Feelings of Restlessness

Since first attaining consciousness, the human creature has been plagued with feelings of restlessness. This has resulted in finding new and better ways of doing things. We could outline a whole litany of inventions and nodes of progress that have been made. It has also led to new discoveries on this planet, and uncharted trips to new worlds. In that sense, this feeling of restlessness has been a boon and blessing to all mankind.

Of course, there are those who used it to line their own pockets, to gain power over their fellow human beings, and to cause nations to go to war over their differences. The call to arms has always relied on tapping that feeling of restlessness and adventure among our young. In this sense, the feelings of restlessness have often been a curse to mankind.

I suppose this is true of all the things we human beings have to deal with including religion. There always seems to be a dark side and the shining of a light of hope in every one of our human endeavors. What we need to do is learn to channel those feelings of restlessness into creative and productive enterprises rather than into finding new means of destruction. All the major religions have attempted to deal with this issue. However, they have often failed miserably. I think it would be fair to say that the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have the worst record on this score. I am not sure why this is so, but I suspect that the nationalizing of these religions is at the very heart of the problem. That is what makes Fundamentalism in each of them such a dangerous viewpoint.

What is at the root of this feeling of restlessness? I have heard many a sermon espousing the notion that it is caused by a feeling of emptiness stemming from a lack of faith in the creator. That may well be, but I think that is an over-simplification. In our modern understanding of the evolutionary development of life, it might be explained as part of that long-term evolution of the species. We understand so little of the human psyche, and that leads us to all kinds of theories and suppositions about the origins of human thought and emotions. I certainly do not stand here as any authority on the matter. I only raise the questions.

Sometimes it is helpful to go to the arts and literature to search for meanings. I have become somewhat enamored with the poetry of George Herbert 1593-1632. Herbert can be included with the metaphysical school of poets. His poems are characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery. They include a variety of songs and poems, and also reflect Herbert's concern with speech --- conversational, persuasive, and proverbial. His poems explore and celebrate the ways of God's love as Herbert discovered them within the fluctuations of his own experience. Because Herbert, who was a priest in the Anglican church, is as much an ecclesiastical as a religious poet, one would not expect him to make much appeal to an age as secular as our own; but this has not proved so. All sorts of readers have responded to his quiet intensity; some say that for readers of the present day, Herbert displaced Donne as the supreme Metaphysical poet.

Herbert wrote this poem as his explanation of the feeling of restlessness with which we are both blessed and cursed. His interpretation can be accepted literally, but in a non-theistic sense, it could be interpreted as the fact that the evolution of man is not yet complete. We still must partake of more of that cup. However, we must also remember that the dregs at the bottom can also be bitter.

- The Old Professor

Copyright Jay D Weaver - December 24, 2002

The Space Shuttle
Exploring New Worlds

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by—
"Let us," said he, "pour on him all we can;
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span."

So strength first made a way,
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

"For if I should," said he,
"Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in nature, not the God of nature:
So both should losers be.

"Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.

- George Herbert 1593 1632

Return to Poetry and Music Commentary