Longing as Spiritual Practice

On my desk sits a spiral bound volume of all the lectionary readings for Years A, B, and C.  Over Year C, I have worked my way to the very end, and now it is time to turn back to the front of the book, hoping to read these familiar texts with fresh eyes.  For three years I have been working my way through these texts that orient us to the work of God keeping faith with God’s redemptive project.


Swanson, John August. Peaceable Kingdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


Longing for what we cannot yet see is the theme of this liturgical season.  We know the disconsolation of a world hell-bent in its destructive ways. Longing puts us in touch with the restlessness we experience as we know our present reality is not yet what God purposes. Longing helps us understand inconsummation and its hope that transcends our earthly lives that remain “unfinished symphonies.”

As we enter Advent once again, we are struck with the visions of the future offered by Scripture.  Isaiah 2 calls God’s people to “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (v. 4b).  It proclaims a peaceful vista where former enemies “walk in the light of the Lord!”


Strutt, William. Jerusalem Pilgrims, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


In similar fashion, the Psalm invites faithful worship as an expression of peace.  Psalm 122 is redolent with images of Jerusalem as the gathering place for pilgrims who seek to honor God’s intent for unity and security.  This age-old longing for “the house of the Lord” expresses an essential need of humanity: to worship what is enduring and true.


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669. Apostle Paul, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


The Epistle reminds us to wake up, “for salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Romans 13:11). The apostle exhorts disciples to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” as the “armor of light.” This suggestive imagery illumines the protection we have been granted for the hard work of living during times of unrest.  As fear and mistrust stalk us all, this image of being clothed with Christ can sustain.

The Gospel reading offers a warning to be prepared for the consummation of the age described as “the coming of the Human One” (Matthew 24:40b).  Once again, there is the exhortation not to sleep-walk through life, ignoring the weight of God’s involvement in it.  Accountability to God will come to fruition, and how one has dealt with deepest longing will determine one’s spiritual health and destiny.



The hymns of the season intone this longing. Whether the venerable plainsong of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or the adaptation of a fifth century liturgy in “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” these speak of human desire for God to come into the beautiful and terrible mess with us, indeed, as one of us. This is our true longing, which we practice more intently in this season.

Molly T. Marshall

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