is experienced not only by those who might describe their lives as basically unhappy but even by people whose life is basically happy.
Father Martin writes:
“Yet no matter how happy our lives are, this feeling of incompletion never fades. This inner restlessness provides a glimpse of our longing for God. ‘O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you,’ as St. Augustine wrote. This longing is a sign of the longing of the human heart for God. It is one of the most profound ways that God has of calling us to the divine. And in the echoes of our restlessness we can hear God’s voice. Sometimes those feelings are more than simple incompletion and feel more like an awful emptiness. One popular name for this is the ‘God-shaped-hole,’ the space within our hearts that only God can fill.”
In recent years I have been very aware that there is an incompleteness that characterizes all my experiences. No matter how good an experience is, no matter how fulfilling it is, there is still a desire for more, a recognition that the experience was not completely fulfilling. What has changed because of reading Father Martin’s book and the essay in America is that I now think of the experience as a way in which God is communicating to me.
Both as a priest and as a philosopher I am expected to be a reflective person. Long ago I came to believe that St. Augustine’s insight that our hearts are restless until they rest in God was a profound truth but I guess I did not think that God was using the experience to tell me something about myself and about God. What God was telling me about myself is one of the most important truths about me, namely that I am made for God.
Father Martin points out that some people try to fill the “God-shaped hole” with money or possessions. I think in our society it is easy to be seduced into thinking that some possession will fulfill us though our experience tells us that it never will.
I recall several years ago some friends becoming very excited about a new weekly television show in which people could win enormous amounts of money. They were eager to watch it every week. Though it was a pleasant show and perhaps basically harmless, I think my friends thought that somehow the money won would provide a kind of “heaven on earth” for the winner. Wealthy people may not have monetary problems but they have to struggle just like the rest of us with what is most important in life. Their hearts are as restless as ours.
Father Martin writes the following:
“This hole in our hearts is the space from which we call to God. It is the space where God wants most to meet us. Our longing to fill the space comes from God. And it is the space that only God can begin to fill.
Your desire to fill that emptiness is one way that God calls to you.”
There was a time in my life when I hesitated to meet God in that space, to allow God to fill my emptiness. Foolish as it now seems, my hesitation must have been due to fear. That really was foolish.