Longing for God
Reflections for Sunday 3 October 2021
Scripture passage: Mark 10:2-16.
10:5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote this commandment for you.
In this passage Jesus names hardness of heart as the reason that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives. Divorce was a symptom of the real problem – hard heartedness. Divorce was only one symptom of hard heartedness. It is something that we all can have and it expresses itself in many ways in our lives, effecting all of our relationships, not just with our partners, but in our family relationships, friendships, work relationships; even our relationship to nature and to God. It was not just the Pharisees who were hard hearted, the disciples of Jesus also reveal their hard heartedness by speaking sternly to parents who were trying to bring their children to Jesus. It is easy for us to identify the hard heartedness in others but somehow be unaware of our own hard heartedness.
The symptoms of hard heartedness are evidence that something is not right with our relationship with God, but also our relationship with nature - the whole of creation. We have stopped longing after God. We have not held and nurtured the mystery and wonder of God in our hearts. We have satisfied ourselves with other things, things of our own creation. We have longed for what others have. We have become jealous and envious. We have sinned, fallen short, gone astray. We have seen ourselves as disconnected or separate from nature not one with it, not part of nature. We have degraded and destroyed.
In Ezekiel 36:26 God promises a new heart - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Recently I have been working with a special type of cement which is used to level uneven floors. It flows into the lower points by itself filling up the holes and cracks but there is a warning with the instructions. The instructions say that once it has been mixed with water in needs to be in place within 10 minutes because it becomes hard very quickly and then it is impossible to work with. How quickly we can become hard hearted. A hard heart is very difficult to work with also. We may want to change our lives and we may want to improve our relationships but if our hearts are hard like rocks it is very difficult to really change. It is like we are battling against our very selves. Once hard, cement cannot become soft again, but our hearts can be softened. For us something has to happen deep within us for real change to occur. The good news is that it can take but a moment to change, not a lifetime. It takes but a moment to soften our hearts, but we need to keep our hearts softened.
I wonder how the disciples felt when Jesus exposed their hard heartedness. People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Hard hearted is something that we can become over time, as we grow older. According to Jesus hard heartedness was not something that children had yet developed and so he reprimands the disciples, saying instead of hindering the children, welcome them and become like them because if we do not receive the kingdom of God as a little child we will never enter it. If the disciples had not received this reprimand with grace, they would have become even more hardened. To soften our hearts, we need to allow grace to find its way deep into our hearts, in the same way that water finds its way into the cracks in rocks. This needs humility, confession and acceptance.
God is calling to us from this place, longing for us. In the book of James (chapter 4 verse 5) it says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit God has made to dwell in us.’ It is Jesus who reveals the tender heartedness of God. It is in Jesus’ relationships with people that we see God’s longing for oneness and depth and intimacy of relationship. It is in Jesus that we see God’s longing for us to come home, to come home to God, to come home to ourselves, to come home to our hearts and make a dwelling there with God and to come home to nature, to realise again our oneness and connectedness with all things. Our destruction and devouring of our environment is evidence of our hard heartedness.
We need to come home before we destroy ourselves along with our planet. Life in the city can be a great distraction from the longing we have for home, for God, Sometimes, it is only in nature, in wild nature, that we can attune our selves again, and rediscover the longing heart, that desire for God, that desires the life that flows from God. What is the longing of your heart? Our minds can become dulled, numbed by the news, carried along with the crowd. Covering over the natural longing within for God. Through silence and stillness, we can open up a pathway to direct that longing to its source.
Some questions to ponder
What are the words for God in your first language?
In our different languages the words we use for God can carry with them a different sense to the English word God. Some of these words reflect our cultural and ecological backgrounds. They throw some more light or more mystery onto the one we name as God. This God we know from our homelands can seem to be a different God to the God in the busy, fast, crowded, self-absorbed cities we live in that are disconnected with nature.
What is the word for longing in your first language?
In Welsh Gaelic there is a word that is said to be untranslatable into English. It is the word Hiraeth. Hir means long and aeth means sorrow or grief, but this literal translation falls far short because of its many cultural overtones. In a sense only someone born and bred in Wales might express hiraeth the longing for what has been lost to them or what they have been separated from. Hopefully from this example and your own longings for home you will appreciate something of God’s longing for us to return home from our hard heartedness and find that longing again for who is life.
If English is your first language you may like to research the words for names of God and for longing in the languages of first nations peoples.
A Poem by Irish poet William Butler Yeats to reflect on…
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
A prayer by John Philip Newell
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may see you.
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may truly see ourselves.
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may know the sacredness of this moment
and in every moment
as the Living Presence in every presence.
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may see.
Prayer of Confession
You know the secrets of our hearts.
You know when we stray and when we return.
Forgive us when we do not treat your children,
the peoples of this world,
with the same patience and love that you have for them
and for us.
Open our eyes and minds and hearts
that we would see and welcome all your children.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Photo: Eastern Blue-Tongue Lizard, Bulli NSW
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation