The Soul's Thirst for God – Br. Curtis Almquist

If you were to open up the magazine that comes with today’s Boston Globe and New York Times, you will find many promises. Many of the promises are quite subliminal, and yet they clearly tap a need. And the need is not necessarily for the product, but rather for the experience you will realize if you possess the product (guarantee). If you drink Coca Cola you get “the real thing” or Gatorade, all your thirst will be quenched. Diamonds, as we know, are a foretaste of eternity; they’re forever. Wearing Calvin Klein clothes and fragrances will make you ravishing, adored. If you use an AT&T calling card, your family will be reconciled and live happily together, forever. Drive a Buick and you get the ride of the century. If you travel to Mauritius, it will all come together…. On and on it goes.

From a marketing or psychological perspective, we could analyze the ads and come up with “what’s really being sold?” and we would be right on the mark, I would bet. Our need to belong, our need for self-esteem and for quite personal and unique recognition; our need to be attractive and desired, our need to appear successful, in part because we are better; our longing for immortality… or at least to be young and wrinkle-free, tuckless, forever. Those whose business it is to market, understand that we’re all looking for something more. I think it’s true.

If we go a step deeper, deeper than the marketing strategy and psychological insight, to speak the language of the soul… I would say that this stuff “works,” that what we see purveyed in Sunday magazines, on the commercials in between the touchdowns, on the pop-ups that show up on the internet, on the billboards, store windows, and on the sides of buses… the reason it all “works,” is because the souldoes crave for something more because we’ve been created in the image of God, who is more. And, I would say, if we don’t seek to satisfy our infinite longing for what is more, on what is more, we will settle on something that is less… and we will work out our infinite cravings relentlessly. C. S. Lewis in a sermon entitled, “The Weight of Glory,” preached at Oxford University, says: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing… They are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” We long for the source.

The psalm appointed for today, Psalm 63, begins with the words,

“O God, you are my God; eagerly I see you;

My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,

As in a barren and dry land where there is no water.”

Many people today would not use this language… explicitly… but I do think this is the common language of the soul, longing for what is infinitely more, who is God:

“O God, you are my God; eagerly I see you;

My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,

As in a barren and dry land where there is no water.”

If what I am suggesting here is right, right to you, rings true, that you long for more, how would you tap the source of what is more, who is God? I’ll suggest three practices which run counter to a consumer culture which is constantly alluring us, teasing us to fill up, to gorge, on something that is jumbo, a whopper, guaranteed to satisfy… It may sate your tummy for awhile… but not your soul. Here’s three counter-cultural practices.

Love the emptiness. If you do not have space in your soul – that is, if you keep yourself filled on food or constant activity or ever-new ideas or endlessly surfing horizontal things – if you do not have space in your soul, your desire will be blunted or even perverted. We have been created with the gift of desire, to long for, to anticipate. I think that God mostly reaches out to us in the form of our desire, which springs from some need, some emptiness. If you are fast fooding on life, if your life is absolutely stuffed, you will miss the real thing, what Jesus called “the food that will last.” Please pardon this pun: to find the food that will last, you may need to fast… Fast from where you are too full.

The word “fast” is very common in everyday parlance, but usually as an adjective. We go fast. To go slow is un-American. Curiously enough, “going fast” – traveling or working fast, or having a fast connection to the internet – that kind of fast comes from the same etymological root as the verb, “to fast,” “fasting,” in the sense of abstaining from food or something else. Our word “fast” comes from the Old English fæsten, which denoted “firm,” such as “to hold fast” to some decision or driving principle. “Hold fast.” We also may talk about a “a long, fast friend,” meaning someone who has been a secure friend, someone who has been tight with you – a steadfast friend. This word “fast” came to be a verb, applied to the abstinence of food, because of one’s “holding fast to a particular observance,” which was a firm resolve. This etymological development in English seems consistent to the way the scriptures speak about fasting. Fasting, not in the sense of eliminating something or denying yourself of some food, but fasting in the sense of holding firm, of fastening our resolve to a kind of discipline or practice. Fasting: more an affirmation of some value rather than a renunciation of some desire.

That’s my first suggestion. Rather than living into the marketing delusion that “you can have it all,” and that you can have it now, and that you should have it now, that you open some space in your soul, and love the emptiness. Listen to your desire, which is where God will come knocking on the door of your soul. Try out some ways you can live with the word “fast” not just as an adjective – which is about speed – but also the word “fast” as a verb – which is about space. Fast from food, from compulsive worrying, from endless controlling, from multi-tasking, from binging in whatever form. Love the emptiness. Real time is a much, much deeper reality than a news cast on CNN. The author, Wayne Muller, writes “All life has emptiness at its core.” He says, “It is the quiet hollow reed through which the wind of God blows and makes the music that is our life. All creation springs from emptiness.”i Love the emptiness.

