Longing that makes the Heart grow Deep

In honor of Saint Aurelius Augustine’s birthday: November 13, 354, Tagaste, Numidia

I remember reading “Confessions” in my senior year of high-school.  I was on the couch with a torn ACL, longing to be on the basketball court with my fellow team-mates for a final season.  Instead, I was engaging in the strenuous activity of being still (my least favorite pastime) – before myself, in my thoughts…and before God.

My body and heart were restless, and as Augustine pointed out, would continue to be until I rested in God.  I wrestled against my situation.  And then, there it was – that beautiful, strange Latin phrase, “desiderium sinus cordis.”

Desiderium sinus cordis?  Huh?  Then, the explanation — “yearning that makes the heart grow deep.”  It was a central theme of his pilgrimage on earth, and the true cry of one’s heart and soul:  “Give me one who yearns; . . . give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the Eternal country. Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean.”

C.S. Lewis then followed in Augustine’s footsteps, expressing this concept so beautifully in my favorite book of all time, Till We Have Faces. The protagonist, Psyche, has fought for justice and fairness her whole life…an intense, continuous longing for a resolution to that which was not right, and to leave the pain of the world: 

“It almost hurt me . . . like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home. . . . The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born.  Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

This hollow hunger of longing to “go back” was her spiritual homing device. She was like that bird in the cage, stuck in a house, when all she wanted to do was fly and go home.  Something, someone beckoned to her, and when Psyche finally comes before God with unveiled face, she voices her complaint.  But, then she falls strangely silent before Him:

“I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.” 

How can we long for that which is undefined, intangible, untouchable, unimaginable?  How do we live on earth with this tension, this healthy dissatisfaction of longing for redemption – to make right that which is not right, to heal from that which has broken us, to find peace in the chaos and hardships of this life?  And, what does it mean for the heart to be made DEEP?

C.S. Lewis answers this by arguing that no earthly object or experience can satisfy man’s profound and intense feeling of longing. Instead, he calls this feeling of longing ‘JOY’, which he defines as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction’.  The depth and ache of longing becomes Joy.

Over the past month, I have experienced an intense sense of Desiderium sinus cordis.  I have wept for dear friends who have experienced tragic loss.  I have wept for the loss and fading of my Grandmother’s memory, and my great Uncle Ted’s passing, who inspired my passion for piano and writing and cross-cultural experiences.  I have wept for friends experiencing barrenness, miscarriages, and the longing for a family to call their own.  My heart has ached for those who have experienced broken trust in marriages.  I have longed for things to be made right in the mishaps and mistakes of business.  And, I have cried tears for my country and its divisions between politics and people.

I’m not writing this to express an opinion about the election results.  I’m not writing this to corner anyone with a discourse on religion, morality or ethics.  I’m not writing this to compare or discount others’ longings and hopes and hurts.

But as we enter the holidays, the season of awaiting and longing for our Messiah — the grace of God that physically appears — I am simply writing this to pose the question, Are we not all yearning, thirsting, longing for something – someone – that nothing on this earth and in this life can satisfy or fix?  In the face and frailty of our own humanity, we are all living with yearning that makes the heart grow deep.  We are all – in our own way – wandering, watching, and waiting for the sight of something better, truer…something more satisfying…something more trustworthy.

dsc_4683“Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean.”  

I mean, do you know what I mean?  I LONG to reach that Mountain, to find that place where all the beauty came from in the first place — my first country, my final country.  Do we think all this longing is meant for nothing?  The longing for a true Home?  Indeed, it now feels not like going, but like going BACK…

These longings have given me fresh perspective for my 30’s. What of my petty arguments, complaints, comparisons, judgments?  Why my selfish choices, prideful ambitions, arrogant words?  What of my tasks, instead of embracing all the divine interruptions of my day as an opportunity to love others more than myself?

All of our yearnings and longings and viewpoints are surely different — we cannot always understand, compare or judge the perspectives and/or longings of our fellow man to our own, and everyone must be accountable to their own moral compass.

But we can all embrace the power of longing together.  The reality of yearning together.  The realization of THAT day coming.

You are yourself the answer.  Before your face, Lord, questions die away.  What other answer or explanation would suffice?  

In the desert of our longings, I think St. Augustine was onto something…it’s not that the sting and pain of our emptiness, longings and sorrows mean nothing.  Our longings precisely mean EVERYTHING.  Our longing is not wasted.  Our longing is not in vain.

It is a language that perhaps only the human heart — in the stillness and quiet of our moments when words do not suffice — can truly understand.  It is the unsatisfied cry of souls for our dwelling place, and safe haven, to finally be found and habited.  It is the aching to see God, and be with God forever.


At the end of the Bible, The Apostle John writes:  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”   And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

I believe there will be a Day when the dwelling place of man will be with God (Psalm 90). I believe that our faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, will someday be sight (Hebrews 11).  I believe there is a city that has perfect foundations, whose designer and builder is God, and that someday our sojourning through the desert will be over.  Though I have seen and traveled the world, and have loved and embraced the beauty of many  cultures and countries, I believe in a better country, a heavenly one.

But until that Day, I am living with Desiderium sinus cordis. We are living with longing, a yearning that makes the heart grow deep.   And, we are never too young to pledge allegiance to our true Home.   Despite the sorrows and brokenness we face in this world, these afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all – somehow, someway, our longings are not for nought.  I would rather my heart grow deep in longing, than be shallow of love for others.  I would rather my soul be hungering and thirsting, than fat and quenched, satisfied in this temporary life.

And I pray, more than ever before, that God’s love – the perfect Love that casts out all our fears and differences forever — will be the very Love that I extend to others every day.  That I embrace as the source of all of my questions and longings in this life.

He is the Alpha and Omega of our longings, the beginning and the end.  He is the Divine Love that began with a Longing to create and be with and know us…and He is the Divine Love that will be the end of our longings, the glory of redemption, hopes fulfilled, and faith finally seen – in the face of Jesus Christ forever.  And, we will dwell in His House forever.

May the Lord bless you and yours this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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