It's a poetic notion: there's a God-shaped hole at the heart of my being. That's why I'm always restless, continually looking for something more, ceaselessly trying to find the very thing that will fill my cup of happiness to the brim.
Sometimes people ask, "What is the evidence that the infinite exists?" For Augustine and for many religious people throughout the ages, the best evidence is the utter restlessness of the human heart. You could extend that also to the restlessness of the intellect itself.
We all realize that no matter how much we know, there is yet more to be known; we all realize that no matter how much we get in life, how much we have, how much we possess, we are never fully filled up by it. So there is, in a sense, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our being. That's what Augustine was saying—our hearts are restless until we rest in the infinite.
No, that's an unjustified assumption. It's truer to say, "Our hearts are restless until they are at rest."
I know this, because I frequently experience short-lived restlessness reliefs. When I take the first sip of a vanilla latte. When I start watching a new episode of "24." When I pause to look at the full moon over Spring Lake during a nighttime dog walk.
I don't feel like I'm being filled with the infinite in these moments. Quite the contrary. I've immersed myself in the concrete here and now. Resting on that firm foundation, I feel at peace.
For a while. Haught correctly points to the evanescence of my Ah, so good states of being. As soon as the closing credits of a "24" episode flash across the screen, I'm wishing that it were already the next Monday night.
The root of my restlessness is, of course, my belief that in seven days "24" will resume its progress as scheduled through Jack Bauer's terrorist-fighting day. I anticipate a projected future and want it to happen now. Since the future comes in its own sweet time, a "24" shaped hole forms in the heart of my being, where it stays until 9:00 pm on another Monday rolls around and I'm once again contentedly sitting in front of the TV.
Add together all of my unfulfilled desires, and to the religiously minded that's a "God-shaped hole." However, to its credit this Christian web site notes that Pascal (one of the original sources of this concept) speaks of the universal seeking for happiness, not God.
Many people, including Pascal, believe that only God can permanently fulfill the yearning of a restless heart. Since our desires are limitless, only infinity is capable of filling the happiness void that always seems to be either right with us or just around the corner.
Well, here's another way of looking at the situation: when we assume that God is the missing piece to the puzzle of our lives, we're just adding one more unfulfilled desire to an already lengthy Want List. High-definition television, remodeled bathroom, ten pound weight loss, satisfying romantic relationship…knowing God.
A happiness hole is formed when what I want and what I have don't coincide. Making coffee in the morning, I think "Got to get the newspaper." But I haven't finished with the coffee yet. So I feel a tinge of restless anxiety: I'm already behind on the day's to-do list!
However, that restlessness is my own creation. It isn't a God-shaped hole. It's a Brian-shaped hole. When I focus on simply measuring out the organic ground coffee and filling the carafe with reverse osmosis-purified water, I don't feel a lack in my life.
After all, my life is always being fully lived. There's never a void in my life that needs to be filled with living. If there were, I'd be dead. Which is a void of a whole other nature.
So whenever there is a difference between what is actually happening, and what I believe should happen, a restlessness born of unmet expectation begins to whirl away in my psyche. The motion forms an is-should gap that I interpret as something wrong, a problem to be solved, a flaw needing fixing.
When the should side includes "be filled with God," that gap widens. Instead of simply lacking a newspaper, or the next "24" episode, I've got a seriously sinking feeling that I'm missing the most important thing in existence. Even worse, I lack any reliable knowledge about where to get my God infusion.
So the God-shaped hole at the heart of my being is as big as my unsubstantiated beliefs about God. It'd be crazy for me to believe that I'm missing out on a television program named "Happiest Show on Earth" when such doesn't exist. I could spend all day fruitlessly looking through the TV Guide, worrying that I'm missing out on some great entertainment.
Or I could watch what is actually on the air. And enjoy Robert Bly's versions of Kabir poetry. (Some people hate Bly's tinkering with Kabir, just as Coleman Barks' freestyling of Rumi ticks others off; I like this poem, no matter the source).
I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the
soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of
and stand firm in that which you are.