Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
In my first year of high school, I auditioned for a regional honors choir singing Palestrina’s “Sicut cervus,” one of many musical settings of today’s psalm. I had only begun singing in choirs that year but was quickly discovering that it was my “thing”—I was good at it and, more importantly, I loved it. I longed to be selected for this particular choir, and so I spent the better part of my evenings for several months singing along to a computer-generated practice track until I knew the alto part like the back of my hand. Come audition day, I was so nervous that I was literally sick to my stomach. As my audition time approached, I teetered toward panic as my body weaved me in and out of nausea, threatening to undo the months of practice I had put in.
Such is longing. I certainly didn’t realize at the time how I was being thrust into the very experience the psalm itself describes, gripped by a longing that manifested in a very real way in my body and propelled me to impressive, if somewhat frenzied, dedication. Now, as I think back on this chapter of my life, I see how that experience of longing can serve as a window into that deeper longing named in the psalm, the longing of my soul for God.
The mystics across faith traditions are familiar with this longing beneath our longing and have long insisted that our desires might be guideposts pointing us toward God. During his own chapter of forced social isolation and uncertainty, cooped up in a remote castle recovering from a battle wound, St. Ignatius of Loyola began to formulate his own thoughts on our longings and desires. He concluded that our desires, when approached with the tools of discernment, are trustworthy indicators of God’s desires for us. James Martin, SJ captures this when he says that that “[the] deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires.”
I did end up making the choir, but all that’s not to say that God’s desire for me was so straightforward as being selected for that particular choir. Neither are all of our longings always so dramatic as my desire to be chosen for the choir. Longing shows up in the patterns of our day-to-day, smaller desires, as well. As I reflect back on this experience of desire and my many experiences before it and since, I might ask, “What does this reveal about the deep longings of my heart?” Perhaps it says something about my deep desire for self-expression, a love for beauty, a longing for community...
What if, as the deer longs for flowing streams, so the flowing streams long for the deer? Perhaps God longs for us just as much as we long for God, and our desires are God’s way of coaxing us back to her. Today, notice the shape of longing in your life. What do your desires reveal about the deep longings of your heart? Where are you parched, and how is God coaxing you toward her flowing streams?
Anna Robertson, Campus Minister for Retreats