In Imagine a Boy, we considered the love between a father and son, illustrating how it stems at least from a feeling of unity; of oneness; something deeper than mere kinship. What the boy and his father desire is not mere proximity. Not merely comfortable companionship. Not just mutually entertaining company. Rather, they experience yearning: a desire never fully satisfied, for oneness. It was the reason, in our little story, for the pathos felt by each for the other; an undertone of melancholy that the oneness is not complete because they are two separate creatures, and growing more separate as the child grows. There is a piquant awareness of separation in the midst of desire for unity, between the father and his son.
The process of the boy’s maturing is a necessary process of devolving that oneness into a love less dependent upon it. Ask anyone with grown children whether they miss the days when their children were young. The emotion is wistfulness; a longing to relive a time one can never relive; a sense of resignation that this is how it must be, for us time-bound mortals. A right way for the parent to think of it is gratitude for the earlier relationship. The wrong way is nurturing melancholy ripening into depression.
Now a different kind of love: that between man and woman. Perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to feel it at some time in your life. An almost obsessive desire for the Other. A yearning never fully satisfied, because the oneness is not complete. It never will be, of course, but in a good marriage, there is a lifetime of growing toward it. It is the opposite of the parent/child relationship, in this sense: that time moves the couple in the direction of greater unity; the parent and child in the direction of greater disunity.
So yearning is a desire for unity though twain. That unity is a kind of communion, or oneness, that is more complete than mere togetherness. Communion.
Do you like to walk in the mountains? There are pretty sights, and it’s good exercise, but isn’t there more? Isn’t there some sense in which you want to be at one with those surroundings? To mentally embrace it, as though to be a part of it? That’s yearning. Perhaps you substitute in your mind the beach, or the art gallery, or a piano sonata, or an elegant algorithm. What we are experiencing with this kind of arresting awareness of beauty is a desire for communion.
It is the reason beauty arouses in us a primordial perturbation of mind, akin to anxiety, that we are not yet as one with that which we find beautiful, even beauty that is in the form of a landscape, or an elegant mathematical theorem, or the superb craftsmanship in the lines of a boat’s hull. Things that grab our imagination and draw us to them. We are drawn because we yearn. We yearn because of a desire for communion. Because we have passion that is unfulfilled.
Alvin Plantinga writes of this unfulfilled passion this way:
When confronted with beauty, it is never enough; we are never really satisfied; there is more beyond, a more that we yearn for, but can only dimly conceive. We are limited to mere fleeting glimpses of the real satisfaction – unfulfilled until filled with the love of God. These longings too are types of longing for God; and the brief but joyous partial fulfillments are a type and foretaste of the fulfillment enjoyed by those who “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
These kinds of longing, desire, eros, point to something deeper. They are a sign or type of a deeper reality, a kind of love for God of which we now have no more than hints and intimations. But they are also a sign, or symbol, or type of God’s love – not just of the love God’s children will someday have for Him but of the love he also has for them.
We yearn because of a sense of incompleteness; hence our desire for communion, of being made whole; seeking it in this feeling of being joined to others, in the case of love, and of being joined to a higher transcendent reality – God – in the cases of both love and appreciation of beauty.
What do we understand to be entirely complete unto itself? Entirely without want? Without need and yet with passionate desire for us? That which is pure actuality? Human love and beauty are signs of something deeper, something so deep that it is itself uncreated. What is the one and only entity which is itself uncreated? God is.
This longing we experience, with regard to beauty or of the relationship to one’s child, or romantic love, are all pursued by us because our passion is unfulfilled, and our passion finds its fulfillment only in God. God authors this gap, this yearning, this synapse across which our emotions seek connection, in relationships and in the beauty of the world.
God authors it to drive us to Him.