Der Mensch und die Sehnsucht (Man and His Longing)

EA 18/11. [Date unverified]. Steglitz November 1918.

Additional Information
Author Eberhard Arnold
Date November 01, 1918
Document Id 0000000034_23_S
Available Transcriptions English

Man and His Longing

[Arnold, Eberhard and Emmy papers – M.S.]

[Draft Translation by Bruderhof Historical Archive]

EA 18/11

Man and His Longing

The experiences of the war bring home to us how little value an individual life seems to have in the history of mankind. A human being could think himself no more than a mayfly that lives for a day, then swiftly dies to make room for others that must perish just as rapidly. The truth of the old Bible verse rises to our lips:

What is man, that you are mindful of him?

or the son of man, that you visit him?

And yet a longing lives within us that tries to lift us above the transitory nature of our individual lives and the everyday round of our existence. This longing is alive wherever someone begins to ponder on what lies deepest in him.

With all their sorrow, our times are rich because they are times of longing. The words spoken by Rainer Maria Rilke express the very soul of today’s men and women: “But the earth is without end and fear is only an outward reaction. At a deeper level, we are shown what we long for.” And again: “There is an old refrain that was born with mankind, and although it died away for thousands of years, it was never lost in the clamor of every day. Longing, longing power that forces us to go forward.” (Anna Ritter). People today are inspired by a burning longing to attain what they lack. For the most part they do not know where the goal of their longing lies, but they feel that all their worries and fears are given deep meaning only through this longing. Like a rising wave, like the breath of the storm, the driving (compelling) power of longing lifts us up from the low places and depression in our lives.

We all have had this experience, but very few know how to express it in words, because it is a matter of subconscious impulses, unawakened needs and urges of the heart which strive to come to light and seek fulfillment in better spheres. It is the essence of poetry to bring to expression this innermost life which lies beyond the formulation of everyday thoughts, an expression which all men, so alike in nature, must recognize as the one matching their own experience.

When poets describe their experience of the powers that move in their inmost hearts, then they sing about longing. If we allow only a few rays of hope from the poets to work upon us, we will be deeply moved by the indissoluble connection between men and longing. Even the smallest selection of poetic outpourings of human longing will confront us with their deepest content: the longing for God and for unity with God. At bottom they all have recognized, as Anette von Droste-Hůlshoff expresses in such a shattering way, that the essence of all longing is the cry of the soul to God. “If your promise is only on condition of faith, then I am dead. O faith which moves around (surrounds) us as the breath of life—that is what I lack. I have no faith. Unless you will accept love and the tear-drenched tribute of my longing, I do not know how any hope can survive for me. There is nothing more can be done. I am condemned, judgment has fallen on me.”

The poetess has no faith as yet. But her heart is filled almost to breaking point with longing. She has only one desire, and weeps because she yearns to possess something which she lacks and yet knows to be her greatest need. So longing remains her whole existence as with so many people who rend their hearts without fulfillment.

A great number of people in our days have wandered ever further in their longing: on and on, and yet never reached the goal for which their hearts must strive to the last beat. This experience is brought to expression by a poet of our time: “Nowhere was my thirst stilled , nowhere could it be satisfied—our pathway leads you from one mountain to another, past gaping voids that offer nothing but emptiness. One spring of water to another, from one night to another. There lies your path. No sound to still your longing. Not a word. All hope has withered on the steep ascent and you must walk forever on, with weary steps and without stars.”

How many try nonetheless to cling to a hope for their children: to hope that they may discover the garden of longing and may win entry where all remained closed to their parents. Their souls are moved by the sorrowful hope that has found such striking expression in words attributed to Richard Dehmelin Eve:

            Star in the grayness of evening, show your pale, wan light.

            Let me, at last turn quietly home to Eden in my grief.

            O my garden of Eden, lost Eden—O Eden, my Eden

            Do you still stand open?

            Until my last hour I will hope for you.

            O god, though you may kill me, even though my dream may fade,

            Yet for my children it must flower anew.

            Though you, O star, may set, though I myself may perish,

            My children will see Eden once again.

Eve thirsts for Eden, where she was united with God. She longs for the paradise where community with God satisfied her longing. Burdened with sin she can find no path leading back to the garden of joy and happiness. For at the entrance to the garden stands the angel of the holiness of God, with his two-edged sword of flame, to bring judgment to all who have learned to know the meaning of sin. Full of longing, Eve mourns for a paradise that is lost and barred against her. But though she is unable to gather any further hope for herself, her heart still has strength to hope on her children’s behalf. How many people are in the same situation today! They long for the homeland of their souls, while their sins shut them out from the path into the land of their longing. And yet the hope and the longing cannot be killed. How many fathers who do not rightly know how to pray themselves would give everything for their children to learn how to pray, for then the unclear longing of their own souls could at least be fulfilled in their children.

