“Our hearts are restless… until they find their rest in God.”
That’s St. Augustine.
“Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”
In his book A Secular Age Charles Taylor says that in our age, our hungry hearts, our restlessness often presents as skepticism. Not just critical thinking, but skeptical contestation. We live in an age where everything offered as truth you can believe in is contested. From fake news, to pseudo science, to ancient doctrines of faith, every kind of belief is contested. In a Secular Age, we’re more than hungry hearts. We’re picky eaters.
When the crowd finally catches up with Jesus they had just feasted on bread of the finest wheat, manna from heaven. Either he’s playing hard to get or they’re just not getting it. They had been satisfied yesterday, but today their hunger had returned.
They track him down and pepper him with questions:
When did you even get here Jesus?
In classic Jesus fashion his answers transcend their questions.
“Do not work for more bread like yesterday, bread that perishes. Work for the bread that endures to eternal life.”
“Well, what do we gotta do to get that kind of bread? What’s your angle? How does this whole thing work?”
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one whom God has sent.”
“Well what makes you so special? Moses gave us manna in the desert, bread from heaven, what can you give us? What else can you do?”
“You are…? You are what?”
“I AM the Bread. I am the Bread that has come down from heaven. I am the Bread of Life.”
English author Paul Kingsnorth remembers being 15 or 16 when he and his friends would sneak into old churches, occasionally scribbling obscenities in the visitors’ guestbook, but he confesses that part of the thrill even then was just standing in a church, “in awkward reverence… wondering what to look for.”
“Obviously there was no God,” he writes, “but still: an old church had a quality that couldn’t be found elsewhere.”
He didn’t grow up in church. The closest thing to religious practice he had seen growing up was the daily prayers of Muslim neighbors. What he knew of Christianity was from the occasional wedding, funeral, or when the local vicar was invited to preach at a school assembly. None of it was really being passed on to him and he would have resisted anyone who really tried.
He was a product of his age. For him and his contemporaries religion was irrelevant at best. Malignant at worst.
Even so, he writes, “I kept visiting empty churches. I just didn’t tell anyone.” He writes of an abyss inside of him which he was working to fill.
Searching for Something, Kingsnorth turned to nature. That’s where he felt most alive, communing with the deep power of rock and dirt, leaf, wind, and sun. “This…” he writes, “This was my religion… my pagan grace.”
This communion was so profound it led to a deep passion for environmental advocacy, and rightly so. He worked for NGOs, wrote for magazines, chained himself to things, marched, occupied, and more until, well, he found himself in despair. His desire, his life’s work, of changing the world was only being met by a world with no intention of changing.
It didn’t take long for him to connect global crisis with spiritual crisis which he tried to cure with every spirituality he could get his hands on, the more serious the better, which led eventually to years of discipline in Zen Buddhism. For years he practiced Zen, but even after years of practice, he found “Zen was not enough.”
What he finally discovered he wanted was worship. Something to worship. Something worthy of not just attention, but devotion, praise.
“Obviously,” he writes, “it wasn’t Christ.” Christ was an admirable fellow and all, but there’s no way he died and then was raised, and “without that, the faith built around him was nonsense.”
What he believed in was nature, so he found himself a religion which invited him to worship nature-Wicca. For a time, with his brethren he would gather to commune in nature and practice sacred rites of worship in ways that were profoundly moving, passionate. And yet, he writes, “[I knew] the abyss was still there inside me.”
Do you know the abyss he’s talking about? The restless, open hunger, the hungry heart that longs for more, expects more, but remains palms up, waiting for something to satisfy?
Kingsnorth writes “Then, one night, I dreamed of Jesus.”
A few days later his wife turned to him and announced like a prophetess, “You’re going to become a Christian.” Then, for months, he just kept on running into Christians. Not empty churches but real Christians in the world, in the flesh. Strangers. Old friends. “Christ to the left of me, Christ to the right,” he says. “I turned away again and again, but every time I looked back, he was still there.”
He writes of a moment, then, innocuous really, ordinary, his son’s band concert…
He writes, “I was overcome with a huge and inexplicable love, a great wave of empathy, for everyone and everything. It kept coming and coming until I had to stagger out of the room and sit down in the corridor outside. Everything was unchanged, and everything was new, and I knew what had happened and who had done it, and I knew that it was too late. I had just become a Christian.”
A little while later Kingsnorth came to be baptized, owing his Christian faith to simply having discovered that it’s true. “And now,” he says, “the abyss is gone. Someone else inhabits me.”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me because you’ve had your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. This is the work of God, that you believe.
“It wasn’t Moses that gave the bread from heaven. It is my Father who gives the bread, the true bread, from heaven, which gives life to the world.
“Sir,” said the crowd in reply, “give us this bread always.”
And the Lord said, “I AM the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me shall hunger and thirst no more.”
Everybody’s got a hungry heart. Our hearts are restless… until they find their rest in God.