The Heart's Deepest Longing

Dr. Peter Kreeft, from his excellent book - "Heaven The Hearts Deepest Longing"

There lives in us, deep down in the heart, a little nightingale that keeps calling for its birdseed. It is a bothersome but infinitely precious little bird. The nightingale lives way down under a host of larger, louder animals, each demanding its food; so it is easy to ignore. It has a ‘still, small voice’.15 But when we ignore it, even if we fed all the other animals (which is impossible), we are not satisfied, because we are that nightingale and we are starving. So we try to quiet this terrible, tiny voice. We feed the nightingale dog food and cat food and monkey food (especially monkey food). But it keeps crying for nightingale food, and we cannot find nightingale food. Yet, though we do not feed it, it does not die. We can muffle it, but we cannot kill it.

This is our deepest failure, the failure to satisfy our deepest desire. To cover up our failure, we compensate with other successes: we feed the other animals. We have a wonderfully efficient animal- feeding machine: that prolific diversion factory, that endlessly self-perpetuating game we call our modern technological society. It keeps us too busy ever to hear our nightingale, for we hear that voice only in silence.

If we are clever enough, we can muffle the nightingale’s voice for a whole lifetime with surface noises (it is, remember, a ‘still, small voice’) —if we are unfortunate enough to be clever enough. The issue is not whether worldly success will make us lastingly happy—it won’t—but whether we are honest enough to question this unhappiness, to utter the word of power, the word ‘why’, the word that moves mountains. If we are unfortunate enough to conquer the world, like Alexander the Great, we weep like him because we have no more worlds to conquer. Why? If we are as pitiable as Ecclesiastes, who says ‘I have seen everything under the sun’, we despair, like him, at life under the sun as ‘vanity of vanities’.18 Why? What more do we want? There is great beauty and value and goodness and meaning in life under the sun—why do we want more? Why do we keep asking: Is that all there is? We are like children opening a thousand beautiful Christmas presents and asking after each one: Is that all there is? It sounds so greedy and ungrateful, and so we pretend to be satisfied. But the pretense can’t last. Eventually we must face our inner truth, our nightingale, and ask, What do I want?

What do we want? What do children still search for even after opening their thousand Christmas presents? For more of the same? Does the nightingale want more monkey food? Do we merely want to live a little longer or a lot longer? No, we want a different kind of life. The child in us is not greedy; we have been promised something we have not yet received—something alive, like a pet. But so far we have unwrapped only a thousand dead things, a thousand mechanical toys. Monkey food.

Who ever put such a thought into our heads? Who promised us the pet? Who whispered in our ear the desire for heaven? And when? And even more mysterious, why do we understand it? And when and how did we forget it? We have never experienced the object of this desire, only its absence in our heart, its silhouette, for the totality of objects we do experience does not satisfy this desire. Yet we recognize it in the faintest hints, in a thousand things that teasingly suggest it. We know the unknown as a long-lost friend...

The Atheist Freud... says that through the technological control of nature, we have fulfilled most of the desires past societies projected into imagined gods; we have become like gods. He then asks the wonderfully simple question: Why aren’t we happy? And he gives the wonderfully simple answer: I don’t know. (Thank God for honest atheists!)