The Practice of Yearning

By Christopher Copeland

photo courtesy of chany14 via C.C. License at FlickrAll of my life I have yearned for companionship. I remember in third grade how desperately I wanted a best friend, someone with whom I could play and connect. That's when Tim, the son of the new Lutheran pastor in town, arrived in Mrs. Tyson's class. I introduced myself to Tim, offered to share my books with him, and invited him over one day to play. Soon, Tim and I became best friends and the yearning quieted a bit.

As a young man, again I found myself painfully yearning to give and receive love, this time in the form of a boyfriend. Though desperation isn't the most attractive characteristic in a potential mate, I met Charley on a blind date and we fell in love and journeyed together for a time as partners and friends. Though I hoped it would wane, the longing persisted.

In my thirties I earned a diploma in the art of spiritual direction at San Francisco Theological Seminary. In one of the first learning experiences, our instructor led us into a guided meditation and invited us to imagine an area of our lives in which we felt pain, longing, or brokenness. My image of a beautiful and playful man was a reminder of the painful yearning I had for a life partner. Next we were instructed to imagine a healing place in our lives. I saw the beach at Shackleford Banks on the coast of North Carolina, a place filled with memories of family, friendship, and God.

Finally, we were invited to bring the image of brokenness into the place of healing. There on the beach I saw the beautiful young man. We embraced, played in the surf, and delighted in one another. I knew I was with God. And I knew that my deepest yearning for companionship was touched by God as God gave and received love from me freely and completely. I was reminded who I was created to be in this world -- one who offers love to friends and strangers and one who accepts companionship from neighbors and lovers.

In the fourth chapter of Luke's gospel, Jesus was led into the Wilderness by the Spirit where he found himself hungry, alone, and tempted. Jesus was yearning to know who he was called to be in the world. In a place of hunger and desperation, Jesus was tempted to be someone other than who he was created to be -- a sorcerer, a sovereign, and a showman. In the midst of his longing for vocational clarity, Jesus encountered not just the devil but also the Spirit in this healing place. And there he discovered who he was to be: a teacher, a friend, a prophet, a healer, a calmer of hearts, a giver of life, a child of God.

What do you yearn for this Lent? Where does your longing lead you? How do you encounter the Spirit of God in your yearning? Our symbol for this first week of Lent is Jesus sitting alone in the desert with longing in his eyes. Our spiritual practice is the practice of yearning.

Set aside 20 minutes to settle into a quiet place without distraction. Bring a journal and pen. Light a candle as a reminder of the Spirit's presence with you in this healing place. Name your intention to attend to your yearning and to encounter God in the midst of the longing.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself, "What do I yearn for?" Listen.  If you find yourself distracted, return to the question again: "What do I long for?" Wait for any words or images. Stay with your question and listen for about 10 minutes.

Open your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Write or draw in your journal what you saw or heard in response to your yearning: a symbol, a series of images, a conversation, a voice. What did you notice? Record it in your journal. Offer a word of thanks to God for your yearnings. Extinguish your candle.

Explore the practice of yearning this week of Lent to tend to what God has created you to be.

 

Ordained in the Baptist Church, Chris Copeland has served as pastor, youth minister, church consultant, retreat leader, denominational representative, and spiritual director.  Chris currently serves as the director of Illuminating Paths, a practice of accompanying individuals, groups, and communities on their spiritual journeys using the tools of rituals, embodiment, spiritual practices, and discernment.  Chris also serves as a member of the leadership team of the Alliance of Baptists, a movement of progressive Christians seeking to respond to the continuing call of God in a rapidly changing world.

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