Recently, during one of his brief reflections during midday mass, the University Chaplain brought up a concept which he referred to as ‘holy restlessness’. He offered us some beautiful insights on the human soul and quoted Saint Augustine, who is famous for declaring that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God. But Fr Mark went beyond merely the religious sphere, and explained that as humans living in contemporary society, we are restless in most areas in our life, a restlessness which maintains ardour and requires a high level of energy which could perhaps be better-spent on more productive pursuits. As part of our human condition, we seem to be unable to simply ‘wait’ patiently to see what God has planned for us, and we want to fill every moment of our time with things and people, leaving little space in our lives for reflection. His words stuck fast in my head, as I paid close attention, and later that afternoon, I delved further into the subject, to discover that, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his wisdom, once stated that, “Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied”.
As part of our human condition, we seem to be unable to simply ‘wait’ patiently to see what God has planned for us
We are a generation of people who desire instant gratification: we have material possessions galore; we move swiftly from one pleasurable experience to another; we seek jobs and careers that foster growth; we forge friendships – some for a season and some for life. Yet we are always searching for a new purpose and direction; we are also quick to seek an immediate response to everything that happens to us. “What should I do with my life?, “Now that I’m retiring, what’s next?, “I feel I need a change, but how shall I go about it?”. It seems as if our happiness – or lack of it – depends upon our possessions and acquisitions, upon how successful and fulfilled we are. Whether we are young or old, we are all the time trying to figure out our calling or sensing a need to change after years of following a particular path.
It is a fact that often, it is not the answers that satisfy the person, but rather, it is the questions he asks. A person who lives deeply and enduringly, often finds that he will be surrounded by more doubts and not convictions. The eloquent monk, Thomas Merton, reasoned that every time a traveller ascends a peak, he sees only a larger peak to confront. And in the meantime, that still, small voice of longing carries on calling – that restlessness – that we still haven’t quite got the whole picture.
It is not the answers that satisfy the person, but rather, it is the questions he asks
In our hunger for happiness and fulfilment, we tend to invest a lot of energy in our intimate relationship with our spouses/partners. We try to get to know them inside out: their habits and gestures, their likes and dislikes, whatever it is that makes them tick. Yet, the more time we spend with them, the more we grow in intimacy, the more we will probably acknowledge just how much will lie beyond our reckoning. There will always be a space of ‘unknowing’. In our deep longing to be completely united with our beloved, we place all our hopes and aspirations in him/her. However, as I believe it was Pope Francis who stated that, to do so, is to do violence on the beloved. How can we expect the one we love to fulfil all our expectations and fill all those empty corners of our heart? How can another human being render us complete? How can we depend upon our loved one to make us happy?
I have come to the conclusion that this is what holy restlessness is truly about. This month, Valentine’s Day, the feast of the beloved, falls on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. During Lent, we are reminded that our lives are a journey – a journey upon which we sometimes get side-tracked, or even completely waylaid. But it is a journey upon which we are invited to become more and more aware of God in us and of the intimacy of our connection with Him. Only by responding to His voice – and not just to that of our beloved – are we able to respond more appropriately to our holy restlessness.
This article was first published by Times of Malta.