More than anything else, our wishes for our children reveal our innermost ideals—ideals we would gladly strive to attain for ourselves if only we had not lost all courage for our own situation long ago. “Now, my heart, you know what it is that glows in you and trembles in you, as the grey night in longing for the first glimmer of sunlight, and what, in your intense desire to have a moved and loving heart, thirsts for it as for blood, and what hounds you from heart to heart out of the gloomy night towards the brilliance of light. It is the longing for that brightest of all lights that seeks to drive out from each one of us everything dark, sultry and gloomy. Just as a journeyman apprentice moves on from place to place, just as globe trotters hurry from one city to another, just as people in large modern cities rush from one type of transport to the next so something, an undefined longing of the soul, drives us all on and upward, without (never) wearying. We are shaken to our depths by the force of upsurging wishes that flood our hearts with trembling, glowing longing. We have a powerful sense that nothing dead and lifeless can satisfy our souls because it is for the very life of the soul that we are thirsting, as if we thirsted for blood.

This longing has driven many from one heart to the next like a beast of prey that seizes on after another of the flock. How many have striven with all the energy of their hearts to satisfy their longing in the love which leads one person to another wishing to offer their love. And in actual fact God compares the love between man and woman, between bride and bridegroom to the love of God to his people, to the love of Christ to his church. Yet even the most exalted (noblest), happiest and purest love from one human being to another, from heart to heart, can never still our innermost longing. For this longing is deeper and wider than a human heart’s capacity to satisfy it. And how often human love proves too unfaithful to really devote itself to satisfying the inner reaches of even one human heart. These inconstant souls rush in pursuit of one heart after another, of one sin after another. They become no richer because they are unable to understand any soul to its depth. Their lives grow darker and darker, their inner selves increasingly fickle and superficial; they draw further and further from what they long for. If they try to look back over their lives, despair seizes their hearts, for they sense that their slips and falls on the surface of earthly life never had any power to satisfy their longing. Others who have attained a temporary goal for their longing through the happiness of a true and deep love which is able to unite their souls in inward and therefore in outward ways, nonetheless feel that the longing in their souls reaches further beyond, and deeper within, and higher above than is possible for the richest of human lives. The human heart reaches further and higher. The soul longs for life in its deepest and most powerful sense.

Hugo von Hofmannstal has given a deep and haunting picture of this longing that is a thirst for life. “A nameless homesickness for life weeps soundlessly in my soul, weeps as a man weeps when a great seagoing ship with golden sails carries him over the dark blue water and passes by the city—the city of his fathers.” Soundless, weeping, longing fills the heart that so often can find no expression for its yearning. And yet at bottom, there is always the awareness that we are longing for life, that life and nothing but life inspires our hearts. There must be a way of existence that is simply and solely life in all its fullness. Perfect, unrestricted life where we belong: it is our homeland. There is a land where life is without sickness and without sin: the homeland of our souls and its call finds its strongest echo in

“Come home, come home, O soul that is astray. No star will shine on you so far from your homeland, O lost soul. Come home.”

The poet Hugo von Hofmann feels how this longing fills his heart with tears for his father’s house, his father’s city, his homeland, and yet, with so many others, he must feel that in spite of everything (all), he passes it by. His heart is full of longing, yet he cannot grasp what it is he longs for.

Homesickness: Stefan Georg. A striking picture stands before my eyes. Old Homer, a great and powerful poet of heathen ages long past, is gazing into the distance. His longing can be read in his face. Thirsting with longing he surveys life that is fading away from before his eyes. He lifts his hands in longing. But the substance of his longing is far away. He cannot grasp it. Life moves on, and Homer remains behind. This picture portrays us, too, as we remain far from the essence of life. As long as we have not succeeded in coming out from the distance into the immediate nearness of God, life must escape us, and has escaped us. And while this is our case, it is with us as with Maria Rilke

            I see you in my visions,

            With wind and woods

            roaring at the edge of Christendom—

            you, land never to be clearly seen.

