Go to the limits of your longing

Go to the limits of your longing…                                          ©Suzanne Grimmett

Who or what is God and how, then, are we to live?

The first letter of John seems to offer a startlingly simple answer to these biggest of questions; 

“God is love,” we read. “Abide in that love.”

Simple? Perhaps. Easy. Obviously not. It would be hard to find a word more overused and open to myriads of interpretations than that little word ‘love’. I love my children, I love my friends, I love my work, I love playing my cello, I love long walks in the mountains, I love period dramas and fantasy novels, I love mushrooms.

 If God is love, then is God in all of that? Maybe. Our desires, after all, can be like way markers to God, pointing towards goodness, light and joy and the great adventure of our lives.  Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his poem, “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.

Embody me.

The desires of our hearts can be the language God uses to reach us, to call us out of the night and into the great adventure of embodying the holy.

This language can speak through our everyday encounters with beauty or compassion, a shared grief, a piece of music, or acts of courage and truth-telling. We sense a resonance with that which is deepest in ourselves- an awakening longing or recognition of the real- and we respond. Yet it would be too seductively easy to make the kind of claims of certainty about these experiences like, “God told me…” or “I know this is the plan for my life.” We cannot separate ourselves from these interpretations which come loaded with our cultural assumptions, our socialised ways of thinking and influenced by our mood or what we had for breakfast that morning. 

With such a healthy suspicion of those sparks of desire within us, it seems only wise to have boundaries and taboos to contain the all too latent tendency of our desires to be shaped into harmful action by our fears, our greed, or our need to dominate. Ethics and moral commandments are traditionally the means of preventing the damage done by human desires that have become twisted and self-serving. However, all too often instead of protecting love, such rules have become frozen absolutes, stultifying life and actually part of human patterns of sin and violence.[1] As we seek to follow Jesus who laid down his life for us, it is too easy for moral codes to assume a divine blessing on sacrifice and subjugation- servants to their masters, women to their men. Relationships which should be witnessing to love and human dignity are marked instead by coercion and control as they are pulled into the deep collective mythology of sacrificial systems. With May the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, it behoves us as the church not only to advocate for laws which protect the vulnerable and call for an end to the horrific levels of domestic violence in our country, but also to clean up our own religious backyard. Rigid ideological teachings such as male headship have sanctified violence, lent support to perpetrators and discouraged many victims from speaking out.

This points to the absolute imperative of understanding the nature of love. So important is this quest that it was made a commandment; Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself. Now it may sound controlling to put this in terms of a commandment, but it actually highlights the critical importance of bringing an ethic of non-coercion into all of our relationships. It is not love versus the law, but love is the law that is to guide every single interaction of our days for the good of humanity and creation. ‘In other words,’ writes Catherine Keller, ‘we are “commanded”—shall we say urgently invited—to coordinate our personal desires with the well-being of our larger world. The love-commandment reminds us to attend with discipline, not just with whim, to the new possibility for a shared flourishing.’[2]

But just deciding to head out into the world loving everybody is not possible for us, and we are lying to ourselves if we think we can. Rather, instead of an effort of our own will, we are called to say ‘yes’ to the non-coercive, uncontrolling love of God in every moment of our days, and in each and every relationship, because all love comes from God… because God is love. If we doubt ourselves and our own capacity to align ourselves with perfect love, we need to heed and find hope in today’s readings. In beautifully undemanding and mutual language, Jesus invites us to abide in him, just as he abides in us. This is language of rest and surrender, not striving. What we could not do by ourselves- loving everyone, including our enemies- becomes possible because of this mutual indwelling in and with God through Christ by the Spirit.

We cannot love others, the second commandment, unless we also surrender to the first way- to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind- because all love is from God. We grow to know God in this world as we tune in to the desires of our heart. God invites us from within ourselves to be so intimately connected with the life of the Spirit that God’s desires become our desires, and the passion of God flows through us. Through this divine grafting our life is grounded in God and connected to one another, demolishing human rivalries and setting us free to love one another. In this sacred union where we share the same life we cannot separate off members any more than we would cut off our own foot. We cannot say we love God and yet hate ourselves, because Christ is to be found intimately dwelling in our truest nature and deepest self. We cannot demean, despise or drive out another because the same Christ in us is constantly loving and redeeming the other. All the ways our fear has motivated us to use and hold power is transformed by the transcendent presence of God’s love, a love that invites each of us to grow and flourish. The Spirit of Christ possesses us, drawing us into relationship where rivalries cease to exist and our relationships are marked by mutuality and the joy of communion.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, understands that our desires guide us to the life of God sparking within us, calling us to be more than we would have imagined we could be, even though this growth is an imperfect and frequently painful process.

Through it all we have the promise that the one who takes our hand and leads us into light will never leave us or forsake us, for this is a love in which we abide together, forever. 

Go to the Limits of Your Longing                                By Rainer Maria Rilke

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.

     Embody me.

Flare up like a 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.

So listen to your longings. Let them lead you on until you find the utter seriousness of a love that brooks no separation.


[1] Keller, Catherine; Keller, Catherine. On the Mystery (p. 105). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

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