Believe less. By this, I’m not suggesting to willy-nilly discard a verse from the Bible here, a phrase from the Nicene Creed there, an historic Christian doctrine that you don’t fancy. By saying “believe less” I’m not suggesting tossing but rather reclaiming. If you’re finding yourself just now rather scattered or confused, if you feel like you’ve lost your spiritual anchorage because of things going on quite personally or quite publicly, then go deeper, to the bedrock of your soul where you’re not confused. In Jesus’ own day where there were endless rules, doctrines, principles, and practices, and commandments – which, it seems, where not altogether helpful to everyone’s program – he was asked, you’ll recall, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And Jesus answered: “Love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind.” That’s number one. And number two: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”ii If you find that in this season of your life you cannot believe more, then believe less, something profoundly less.

To believe is not ultimately to wrap your brain around some existential concept. To believe is to embrace something with your heart, as if your life depended upon it. The English word believe comes from the same etymological root as the word belove, which is to hold dear, to love deeply. iii Believe; belove. So go deeper. Get out of the confusions of your head and go deeper into your heart. Conform your life around the priority and practice of loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Where to start? Start with what is most immediate: yourself. If, inside your soul, you’re yelling at yourself right now: a part of you yelling that you should be better or different and the other part of you saying that this is the way it is and you’re doing the best you can…. If there’s a part of you that’s not on speaking terms with another part of you. If there’s something unforgiven or seemingly unforgivable in your past… well, you need to get over this. And you may need some help. But you’re worth it. And you’re not going to be able to love your neighbor any better than you love yourself. And I think that the love of God – your love of God and God’s love of you – will become very present and very real as you sort out these other two loves: for yourself and for your neighbor.

Gather up the fragments.iv Your life is in pieces. There’s been this, and there’s been that. Some of it has been good; some of it, not. Lots of things have gotten broken and lost. You’ve been broken and lost. Your life is in pieces and yet they weave together into this most amazing tapestry. It does all hold together. Some of us, if left alone, only see the inside, the back side of the tapestry, where there’s lots of stray threads and knots and pulls. The front side is often quite a different picture the way the shape, form, color, design holds together… which is how others, who know us the best and love us the most see us. Which is how God knows and sees us. Most of us, if left alone, are quite myopic and can’t get a true perspective on the amazing grace of our life. We need to be saved from that mean short-sightedness about ourselves, to pray for “the eyes of our heart to be enlightened” to see ourselves as God sees us.v If there are pieces in your past that you think don’t fit in your present, I probably beg differ with you. It all belongs somewhere, someway. God is very frugal in this way. In the vocabulary of the church, we call this “redemption.” Nothing is wasted; nothing is to be wasted. It all belongs, it all forms part of this majestic tapestry called “your life,” like none other… except that most of us are an awful lot alike.

Love the emptiness; believe less; gather up the fragments. And then, back to the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 63. We hear the psalmist pray, “and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.”vi If you are in the dark about something just now – something about your life in the present or past or future – and there’s nothing you can do about it, then confidently wait with it. Wait in the shadow, the shadow of God’s wings, knowing that God knows what you do not know and, perhaps, in the fullness of time you will know more. But in the meantime you know what you are able to bear. Confidently, patiently wait with that assurance. As the psalmist prays, “For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.”vii

i Wayne Muller in Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. Muller, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, is the founder of Bread for the Journey, a nationwide relief organization, and TREAT, a community-based AIDS research and care group. He has authored several other books.

ii Matthew 22:36-40.

iii The word believe comes from the Old English belyfan, from the “Proto-Germanic” (the hypothetical prehistoric ancestor of all Germanic languages, including English) ga-laubjan “to hold dear, to love.”

iv A phrase of Jesus, remembered in John’s gospel 6:12-13.

v The phrase “… the eyes of your heart be enlightened” taken from Ephesians 1:17-19

vi Psalm 63:7.

vii Psalm 63:7-8.

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  1. A.G.Laki on November 28, 2022 at 11:37

    I was seeking info on how exactly SSJE Brothers fast during penitential seasons and I found this wonderful sermon. Of course it is still applicable today in 2022 and it delves more into the theory/ theology of fasting , rather than the particular behaviours that might be modeled by the Brothers; but this is immensely helpful in any case. Thank-you.

  2. Jeanne DeFazio on February 18, 2019 at 08:45

    Psalm 63, begins with the words,

    “O God, you are my God; eagerly I see you;

    My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,

    As in a barren and dry land where there is no water.”

    I feel this way often and I have to unplug from life and be silent before Jesus. Sometimes the first thing I realize is gratitude to God other times remorse over shortcomings. But the beautiful truth of your message is becoming more apparent to me! The tapestry contains it all. The failures required the courage to get back up and keep on. The triumphs are the opportunity to thank God.

    Thank you!