As long as we do not cling to Christ and win new life in him, life appears before us like a land vanishing beyond the horizon, a land for which we long without ever relinquishing all hope, despair, and yet which we cannot reach or even set sail (sight clearly) towards it. Jesus said the decisive words about winning life and satisfying human longing, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Without the rebirth that renews life from its very foundations, we, in spite of all our longing, must continually take false paths again and again, and stray even further, unable to find its goal and win true life. A man who knows nothing of rebirth must, with Gustav Falk, repeatedly cry out in his longing, “My poor, erring soul, will you ever reach your home? What roads must you still travel before you find a light and a goal? Long have you journeyed the wasteland, and how often reached the verge of despair, sunk trembling to your knees and drunk from bitter springs. And yet poor erring soul, there is one hope that still sustains you. There must be a way home through all the darkness. This way is rebirth, the renewal of our lives through the spirit which Jesus gives us. Only this renewal of life can bring us redemption/save us from the cruel disappointments in all the bitter waters upwelling from our sin. For our longing has misguided us to drink from these streams, only to flee from them in horror and loathing, and yet to seek again for equally foul and bitter waters. Wandering through the wasteland of sin, which is the land of death, we have been brought to trembling collapse (breakdown). Which paths (way) will you still follow before you see a light? My poor straying soul, will you find your way home? It is the Lord of Life who is trying to show you the only land where you can attain the waters of life. God himself is life. His Word is the fountain of living and unsullied (unpolluted) water which will enable you to have the freshness and newness of life for which you are longing. But you have lost your God and perhaps can pray only to an unknown god, as that unbeliever had to do in the depth of his longing when, as a young man at an important crossroads in his life, he strove to give an account of his innermost direction in life

            Once more, before I travel further,

            before I look what lies before me,

            standing alone, I lift my hands

            to you, the one to whom I flee,

            to whom in solemn consecration, I raised an altar in my heart

            that deep within, unceasingly

            your voice might call and summon me,

            and there inscribed in flaming letters is written

            to the unknown God.”

There is man and his longing. It is God for whom even Friedrich Nietzsche longed with every fiber of his being, although he attempted to oppose him with every weapon. He postponed the fulfillment of his longing until his understanding failed, and he signed the page written in his madness with the name given to the one he had fought all his life: the Crucified.

This uncompromising enthusiast for the advancement of man admitted “That is the dangerous slope I am on: my gaze sweeps to the heights, and my hand would take hold and find support in the depths. It is as if a mountain climber were peering through the mist, vainly seeking a clear view of the heights, and at the same time searching with his staff and his feet in the depths to find the support so needful to him. How swiftly those who would climb high are swallowed by the depths. Woe to him who has no ground beneath his feet. “The crows scream and go swirling towards the city—Soon the snow will fall. Alas for (Woe to) him who has no home where he may go.”

Many a one thinks himself valiant (brave and spirited) enough to be able to fly through the day like an eagle and to feel more at home in the darkness than an owl. But suddenly his vaulting confidence weakens (fails him). He senses the empty depths and the profound void below him.

When anyone tries to raise himself on high by his own power and to forget how all men are nothing—mere phantoms, no more than a maggot in the dust, then the Lord says to him, “Though you fly to the heights like an eagle and build your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down.” Gustav Schüler, one of the deepest thinkers of modern times, expressed it this way: “God, who art more than life, help me to come to Thee, otherwise I must fall.” God alone is our hold and support on every height.

We know that all creation yearns with us and even today must groan unceasingly in its pain. The whole creation as we know it is subject to futility; it suffers from the emptiness and aridity of a life that is not life in its fullest sense because it is filled with sickness (disease) and death, with mutual disturbance and opposition. The longing which pervades the whole of creation can be satisfied only when there is release from servitude to all that is transitory, when is given entry into the glorious freedom of the Son of God, the freedom of the unclouded, unconfined/unrestricted life in community with God. This redemption was brought to our groaning and bleeding world by Jesus Christ. He understands men and their longing. Because he knows their innermost hearts he can loosen their tongues to reveal the very depth of their longing to him. We remember this highly experienced man who came to him at night and found the deepest answer to his longing in being with the Master.

And what a depth of understanding for our longing was shown in Jesus when he was by the well in Samaria and met that woman full of passionate and bitterly disappointed longing. He understood the deepest origin of her longing and he could offer her what she longed for: living water instead of the befouled springs from which she had drunk until now. He knew in what a tragic way she had tried to satisfy her longing: she had had seven husbands, and the man she was now with was not her husband. As he laid bare the thirst for life and the wreckage of life in her story, the floodgates of her longing opened in unhindered trust, so that she could reveal the deepest source of her burning desire: the yearning for God and for the place where he could be met, to worship him and to become one with him. Now he could tell her how he had come to satisfy the ultimate and deepest longing in her heart. He offered her the water of his word and of his Spirit. He showed her the immediate nearness of the living God as soon as we learn to worship him in Spirit and in truth, as soon as we meet him so honestly in the depth of our own souls that his Spirit can reveal him to us as truth and living reality. Our longing cannot be satisfied until we have learned to pray in this inwardness of spirit. Augustine’s words of long ago are still true about the essence of our law of live: “Our heart cannot find rest until it rests in Thee, O God. Only prayer that is made in spirit and in truth can satisfy our longing, because it assures us that we rest in God himself. In the spirit of our inmost hearts we long for the highest, purest, and clearest life. This longing can be stilled only in the source of life, in God himself, who is love.

