Have you ever felt that crushing feeling? The one that traps you, and no matter what you do it crushes, smothers, and oppresses all your thoughts, actions, and motions. It’s like a voracious hyena that nibbles at your heels every time you stop to rest. It is a kind of discontent, like a film over top of contentment that prevents us from touching it, no matter which direction we approach from. It takes our successes and gives them that “just not right” smell that milk gets when its about to go.
I wonder if this state isn’t something similar to what was frequently called, in an age gone by, the blues. I would call it the Great Burden, a kind of cosmic weight bearing down upon us.
I can recall a time when I first began praying. It was during my long hours spent on the side of a highway that I’d started to ask God, or the Universe, or whatever was out there, for the things I wanted most. It appeared like my prayers were being answered. Again and again I told myself, it’s just coincidence, you’re praying for the things you need after all. This did not explain, however, both the speed and shocking accuracy with which these prayers were answered.
Imagine thinking to yourself, “Man, I’d really love a ham sandwich with tomatoes…”
No sooner had you uttered these words then someone would walk up to you and say, “Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I just ordered this ham sandwich but they put tomatoes on it and I don’t like them, do you want it?” It was in the face of situations just like this one, where reason had to suggest – this is greater than coincidence, something else is has to be going on here. Truly, there are no coincidences with God.
Though what I pined after was hardly below the surface levels of desire, it was all granted to me.
With that said I should note that I do not seek to create the impression that prayers are always answered in such a fashion. It was, according to that time in my life, how God so decided to show me his presence.
My journey of indulgence came to a peak.
I’ll never forget this moment so long as I live: I was sitting on a couch, in a bar which belonged to my girlfriend’s brother, and I was weeping. In the middle of the dancing, the drinking, the chaos, and the celebrations, there I was having a good cry. My girlfriend approached me and inquired into why I was so downtrodden. I responded, “Everything is great!” They were not tears of sadness, but of happiness. “I have gotten everything I ever could have asked for!” I told her, between sobs. It was true. So overwhelmed was I from my prayers being answered on such a regular basis, I wept because I realised that I was so happy, that I had nothing left to want for.
Within a week from that day, everything collapsed. My travels ended, she dumped me, I hit the bottom soon after. Numb from the turmoil I felt nothing, but continued to pray and meditate in silence for long periods of time every day. Had God abandoned me? Had He, who is said to be Love, played a cruel trick on me?
Quite the opposite: He was calling me deeper, beyond my shallow desires into a communion of persons. God would not remain a merchant in my life, but a living and acting person with whom I began a friendship, a dialogue that continues to this day.
In my moments of meditation one message reached me over and over again: Go to the local soup kitchen, live there.
This particular soup kitchen, located downtown, serves the homeless. I had doubts. It never occurred to me that anyone might actually live there. Within my experiences of the past, I had learned not to dismiss the message outright, but to seek out its authenticity.
Those who ran the soup kitchen accepted me into their life.
Though they have no official policy for accepting guests, it was decided that my presence was, one way or another, in line with God’s will. During my stay I put forth my best effort to serve the poor with my whole heart. For someone who had just lived for two years off the kindness of others, while travelling the highways of Canada, it wasn’t hard to sympathize with these struggling men and women.
In addition to my firsthand and full time experience with serving my brothers and sisters, I also had lots of quiet time for reflection. During this time I searched for the answers to some important questions: If I had obtained everything I knew to desire, why had I plummeted so quickly into chaos and turmoil so soon after? Was there any amount of worldly things that could fill this void within me? Why was I always still hungry, always still yearning for more?
Pope Francis sums up the emptiness I experienced in his apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel. He informs us that “desolation and anguish” are “born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” And, as though to highlight my own transition, he teaches further that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.”
Who hasn’t seen this process in their own lives? No amount of goods, money, or possessions has ever resulted in a peaceful and content heart. The lack of food and daily necessities can lead to great suffering, but to have these things alone is never sufficient for an equation equalling peace.
In order to effectively treat an illness a wise doctor must asses the cause of the symptoms, and not just the symptoms alone; likewise, in this context I learned to seek out the cause of my discomfort. I sought to understand why I was not satiated by mere heaps of “stuff”, instead of blindly piling more things into the emptiness, always ending up hungry again.
Social Darwinists will be quick to say that due to our evolutionary ancestry it makes sense to have endless desires for things, comforts, and security, that these things ensure a greater chance of survival. Though there is often merit in these types of arguments, I am not so quick to delude the human family into a pack of evolved animals. I do not deny our evolutionary ancestors; however, I affirm that we are much more than evolved apes and the evidence lies within our hearts. It was in silence, in meditation, in searching inwards that I noticed something so spectacular, so fulfilling, so incredible, that a mere few seconds of this experience left me hungry beyond belief for more.
It may be argued that I had just replaced one hunger for another, but this was different. This experience satiated all other hungers, it produced peace, contentment, and fortitude. In the realm of consumerism and selfish indulgence we are given fading and inevitably empty promises. In direct contrast and spoken powerfully in the words of Saint Augustine:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”