The three-part story of my journey from atheism to faith continues.
To read Part One, click here.
I began to think of the longing for God as a hunger for a flavor that didn’t exist. Which seemed odd. But there was one example of such a phenomenon—and only one—in my experience:
As long as I could remember, I’d had an inexplicable desire for…it was impossible to describe it, really…a sort of sweet…something…that seemed like it might be a fruit, if it existed…which, of course, it didn’t. I’d longed for this flavor and the smell I associated with it for as long as I could remember. And for as long as I had desired it, I’d been certain it was imaginary. Though how I could desire an imaginary fruit, I could not imagine.
Then one day I walked into a little organic produce store in Costa Mesa, California and smelled my “imaginary fruit!” I walked over to a burlap-lined barrel, and pulled out a missing year of my childhood. Long-forgotten memories came flooding back of hours spent daydreaming in the branches of a peculiar little tree in my babysitter Frieda’s backyard—it’s astonishing how effectively memories and emotions can be unlocked by smells. It turns out to have been a feijoa (pineapple guava) tree. And what I now held in my hand was one of its distinctive green plum-like fruits. When I bit into it, “the flavor that didn’t exist” proved to be quite real, and its taste and scent brought back memories of a time that was equally real.
“As I stood there beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me…” (Surprised by Joy)
If my only example of a longing for an imaginary flavor had proven to be false—or rather the falseness false and the longing real—then what did that say about my longing for God? I began to doubt my doubts. And here’s what I learned from the doubting:
No one can hunger for a flavor that doesn’t exist. Because hunger or desire is not a thing in itself, but only an impression left by the thing, and in that sense is actually less real—just as a footprint is less real than the foot that made it. Desire is a longing to refill the negative with the positive. All of which is simply a reiteration of what St. Augustine said sixteen hundred years ago—“Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions)—and what Blaise Pascal meant when he said, “There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace.” (Pensees)
And so I walked into the dark one last time, and said, “OK. You don’t have to cough. Just take me with You when You go, because I don’t ever want to be without You again.”
And the Hound of Heaven began dragging me home.
“Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind, I turned to share the transport.” ~William Wordsworth
To read Part Three, click here.