We all feel that this perfection cannot be found in the evil and imperfection of present conditions. Our hearts are in deepest accord with the words of Jesus in which he points us to the land we should long for:

“My Kingdom is not of this world!”

But often we are tempted to misunderstand these great words in the sense that our longing can be satisfied only when we have died and left this present life. Jesus, however, stood among men and told them expressly: “The Kingdom of Heaven has come among you.” “Where I drive out demons through the spirit of God, the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Through his life and work, through the power of his actions, Jesus shows that the Kingdom is present in today’s circumstances. Where he was, God was there. Everyone who came to him, found God and he had to tell them: “I and the Father are one.” “Anyone who sees me, sees the Father.” “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Everyone who came to Jesus was sure to have their longing satisfied to the very depth, because in Jesus they were met by the living God, who is life. The Psalmist of long ago cried out: “As the deer pants for fresh water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” When our souls are torn with such longing, we will be heard as soon as we turn to Jesus and cry out to him like the blind man did: Jesus, Son of God, have pity on me. We will then come to the most personal of all experiences by pouring out our hearts: “Then I flung my arms around his knees and giving voice to all the longing alive with me, I cried out “I will not leave you unless you give me blessing.”

We seek a real contact with him, to be able to touch him ourselves, like the poor woman who forced her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of his garment. We think of the disciples whose longing was satisfied through the words Jesus spoke and the spirit he gave to (granted) them, so that Peter cried out: “Lord, where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In him the old Psalmist’s feeling of longing finds its most intimate and personal fulfillment in each one of us:

            I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted

            me out of the horrible pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and

gave me a firm place to stand.

The Psalmist was longing for God. He was sharply aware why he needed God for he found himself at the bottom of a dark pit, unable to get a firm footing in the mire that threatened to submerge his life. In such a situation the more man struggles, the deeper he will sink. A human being is never capable of working himself free from the mud (filth) of his guilt. But there is help: “I waited patiently for the Lord: he turned to me and heard my cry.” There is a hand that will draw us upward, out into the light of life, as soon as we realize that we cannot help ourselves.

Simeon had grown old in his longing. At the very end of his life he was granted the indescribable joy of holding God’s Son in his arms: the child whom the Holy Spirit had foretold as the fulfillment of his longing, the Messiah who should come to redeem his people from all their sins. Jesus has come. But anyone who longs to approach him must be quite clear that it is our impure life, our sins and guilt that form the barrier which again and again has blocked the community with the God we long for. At very bottom it is sin that gives rise to our longing, for if we had never lost the paradise of community with God, we would not be people filled with longing, but people filled with happiness. It is the same sin that is still separating us today from all we long for. For God will have no community with sin today, either. The best thing we possess in our own selves is the longing for our homeland, for the far-off land that we cannot discover through our own efforts. But Jesus has come. He has become man and understood the deepest root of sin: he has come for those who are sick with sin and longing. “I did not come for the healthy, but for the sick.” When we tell him of our sins and our longing and when we share in a life without sin, a life in community with Him, then we attain our goal. His love reveals his heart, ready and full of boundless goodness. (the readiness and boundless goodness of his heart.)

“Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away. I am come that they may have life; and have it to the full" “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” If anyone confesses his sins and ceases to sin in order to turn all his longing to Jesus, then he has found his way home.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are those who are homesick, for they shall come home.

We all have the longing to escape from the anxieties that repeatedly throw us into distress, that rob us of all self-respect and try to enshroud us in the night of despair. We would so gladly make a new beginning. Hoe many have made the attempt and have never succeeded? I think of a poet’s words that express this longing and yet at the end there was still despair. “To be able to begin anew—at least just one single time . . . with nothing to clear up . . . to put everything aside and be able to be a new person . . . that is what drives us to cross the waters. This great, quiet morning wish of every new day, of every new year, with its wonderful surge of courage. But thin spider-like arms reach out, shadow-like and malicious, and every today is chained to yesterday with hundreds of little reminders that attach themselves avidly, sucking out its heart’s blood and at once paralyzing what is best, to have for once the joyful courage to begin again . . . this one time to begin anew. In our own strength we cannot put an ocean between yesterday and today. Even if we try emigrating or shooting our brains out, we take our sins with us even into eternity. “God is no longer living (There is no living God) where men despair.” Jesus came among men and proclaimed the Father’s message that the imprisoned and fettered shall become free.