The Final Hunger

Everything in nature, I’m beginning to believe, discovers its destiny in its hungers, defines its nature in that which alone can answer to its profoundest longing. Whatever fails us here in time—health, order, trust, friendship, justice, beauty—points behind the dark moment to what is not known except for the power of its attraction. And power, we know, must reside in some form of being. Georgetown professor of theology John F. Haught, in his challenging book God after Darwin, avers that “all things receive their being from out of an inexhaustibly, resourceful ‘future’ that we may call ‘God.’”

The gratifications allowed by time—love, friendship, pleasure, sex, beauty, knowledge, and more—these pass, at least in their physical dimensions. What remain are the hungers they have stirred. The mind, though borne in the fragile cask of the body, trembles with thought—with wonder and imagining, insights and conclusions, formulae and argument; the will aches with desire and aspiration unlimited by human knowing. All these movements, however, are spiritual in nature—that is, not made of parts. As death is the corruption of parts, Augustine argues that spirit is consequently incorruptible and therefore immortal. Haught might argue that the cumulative cosmic past does not, in its material evolution, sufficiently explain the emergence of these spiritual phenomena. The very hunger of question for response, of ambiguous instinct for clarification, of the material body for the immaterial experience of beauty, urges us to look for a compensation beyond time, a resolution that can only be called spiritual—a resolution that many Christians believe will, by divine dispensation, include brother body and sister earth as well.

The capillary cells in the root seek water, and the root is incomplete until it attains its end, as cell after cell pushes down through rock and sod until water begins to ascend and the root can, as it were, speak its name.

Years ago, swimming alone off the coast of Peru and surrounded by mounting waves, I became exhausted far from shore. Bereft of options, I took my deepest breath, let go, and in what seemed like seconds was swept a few hundred yards, smashed time after time on the bottom, and shoveled at last onto the shore, my chest bleeding and speckled with gravel, both wrists and ankles sprained. But in the brown-gray churning of that surf, I remember feeling an inner calm beyond anything in my experience before or since. It was not an assurance that I was going to reach shore alive, but an assurance that this was not the end of me.

In the emptiness following the death of my wife three years ago, I have felt myself being drawn beyond myself by an enormous hunger; but, strangely, this hunger does not seek her return in the flesh. It is a hunger not attributable to atom or molecule, flesh or bone. I have come to see its origin and its object as absolute beauty, pure goodness, justice without flaw; as the mind’s resting place in truth—but pursued, as with my late beloved, in the flawed and passing world. For me, this holy incompletion, this longing for absolute beauty, has stirred a flowering of new love, and new loves, rising out of my love for her, which, though appearing lost, has risen like a briefly hidden sun, proving stupendous, indestructible, and godly. That longing, I know in my very core, is deathless.

If all in nature defines its destiny by its purest hungers, then I shall indeed live forever.

Published in the 2009-05-22 issue: 

John Savant, professor emeritus at Dominican University of California, lives in San Rafael, California.

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