Reblog: C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)

For this week’s “Feature Friday” I wanted to focus on Jennifer Neyhart’s blog. This veteran C.S. Lewis writer and social media wizard is in the midst of a C.S. Lewis blogging challenge. She is writing a C.S. Lewis blog every single day in the month of October! There are a number of interesting blogs, including this one on Sehnsucht, which connects with another Feature Friday from this month.  

C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)

Sehnsucht is a German word that embodies a huge theme in all of Lewis’s writings.

For Lewis, Sehnsucht was the sense of deep, inconsolable longing, yearning, the feeling of intensely missing something when we don’t even know what it is. It is also related to his experiences of joy:

“Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.” – Surprised by Joy

The author of Hebrews writes about the heroes of the faith who “were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

And in The Weight of Glory Lewis describes this longing further:

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

Haven’t you experienced the moment he describes where we grow awkward with friends in the face of such vulnerability and we break the tension with laughter? We are uncomfortable with this feeling, with the awareness that we are lacking and that we are always longing for more

read the remainder here.
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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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3 Responses to Reblog: C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)

  1. I think the moment when I realised that what I longed for did not actually exist in space and time was of great importance to me. Of course, the “New” Atheists would say that this means that what I long for does not exist at all but I know that my inconsolable longing has substance. That the beauty I encounter in hearing a piece of music or encountering the blue flash of a kingfisher flying across my path points me somewhere more real than either the music or the kingfisher.

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    • The Kingfisher–is that a John Crowley reference? I’m reading “Little, Big” now for the first time.
      To be honest, this has never been my experience, the longing. I think it’s one of Lewis’ more elegant ideas, and one that connects well with the culture of students I teach.

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  2. Pingback: Digital Dust? Thoughts on my 300th Post | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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