Sehnsucht

Sehnsucht, (German) f. longing, yearning, pining, hankering.

While I'm sure this is not a word that's been on the tip of your tongue lately, it's an idea I've been thinking about a lot recently. I'm haunted by this German word for that unfulfilled longing that C.S. Lewis described by the word "joy." It's that hunger pang, the gnawing sweetness of which is better than all our attempts to satisfy it. Sehnsucht. It's what propels us in our search for beauty and aesthetics. Ultimately, as Lewis wrote about, and we Christians believe, Sehnsucht is our longing for the beauty and reality of God and life in God. In short, it's a homing device for heaven.

Sehnsucht. I feel this quality in dreams and sometimes in waking life. I can recall more than one dream in which I've gazed at something utterly, unspeakably beautiful (a painting or a scene in nature) and broken down in tears, only to awake sobbing with longing. I feel it when I listen to certain music, usually in a minor key or with a consistent, patient rhythm that captures for me the endurance needed to bear up through life's challenges (Pat Metheny's "Last Train Home" comes to mind...).

I had an experience and an insight into Sehnsucht this past week during a vacation at the beach in Southern California. We returned to Dana Strand beach in South Orange County for visits with relatives. This is the place where, growing up, I spent much time at a family beachhouse. To my dismay, walking the beach this time, I witnessed the utter obliteration of the landscape where our trailer had lodged. Developers were grading the cliffs for huge, multimillion dollar luxury homes. Only Dana Point itself (see above) remained untouched. My fond memories of this place felt chewed up, spit out, and ground underfoot. It felt like the death of my childhood and there was no going back. While the view to the north (and the neighboring Salt Creek beach) were much the same, I had lost that strip of sand which for me was the spot where I learned to bodysurf, boogie board, work on my tan, and enjoy countless good times with friends and family. As we trudged away after that initial return to this beach, my heart was heavy. "You can't go home again," said Thomas Wolfe. He was right.

Or so it seemed. The next morning I awoke early to walk back down to this area. The noise of the graders and heavy machinery was still there--but this time a thought (was it God?) popped into my mind: if what Scripture says about God creating a new heaven and new earth is true (and all that we enjoy here is merely foretaste for a grand fulfillment later on), then I CAN go home again! Indeed, the beauty of Dana Strand will find its glorious fulfillment in the new earth to come. Those halcyon days of sun and fun are not just distant memories; they are a foretaste of much better times and places ahead.

Sehnsucht. Again. A longing that points toward ultimate fulfillment. A homesickness for our true home to come. Jesus says he goes to prepare a place--literally, a mansion--for us (John 14:2-3). Our little trailer #13, as cozy as it was, perched on the cliffs above the beach, cannot compare.

Sehnsucht. Have you felt it? How? Where? Follow your longing where it leads...

2 comments:

john said...

i usually feel it at mt. hermon, especially in communion with everyone who is there.

Anonymous said...

When you told me this in person, I heard it in the usual wow-on-to-the-next-topic mode of conversation. When I READ this post, I couldn't jump to the next thing I wanted to say about it, so I read it again, ruminated over it, and the end result was that I felt it and kept it as well as heard it. That's the gift and vocation of a writer, Carl. Thanks for gift-wrapping this encouragement (again) in the best way for me to receive it.