Time is priceless, so this morning, with an extra forty five minutes, I looked to the devotional section of my shelf and prayed, “Lord, please direct me to something from this cloud of witness before me.” I then grabbed Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. The author, John O’Donohue, is an Irish poet and Catholic scholar. Having previously read a few of his works, I find he draws more from Irish folk tradition and Hegelian philosophy than anything that might be called biblical Christianity. Nevertheless, O’Donohue is among the most descriptive writers I know, and when read thoughtfully his work elucidates Scripture in some wonderfully fresh ways.
In one of his sections on the topic of “human longing,” he reflects on a problem that many of us encounter on New Year’s Day when we set our resolutions. In O’Donohue’s words:
“Many of the really powerful forces in contemporary culture work to seduce human longing along the pathways of false satisfaction. When our longing becomes numbed, our sense of belonging becomes empty and cold; this intensifies the sense of isolation and distance that so many people now feel. Consumerism is the worship of the god of quantity; advertising is its liturgy. Advertising is schooling in false longing. More and more the world of image claims our longing. Image is mere surface veneer. It is no wonder that there is such a crisis of belonging now since there is no homeland in this external world of image and product. It is a famine field of the Spirit.”1
This statement got me thinking: How many of my personal resolutions meaningfully relate to the invisible world of God, his kingdom, and my will’s submission to it? In other words, am I as concerned for the development of my spiritual longing, for that of my family, and of our church, as I am concerned with the outward symbols of worldly accomplishment? Am I overly defined by the culture’s images, to the extent that I live in spiritual isolation? I like the way my old pastor friend Dori Little described the dilemma when he said that, “[all too often we pursue] the cancerous sham of our culture’s illusory hopes and pathetically feeble promises, which leave us empty.” God save us from such pursuits, even this New Year. Instead, may we resolve to concentrate on the legitimate longing of our hearts: to be more like our Savior.
As a practical suggestion for getting started, you might put into your favorite search engine, “The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.” Edwards’ list was on my night stand throughout seminary and provided a wellspring of inspiration. Happy New Year!
1. John O’Donohue. Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. (Perennial: New York, 1999), xxvii.