mysticism,  prayer practice

Attending to Holy Longing

Underneath our desires, exist deeper desires. As we slowly, with curiosity and self-compassion, sit with our desires, we may get glimpses or senses of those deeper desires. As we continue, deeper and deeper, we find basic desires…core desires that might be better described as “longing.”

Find a comfortable place free of distraction. Give your attention to your body, noticing tensions, weariness, heaviness, lightness, or any other sensations. Give your attention to your mind, with its busy or anxious thoughts and its subtle or deliberative thoughts. Notice how it judges, names, or plans.

Invite your body and your mind to relaxed attentiveness. Allow yourself a few minutes to sit restfully as you give your attention to your breathing, without trying to change it. Then proceed when you are ready.


  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your desires and longings, to name them accurately, and to give you the wisdom to respond to them well.

  2. Ask yourself, when you are ready: “What do I want in this moment?”

  3. When you recognize a desire, give it a name and write it down in your journal (or, if you don’t have one with you, note it mentally). And then, ask again: “What do I want in this moment?”

  4. Again, recognize and name that desire. Make note of it. Continue with this process until no more desires surface. After each naming, return to relaxed attentiveness.

  5. Consider all the desires you have named. Which seems the most significant? Which is the most attractive? Which is the most energizing? Which is the most central or core? For now, give your attention to the most central desire.

  6. Without judging it our yourself ask: “And what is underneath this desire? What is more basic than this one?”

  7. As you name the more basic desire, continue to repeat this question for each subsequent desire. “What is underneath this desire?”

  8. When you are no longer able to go deeper, name the deepest desire. Honor it as a Holy Longing.

  9. Name it in the presence of the Holy Spirit, just as it is, as an expression of who you are in this moment.

  10. Remain in the presence of the Holy Spirit and your Holy Longing. Allow yourself to rest in the silence and then, after a time depart.

  11. Return to this longing at a future point, and with simple unforced curiosity ask “What does this Holy Longing ask of me?”

This is adapted from the practice of “Seeking Your Heart’s Desire” from Elizabeth Liebert’s excellent book The Way of Discernment.

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Maki Ashe Van Steenwyk (they/them) is the Executive Director at the Center for Prophetic Imagination. Ashe is a writer, teacher, organizer, and spiritual director. For nearly 15 years, they have sown seeds of subversive spirituality throughout North America. Ashe is the author of such books as That Holy Anarchist, unKingdom, and A Wolf at the Gate.

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