Why does a pervasive longing and restless disquiet fill our lives, despite brief moments of fulfillment? How can we satisfy this ache that is so profound it leaves us wanting something we cannot name?
In The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Ronald Rolheiser masterfully crafts a response to these questions. He examines the “holy longing” that exists in the human soul, explaining how Christian spirituality helps us direct this longing towards God and find greater fulfillment in our individual and shared lives.
Rolheiser names spiritualties that define our broader Christian faith, including the spirituality of the church, rebirth, and sexuality. Exploring what God’s Word says about these aspects of our faith helps us grow in relationship with God and others.
Spirituality of the Church: Loving Christ is Loving Others.
“Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-38). Christ’s greatest mandates are to love God and to love others. Rolheiser boldly emphasizes this saying, “we cannot love God … if we do not love others.” Our Christian spirituality cannot be separated from the church: to love Christ is to love his body.
One way we carry out Jesus’s mandate to love the body is through acts of justice and compassion, such as caring for the poor, sick, hurting or those in need in our community. Acts of compassion connect us to the hurting members of Christ’s body. This can be deeply fulfilling as we participate in Jesus’s reconciling work on earth. We are better together and much stronger as we walk alongside those who are broken. In doing so, we encounter Christ. Loving others, embracing their joys and pains, uniquely enables us to discover new depths of Christ’s love.
Spirituality of Rebirth: Journeying from Death to Resurrection.
Suffering and renewal are woven throughout the biblical narrative, as well as in our own lives. Rolheiser explains this through the “Pascal Mystery,” which is the process of dying and rising, of death and new life. We see this all around us. Just as we experience the various seasons in nature from winter to spring, we see patterns in everyday experience that can mirror the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christ is with us in the moments of suffering, death, and new life, whether it’s through an extended trial, unexpected crisis, or joyous life event. Rolheiser asserts that our happiness ultimately depends on our response to our ongoing life, death, and renewal process. Just as Christ endured these stages on earth, we too experience times of loss, refinement, and renewal. This “Pascal Mystery” is the process of transformation by which we die to ourselves and embrace new life in the Spirit.
Loss is a part of life, so we must identify and grieve losses in order to receive the new life God wants to give us. This may be the death of a dream, expectation, loved one, or relationship. Rolheiser asserts that failure to mourn the deaths we face can result in a gnawing ache in our soul and create a sense of incompleteness. Authentic spirituality is finding moments of Pentecost renewal as we surrender our pain to Jesus, allowing us to receive his grace and healing. As we follow this process, new life will come on the other side of our suffering.
Spirituality of Sexuality: Overcoming Separateness.
Rolheiser argues that sexuality lies at the center of spiritual life, as the single most powerful vehicle leading to selflessness and joy. The root word for sex is the Latin word secare, meaning “to cut off, “to sever,” “to amputate.” Alone, we are cut off and disconnected.
Alone, we are incomplete and aching for a wholeness found only in the togetherness that creates life. As God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Rolheiser asserts that sexuality extends beyond the act of sex that God reserved for covenant marriage; it is the fundamental connection we find with others through words, actions, or acts of service – it is to be known and to know others.
Rolheiser argues that our sexuality is the all-encompassing energy that drives us toward love, community, friendship, creativity, wholeness, humor, delight, and self-transcendence. It is a God-given force to overcome our incompleteness apart from one another and God. Sexuality drives us to live fully and be known without shame. It manifests in mothers loving their children, fathers providing for their families, nurses tending to the sick, counselors comforting the hurting, artists creating beauty, and friends laughing together. By overcoming our separateness and giving ourselves to love others, Rolheiser suggests that we can experience and celebrate new life.
Discovering the Power of Surrender: Living in Holy Tension.
Finally, Rolheiser enlightens us about the nobility of a soul that carries tension. Just as Christ sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before choosing obedience to death on a cross, we too must carry tension in our lives of faith and obedience. The conflicts we carry within our souls—between met and unmet longings or control and surrender—ultimately work together to make us more loving and whole. Jesus modeled the inner tensions of surrender. "Father," he said, "if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done” (Luke 22:42). By bringing our tensions before Christ and choosing obedience, we discover peace and bear witness to God’s glory unfolding in our lives.
A life of holy tension is part of our Christian spirituality. It can ultimately lead us to greater pursuit of God and richer life with others as we seek to align our longings with God’s Word. Is there tension in your soul today? Close your eyes and reflect on things that make you feel most alive. Recall a Bible verse that stirs your soul with passion and purpose. Meditate on Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” What pathways of life is God showing you?
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