Sunday, June 16, 2013


[ˈzeːnzʊxt]   Today I graduated from a Spiritual Direction formation program - Prairie Fire.  Prairie Fire is a joint project of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and Mt. St. Scholastica's Sophia Center.  I was asked to share a reflection of my past three years, time in this program.  Here is an excerpt from what I shared:

You know, you all know, that I will talk about yearning today.  That is all I have talked about throughout this program.  In fact, yearning is all I've talked about since I was a child, I just didn't always know that wondering why was called yearning.  For my reflection today, I wanted to do more than say, "I want to know the answers to all of life's mysteries."  I wanted to be able to say, "I know all that I need to know, I yearn no more!"  But, alas, it is not so.   My experience of yearning is like being on a spiral path - moving closer to than farther away from my yearning - I feel a déjà vu, but not really déjà vu.  Everything seems at once familiar and yet so strange.   And so the dance with trying to understand the yearning goes, only now, after three years in this program, I feel that the yearning has been transformed into something that is not a struggle, rather that is a way to live life.

This yearning has been transformed, perhaps has transcended, into something known as Sehnsucht.  Sehnsucht is a German word that is often, mistakenly, interpreted as deep longing or yearning.  But that is not all it is.  It is a deep longing or yearning  for something that is intensely missing.  Sehnsucht is a word for thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect - combined with a yearning for ideal experiences, for a personal utopia.  Sehnsucht is also sometimes referred to as life's longing, life's search for happiness, life's search for the ideal.  All this searching happens while one copes with the reality of their unattainable desires.  These feelings, these longings, these realizations of realities - can be profound.  The feelings will be positive or negative or both positive and negative at the same time.  Sehnsucht is longing for something unknown, but - something that we believe we will recognize as "home" when we find it.  Yes, my more immature and simple yearnings have been transformed to Sehnsucht.

Researchers have worked to define Sehnsucht as part of spiritual and psychological development.  In doing so, they have identified six core elements of Sehnsucht.  The elements are:  1.)  We all have a concept of a utopian way of being - we cannot define our utopia fully, but we believe we will know it when we find it, see it, or feel it;  2.)  Knowing that we are not living our utopian life, we feel a sense of incompleteness and imperfection;  3.)  Our focus on, and understanding of, time conjoins past, present, and future;  4.)  We have ambivalent or bittersweet emotions about life in general;  5.)  We are able to reflect on and evaluate our life with honesty and objectivity; and 6.)  We find symbolic richness in the life we have.

Yes, Prairie Fire moved me to begin living in this more mature yearning, this Sehnsucht, as a way of being.  This way of being opens paths for what may seem to some to be a dichotomous existence.  But for me, that is not a bad thing.  Ambivalent is an okay thing to be from time to time.  You do not have to seek to be filled with joy and understanding at all times.  Sometimes it is good to question, to feel the reality of life's sorrows.  An example of this dichotomy and ambivalence is found in the section "On Sorrow and Joy" from The Prophet  by Kahlil Gibran -

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. . . . .

. . . . Some of you say "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with  you at your board,
Remember that the other is asleep in your bed.

You are suspended like the scale that weighs your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When a treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,
Verily, then must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Prairie Fire has challenged me to use the teachings of mentors from this program and from wider circles to inform my discernment and decisions in my life.  Prairie Fire has affirmed, and showed me how to affirm, the richness of the symbols - divine and ordinary - that are omnipresent around me.

So, my Prairie Sisters, my Women of Fire that you are - I thank you for the shared journey.  In parting, I return to Gibran's "The Prophet,"   sharing a part of the passage where the prophet is bidding farewell to the See-er Almitra and the people of Orphalese -

It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer even dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

So may it be.