Can you “just close your eyes” to reach your beloved—your source of longing? The Leo Sayer YouTube clip below raises an interesting question about the origin of religion. Is it possible that one of the reasons that religion is prevalent in human society is because human beings are endowed with imagination? In other words, when we clearly lack something, can’t we just close our eyes and imagine it existing anyway?
If, for example, we miss someone who has died, or miss someone who is separated from us by space, it’s not too large a stretch to take comfort in imagining them as present—and even talking to them. Might this imaginative ability then be the foundation upon which religion begins? Or, to put it differently: might God function in the human imagination as a place marker for longing, loneliness, and security? When, afterall, we pray to God, or imagine ourselves living eternally with God in heaven, we’re imagining a presence that is in fact an absence. Our expressions of religious longing, therefore, are akin to love letters sent forth to one not present. Messianic expectations are all based on a similar longing (as in “Come Lord Jesus”).
In this sense, poetry is also akin to religion and prayer, for it tries to describe its longing perfectly, and failing in this, must repeat itself—and rewrite itself—again and again. Poetry, religion, and love letters are a sending forth to what is beloved—but not yet present.