Underneath where eyes don't go
A sound that keeps the beat that holds
Alive the song I listen close
Do I follow, do I follow, where it goes
This refrain from the song, Where it Goes, by the Gray Havens provides a beautiful canvas of the human longing to live life most deeply. The human heart desires more than what the human flesh can provide on its own, recognizing that persistent longing (like a “beat that holds”) that exists “underneath where eyes don’t go.” This is, in a nutshell, the religious experience of every human person. The religious person recognizes this persistent desire and seeks to pay attention to it.
I share this on the feast of St. Andrew and in the season of Advent, because the account of Andrew and John in the Gospel reflects this very experience--our experience. It is also an experience that the season of Advent invites us to embrace.
What is this experience? It is our longing for the exceptional. Yes, it sounds cliché and hollow, but that is because many common words have lost their true value and power. Fr. Giussani, in his book Generating Traces, helps us recapture the essence of this word by describing the exceptional as that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart. So this experience (manifested by the song lyrics above and Andrew in the Gospel) is this longing to encounter that which corresponds to the deepest desires of one’s heart—a longing for the exceptional.
The question in the song, “Do I follow?” is answered affirmatively by Andrew. He follows. But he follows a particular man. Why? What makes this one man worth following? What is it about this man that triggered a response to leave everything behind and follow? What is it about this man that allowed the disciples to have this great affection for Him?
Fr. Giussani beautifully asks these questions and offers that one-word answer that again seems so simple—too simple—yet indeed profound. Fr. Giussani writes that this man, Jesus Christ, generated attraction because He was exceptional. And so Christ was exceptional in the eyes of the apostle Andrew because Christ corresponded to the deepest desires of his heart.
Such reflections may lead us to wonder what this desire actually looks like in our life. Yes, we can, as faithful believers, affirm that Jesus is truly exceptional, but what does my desire for the exceptional look like on a daily basis?
This year’s theme for the 2023 New York Encounter beautifully illustrates our current situation. To paraphrase, the theme highlights that the last few years have strengthened within each of us a desire for authentic community, a community that is truly interdependent. The uncertainty of the past few years (and the feeling of our inadequacy to face said uncertainty) have intensified our desire to be seen, accepted, and affirmed by someone in the flesh. We yearn for the presence of someone in our life who is not scandalized or embarrassed by our brokenness and sins. We desire the presence of someone who understands our life with certainty and accompanies us throughout it. We long for a presence that truly sees us and unconditionally loves us.
This is why Andrew followed Jesus along the road. For the first time, Andrew experienced this presence that saw him, a presence that understood his own life better than he did, a presence that filled this need. This is why Andrew was able to respond with such simplicity and certainty—a simplicity and certainty which would seem absurd to any outsider (think about the absurdity of following someone along the road whom you have barely met!). But the exceptional presence of Christ—the fulfillment of his desire to be seen and loved—draws out this unquestionable attraction and clarity in Andrew.
The season of Advent can draw out this unquestionable attraction and clarity within each one of us. This beautiful yet short liturgical season proposes a time to reawaken this desire and see with renewed eyes the exceptionality of Christ. In our longing to be seen, known, and loved, Advent proposes the coming of the only presence that can fill this need.
Advent gives us, if you will, a space “underneath” in which we can listen close to the song of our heart.
And like Andrew, we can follow.