For many years I worked as a professional engineer in a design office in Wales in the United Kingdom. Most of my colleagues were fluent Welsh speakers, a point that thoroughly irritated me because most of the time I could not understand what the office chat was about. So working on the principle of “If you can’t beat them, join them” I decided I would attempt to learn the language which I eventually did to a standard sufficient for me to have some idea of what was being said. As I did so I learned a particular word which doesn’t really have a good English equivalent. The word is ‘Hiraeth’.
Hiraeth means a deep, emotional, almost painful longing. Particularly the longing felt by welsh people for their homeland when they were away, with its beautiful heather clad mountains, plunging, lush valleys and torrenting streams.
I was reminded of ‘Hiraeth’ as I was reading Psalm 42 recently, particularly-
“As the deer pants (longs) for water, so my soul pants (longs) for you,
My soul thirsts for God, the living God”
The writer of that psalm was expressing a deep, even painful longing for his heavenly father, indeed to be home with Him.
Sometimes the question is asked ‘What is a Christian?’ and many answers are given ranging from the simplistic ‘someone who goes to church’ to a more sophisticated ‘someone who has said a form of words (a prayer) confessing their sin and asked Jesus to come into their life as their Lord and Saviour’. However, while either or both of the above may, or may not, be true, the real mark of a Christian is whether or not they have had divine surgery, and received the new heart that the prophet Ezekiel spoke about (36:26). It is this new heart that both makes, and is the sign of someone who has become, a child of God. A major characteristic of this new heart is ‘Hiraeth’, the inner desire and longing for God expressed by the writer of Psalm 42, a spiritual hunger and thirst that can only be satisfied by a true and deep relationship with God.
As Peter says, those chosen by God are strangers and aliens in this world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11), because our true home is the city of God, the new Jerusalem, our eternal destiny. It is the Spirit, received by the new Christian at the time of their ‘divine surgery’, who lives in the Christian heart who inspires Christian ‘Hiraeth’, a deep, emotional longing to be ‘home’ with the Father, for our “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).
It is Spirit-created deep longing in the hearts of God’s children that sets shallow Christianity-Lite, and ‘churchianity’ apart from those who truly desire God. This is not some academic theological idea, but it is the real Spirit-driven passion for God, the ‘loving God with all your heart’ faith, that drives God’s true children to use this transitory life, this time of being away from home, for their father.
Indeed it could be said that it is Christian ‘Hiraeth’, the ‘Soul’ that thirsts for God who builds His kingdom.