The other day I came across this marvellous passage from the Centuries of Thomas Trahearne,
It is very strange; want itself is a treasure in heaven, and so great an one that without it there could be no treasure. God did infinitely for us when he made us want to be like Gods, that like Gods we might be satisfied. The heathen deities wanted nothing and were therefore unhappy; for they had no being.
It takes a bout of effort to hold onto the sense of 17th Century prose. You have to read it a few times to find the rhythm of the sentences. But since we are accustomed to reading too fast anyway, it’s a good discipline to read slowly, gradually drawing out the sense of a passage. A bit like Lectio Divina, the slow, meditative reading of scripture.
So, what is Trahearne saying? Surely wanting stuff is rather a bad thing, it’s greedy consumerism. Well, that is one way of looking at things, we can indeed want too much or want the wrong things. But there’s more than one way of looking at the truth. Trahearne talks about the classical pagan gods, Zeus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo and the like. They had everything they wanted, needed, and so were bored stiff and came down from Olympus to engage in petty rivalries at human expense. By contrast, our fulfilment comes from constantly seeking God, constantly growing in God, coming closer to him. But we never arrive and stop; we never finish seeking him.
Advent is now upon us, the time of expecting, of seeking. We tend to let it be overlaid with Christmassy sentimentality, but if you listen to the Isaiah it is anything but that:
“All your integrity like filthy clothing.We have all withered like leaves and our sins blew us away like the wind.”
The readings of Advent are like cold water poured over us to wake us up. We are not like the old gods, filled up, but not fulfilled. Well, we ought not to be. We have the chance to be honest to ourselves, to know our neediness and, and this is the important point, to see it as a gift, because we know, however obscurely, where to look for help. And when we look, we see that the help we need is already looking for us, now.
Happy New Year.