Our daily walk through this world can be tedious. We have to-do lists, calendar items, agendas: everything we must get accomplished in a day. Our walk can be lonely: friends drift apart, children grow up, people die. We have more things now to entertain us than at any other time in history, and yet boredom sets in.
We are not made to do things. We are made for Christ, and Him alone. Our purpose here is to become saints. Our hearts do not long for another meeting or another chore. Our hearts do not long for television shows or video games. Our hearts long for God.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke knew this. His parents wished that he join the military but his heart was for something else. He loved language and poetry. In 1899, at the age of about 24, Rilke traveled to Russia and there met the great writer Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, whose work explores the deepest desires of the human heart. Tolstoy’s influence on Rilke’s work is clear to see.
Raised as a Catholic, Rilke rejected the faith. However, his poems are full of Christian references and imagery, leading one to think that Rilke, too, longed for more than what this world has to offer. His entire life he struggled with light and dark, God and man, faith and despair.
Despite his struggles with faith and his avowed atheism, one cannot reject his poetry merely because he could not find faith and hope himself. Who among us does not doubt? Who among us has not cried out to God in anger? Who among us has not turned his face to Heaven and said, “I want you, Lord. I need you. What I have is not enough; I long for more”? Even those who do not believe have searched the heavens, knowing that there is more, yet not being able to grasp it.
What does your heart long for?
Here is Rainer Mariaa Rilke’s “Go To the Limits of Your Longing.”
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.