My Thoughts on “The Holy Longing” Part 1: Celibacy, Spirituality, Megachurch, the Soul, etc.

In ‘The Holy Longing,’ Ronald Rolheiser says that, “Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire.” (Rolheiser, 5). In previous sentences he describes this desire he speaks of, the one that burns inside each human and compels them forward. It is spoken of in different terms and in different sciences or faiths but it points to the same raw feeling: that we are rarely ever restful and knowing peace. This idea of a desire that burns inside us and compels us and eats at us and leaves us feeling both partially consumed and in pursuit of consumption is ancient. He follows with the claim that everyone has spirituality and that what defines it is how we feed the fire and what level of contentment we find. If being a “saint” is as he describes, channeling your fire towards one goal, he offers than insightful counterbalance that most of humanity struggles with the desire to both be the saint and have the experience of the sinners. We want it all but there is a cost.

For me, that fire would have been more aptly described as a black hole and I’ve spoken to quite a few people in their twenties and thirties who have said similar things. It started when I was almost in my teens, when I had decided God was about as real as Santa Clause. This godless world my denial left me is brought with it frequent anxiety attacks at the imminent death of me and all the people I loved. Additionally, I now felt like I had to save people because there was no Jesus to do any saving. In order to give myself some goals, I picked up the “American Dream” and began checking off my boxes. Degree, great job, good money, big house, live-in boyfriend with his two kids… but I was drowning is sorrows. I was being swallowed by this black hole I carried it around in the middle of me. Finally, fourteen years after walking away from God, I went and heard about Jesus again. I saw myself in the “Christmas Story” of the Hebrew people who had been waiting for a Messiah. I too had been waiting for my Savior and he had already come and died on the cross for me. That black hole I carried around was shattered by the Gospel and I began to receive the Holy Spirit in its place. Therefore I don’t think of spirituality the same way Rolheiser appears to because, for me and the people I talk to who talk about having a black hole inside them, we weren’t driven by fire. We were driven by survival and necessity. I don’t think everyone has spirituality. I think we either have Faith, which we feed either by religion or spirituality, or we have Voids, and we feed that by throwing worldly things into the gulf hoping it makes us feel a little bit better.

The spiritual assessment scale was helpful for me in that I didn’t realize how strong I was in all three: my personal faith, my religious practice and my spiritual contentment. I know so little, my time with God has been so short, that it is encouraging to me to see that I have gotten to such a point of trusting him. Much of my personal faith and contentment with him no doubt stems from the depths of relationships I’ve built within my community, who helped be in learning to praise God and be in a prayerful state. Volunteering has always been something I’ve enjoyed so that has really helped me to build new relationships as I’ve established my faith as well.

One of the concepts I have an issue with is the section on the soul. He talks about oneness, that we keep the soul away from ourselves too much. Secondly, he says “A healthy soul, therefore, must do two things for us. First, it must put some fire in our veins, keep us energized, vibrant, living with zest… Second a health soul has to keep us fixed together…” (Rolheiser, 14). I understand the soul completely differently. It is part of a trinity in which we exist, of the body, soul and spirit, as referenced in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The body is pulled by our desires and needs; this is where part of the fire burns inside of us. Our spirit is the part of us that is of God and was made in his image before we were given bodies. The soul is in the most simplistic term, this third battleground area where we make choices on which of those two we “feed.” Are we to care and serve the Spirit or the wants and the desires of the body? Perhaps it is just verbiage but understanding the internal spiritual dynamic was very helpful in my understanding the world in which I live.

The second part I would perhaps take issue with would be regarding the following statement made: “We might well want to remember this at those times when we complain that our churches are too large, too impersonal and we do not always find there the warmth and emotional support we legitimately desire and need… If our creeds are correct, and I believe they are, we are destined to spend eternity with billions and billions of other people. Worshiping in large groups is a good way to get some practice at this.” (Rolheiser, 117) Would not the continually declining church populations he mentioned just prior to this have something to do with this? I also think Jesus would not want people seeking God for the first time to walk away from a house of worship thinking cold and impersonal are the defining characteristics of his followers. There are better and more creative ways. You can be both big and welcoming. Love and service should be part of everything we do for one another within the Church.

The last one is regarding sex, specifically celibacy which he states as being too long the spiritual ideal and that it is wrong to do so. He later says, “It is painful to sleep alone but perhaps even more painful to sleep alone when you are not sleeping alone.” (Rolheiser, 196) I believe that this shows an immaturity in sexuality. To say it is wrong to be celibate is incorrect; there were quite a few figures in the Bible and even through to today who felt called by God to be celibate instead of married and spent their lives serving Him. I think there isn’t anything right or wrong about being celibate as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. Having been both in a long-term relationship and now single, I feel no loneliness in my singleness. I am content. When there are so many struggle with their relationship status I think it’s probably an ill-advised thing to call celibacy wrong or speak loneliness over the unwed. They might be perfectly fine being patient and trusting in God and the spirit instead of the call of their bodies.

(A few things I liked in… part 2)