  3. Mary Henton on February 18, 2019 at 08:06

    Wise words. Thank you for redeeming the words “fast” and “believe.” Thank you for the image of the tapestry. I “believe” and have experienced that God redeems every act, choice, decision we make (for which I am thankful!). The metaphor of the tapestry and its two sides offers an image to ponder.

  4. Harriet on February 18, 2019 at 07:12

    Finding and regrouping the fragments of my life is what I learned from this today. Where less is more. Thank you for these wise words.

  5. Liza on April 2, 2015 at 15:27

    I stumbled into this sermon. Thank you. Please know that your words, though it has been years, still rings true, true to me. Have Blessed Triduum.

  6. sandra on February 24, 2015 at 12:49

    Thank you so much… this was especially helpful at this time. Bless you!

  7. Ann on February 9, 2015 at 08:30

    This is truly beautiful. Thank you.

  8. Lisa on February 9, 2015 at 00:51

    This spoke to me at a time when I could not seem to hear anything else; a time when I am dark, cold, empty. For it is that empty space, pregnant with possibility, where God is found.

  9. John McCausland on February 8, 2015 at 18:55

    One of the very best! The great gift of these sermons is that they are the fruit of deep and patient prayer.

  10. Margaret Dungan on February 8, 2015 at 15:19

    Dear Br.Curtis,
    It is now two years since I first responded to your sermon .This time it is just before Lent begins and once more it is an amazing gift just as it was before.Thank you so much.


  11. patricia on February 8, 2015 at 08:02

    This is so beautiful and so relevant. Right now, i am in the midst of listening on line to a conference about addicts and recovery. And in fact, everyone there is preaching, teaching and coaching everyone to find their way back to their heart, and being true to themselves, which is really having faith, patiently waiting, believing…patiently waiting and believing in your own power and goodness which God has given you and a faith in life. Such a gift to believe….and when recovering addicts find their way back from the depths of utter despair and throwing their lives away, they come back with such power and aliveness and life and is so beautiful, hopeful and uplifting. I love the way these two “readings” from SSJE and Recovery 2.0 are coming together at this moment…..i am hoping my faith is going to lead me to a real clear understanding of my true purpose….my this quieting from the snow, allow us to empty, slow and listen…

  12. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on February 8, 2015 at 07:38

    This is a gathering of truths so essential, so brilliant, so powerful each alone, that taken together, they explode softly in the heart, like a dandelion in light breeze. I have confidence these truths will seed themselves and grow. Oh, wonderful and more wonderful, the power of word and the Word!

  13. Carole on February 8, 2015 at 06:43

    Thank you, thank you, I sure needed to hear what you had to say today. I am one that has to have the work done BEFORE I give myslef time for space. I hunger for it, need it, I trully know but have to take care of everyone, everything before I put me in there. I am going to save this to read again and again. Thanks again, Carole

  14. Margaret Dungan on March 31, 2013 at 00:07

    Thank you Br. Curtis
    This has been a very special Holy Week for me.,It is now just midnight on Holy Saturday and I have just read your sermon and it has been as if I was in a room where the windows had not been open for a long time that is until I read your sermon and now the air is fresh and I am so ready for Easter everything has fallen into place.
    Thank you,


  15. Jean Ann Schulte on March 30, 2013 at 20:45

    I’ve missed all of the Holy Week services due to illness. Yet my forced seclusion has become a wonderful retreat to stop, think, pray and listen. Reading this reflection while everyone else is gathering at Vigil services feels like a blessing. Thank you.

  16. Selina from Maine on March 30, 2013 at 10:54

    My brothers, how can I thank you and God within you enough? You bless my emptiness and help me to regain what I had lost. You help me to let loose that which was strangling me which was obscuring God within me.I lost my biological brother when he was 6 and I was 3 and have always longed for him.Now I have found more than I could imagine !

  17. Richard Lundberg on March 30, 2013 at 10:44

    Thank you

  18. Jim McGill on March 30, 2013 at 09:19

    Thank you, Curtis. Although today is Holy Saturday, I can still use this to observe, today, a holy Lent. Thank you.

  19. Maggie Cox on February 5, 2012 at 18:09

    This sermon says so much that I needed to hear today. Leave space — fast from filling up in all kinds of ways — what a powerful message for Lent. Believe less also speaks to me, but most powerful for me today is the “gathering up the fragments” part of this sermon. I hear the probabilty that those fragments I’ve lost or thrown away belong too–the parts that don’t speak to each other need healing, loving and gathering. And if I don’t gather those fragments for me, I won’t see the whole in others. I always seem to need reminding that to love my neighbors, I need to love the whole of me–more and more–and that’s a way to allow more of God’s love in.

    I will use the fragments thinking in a talk I’m giving during Lent.

    Thank you.

    Maggie Cox

  20. Joan Cleary on February 5, 2012 at 13:19

    Thank you, Brother Curtis, from the depths of my heart. Your words are what I needed to hear today.

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