If you were able to join us last night for Ruth Haley Barton, then you, like me, might still be reeling from the invitation to explore our desires. As Ruth shared from her own story that she often doesn’t live in tune with the desires of her life, she started repeating this haunting refrain, “When was the last time you felt it? That longing of desire?”
Does that question connect at all with you, making any moments come to mind? Maybe there seem to be times when it does. This past summer there was a moment when I was walking through a park, and the sky was ablaze with fiery colors, the breeze was blowing, and the Chicago humidity was just bearable enough that I felt it, right there surrounded by trees, that deep longing of desire.
Or perhaps what’s far worse is that the question brings to mind a memory that seems more remote, like a fading light that once was ablaze. Those days when you realize a whole month has gone by and all you felt was busy. Those days you look up at the trees and realize the summer went by and you didn’t get a chance to enjoy it. Those mornings when you go to pray and it feels more like a burden than any amount of relief. Perhaps you, like me, have had those times when you find yourself wondering, “Do I even know what I want at the deep level of my being?”
It was to this question of desire that Ruth turned our gaze and invited us to explore with her the story of Baritmaeus found in Mark 10:46-52. You likely know the story; Bartimaeus, a blind man begging on the side of the road, hears Jesus passing by and so starts to call out him, only to be silenced by the surrounded crowd. But not Jesus. Upon hearing his call, Jesus invites him to him, at which point Bartimaeus flings off his cloak, the only real possession he has, runs to Jesus side, to be asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Does that question haunt you the same way it haunts me? To be honest, even after last night, its hard for me to fully answer that question. I’m almost scared to allow myself to consider what it might be I would say. As Ruth invited us to imaginatively explore this story in prayer, I couldn’t seem to get away from that cloak. The cloak was Bartimaeus’ everything, and in order to be confronted by his desires, he had to first let go of his cloak. As we were praying in the silence, a few of my own cloaks wandered into my mind, and I began to wonder, “Am I ready to fling those off? Would I really be able to let those go?” or perhaps most importantly, “What will be lost if I don’t?” Bartimaeus could have continued his life begging by the side of the road. In fact, its probably the only thing he’s ever known. But when Jesus asked him the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” with courage in his eye Bartimaeus replied, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.”
Friends and fellow practioners, whatever we do with our lives, may we not miss the invitation from Jesus to bring him our desires. Now of course, our desires are quite messy things. In fact, Ruth reminded us that some bring desires before Jesus that need instruction (such as James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand). Others of us need to be challenged by the weakness of our desire, like the crippled man by the pool of Bethsaida who was asked by Jesus, “Do you really want to get well?”
The journey into desire will not be easy task. That’s why we need rhythms, practices, friends, directors, people who will walk with us along the way of our desires as we continue to bring our deepest longings before Jesus, finding them molded and fashioned into beautiful vessels of life. Ruth’s final benediction to us illustrated this point so well; it’s like learning to live your life by the sunset. We so often go through our days unaware of the sun coming up and going down, but once you begin to notice, no one has to tell you to enjoy the sunset. And the more you notice, you the more you want to stop, to drop anything, perhaps even throw off our cloaks, to stop and soak it in. But hearing Ruth’s words and practicing praying through the story of Bartimaeus, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, living from my desires in the way of Jesus may just be worth whatever messiness or cost it would require.
John Perrine & The Practice Tribe
You can listen to Ruth’s message and time of guided prayer here.