There’s a song that I often play in the car. I first heard it when I was pregnant with my daughter, and my husband wanted The Best of Stan Rogers for Christmas. From this random record of a Canadian folk singer’s best, my favorite song emerged: “Northwest Passage.”
Aww, you should just hear it. Click here to open in another window and listen.
It’s a seafaring song. It doesn’t touch me on any historical level—I don’t really know the story it’s referring to. It doesn’t touch me on a patriotic level (I’m not Canadian) or really any experiential level (I’ve never been a sailor). It touches me on a different level altogether.
To me, this song is about longing.
The tone of the song, the men joining their voices like that—the vague sense I’m given by these lyrics:
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
It’s about some vague call to another place and towards another purpose, a yearning towards something unnamed and unknown. So now that my daughter is just a little baby in the back seat, all eyelashes and gums, I still play this song, and others like it.
I’ll try to do the same thing with books, when she’s old enough, and movies. In fact, with any means necessary, I want to cultivate the longing in my daughter.
Not just any kind of longing
But not just any kind of longing. I want her to discover as I have that longing is only worth anything if we follow it to the object. And it is worth less than nothing if it only leads us to some desolate spot on the way to the object, leaving us there to lap at mirage-puddles.
I don’t need to plant longing in her. The longing is there. The older she grows, the clearer the longing will be. She’ll delight in thing things of earth as she discovers them. The sight of a butterfly on webbed wings, the smack of her own two feet jerkily carrying her somewhere, the never-quiet sound of a forest, the anticipation of finding out what happens to Anne of Green Gables, the taste of ice-cream, the whip of wind at the edge of an ocean, the shy joy of a haircut that makes you feel grown up, and yes… the strange discontentment at the end of a satisfying song.
She will be insatiable, as I am, as others have been. She’ll wake up and ‘want’ will be the first thing that comes into her mind—food, water, love, safety, care, and… something else. Something more will always be there, whispering in the background, dancing beyond her reach, inviting her to follow it.
And if she is like every other human, she’ll respond in worship. She’ll worship whatever promises to be the unmasked answer to the dancing whisper of longing. Because of the bent in her blood, and without a name for her longing, she will mistake any number of things for her object: physical beauty, movies, books, paintings, music, public admiration, philanthropy, a man’s love, food, friendship, drugs, motherhood, or any number of others.
Part of the job
Her father and I are charged to teach her many things. We’re charged to give her a name for the bent in her blood: sin. We’re charged to give her names for the forces that duel it out in our universe: good and evil. When we tell her stories, read her stories, show her stories, we are charged to see that the stories depict that battle between good and evil—in other words, depict reality instead of a lie. And we’re charged to give her a name for the object of her longing—God the Father, Jesus the Son. We’re charged to teach her that she lives in his world, and that all the good and glorious and righteous things that ever were or will be came from him.
And if she stops short at the things which have stirred this longing up within her, then she is taking a cheap trade. If she takes this cheap trade, she is, in fact, drawing up her own battle line… but on the side of despair, loss, selfishness, cruelty, and darkness.
That’s why I also see the stirring up of longing as part of our teaching job. Yes, I want her to understand how self-control works in the face of a world that says ‘take and enjoy everything all the time’. But part of the practice of self-control is the full, zesty enjoyment of God’s good gifts in the right time and place. This kind of enjoyment stirs up longing rather than dulling it.
And I want her longing stirred. I want her longing to be fastened to so great an object that she’ll be satisfied with no less. I want her to be so full of a story that ends with good triumphing over evil that she simply rejects the idea of insane, nihilist despair. I want her to see herself as a citizen—one of many people turned towards the king who is worthy of worship—rather than as a needy object of admiration to as many people as she can gather around herself.
She’ll be a being of hungers and thirsts—I want her to see that to hunger and thirst for righteousness will mean some day being filled (Matt. 5:6). She’ll be a being of loves and hates—I want her to love what is good and hate what is evil (Rom. 12:9). She’ll be driven to toil and strive for something—I want her to toil and strive with a specific and sincere hope in a living God (1 Tim. 4:10).
So that’s why I’m playing Stan Rogers in the car. Because I enjoy him, and because there’s something about this seafaring song that encourages the longing. It joins in the chorus of beautiful things passing by our windows outside; joins in, nods, and says ‘Yes… longing… let me help you. Long for another land…’