A Philosophy of Longing ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Philosophy of Longing

Sometimes I reflect upon what I consider the “best of days” and realize that the moments I regard as golden are nonetheless colored with longing. Perhaps, in the moment, I did not realize how golden or how incomplete the instance was—but in the glare of hindsight both beauty and lack become evident.

Gradually I’ve realized my experiences are entirely unoriginal. This is the Sehnsucht tradition; in C.S. Lewis’ words: “It was when I was happiest that I longed most…the sweetest thing in my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.”

Out of joy emerges longing—and inexplicably the something missed is sweeter than the original something had. If Lewis is my leader here, as he certainly is, then George MacDonald led him down the same path: “As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note… Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy.”

Lewis did not merely speculate about this feeling, but found himself confronted by “inconsolable longing” on every side. It was this pang of unrest, aggravated by joy, that drove him toward Christ. I, likewise, pick out this particular emphasis of Lewis, not because it’s intellectually appealing, but because it fits. I feel the call of beauty too, an elusive wistfulness at the center of felt joys.

In every generation, I’m sure, there are some who feel acutely this lovely lack. We could probably trace them back from Lewis and MacDonald, down through theological layers to Augustine (“Too late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and so new”) and from there to Paul (“I have not laid hold of it yet, but I press on…”) and to Christ himself: “In the world you will have suffering, but be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Thinkers of this persuasion come to share the simple but unbreakable conviction of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned and tortured for 14 years under a communist regime. As Wurmbrand declared:

“One day the sun will shine in hidden places and all will be made plain.”

This seems the root of bittersweetness—the presence of yet-unfound goodness. Through our truest pleasures there runs a perplexing strand of loss. We feel the absence of something we have not yet had, but miss nonetheless.

Sometimes it is almost like being watched. Even as I taste the beautiful, I turn to catch the whisperer in my ear. The speaker is invisible, though; a rumor reaches me, but Joy himself remains a hidden watcher. His intangible presence explains my tangible deficit: The most transforming sensation is not sweet enough. The most brilliant moment is too dim. I cannot enter the sunrise or capture the morningstar. Every spring and fall, my heartstrings quiver for no known reason. And therefore the most realistic philosophy must be colored with longing.

Like what you read? Don't forget to bookmark this post or subscribe to the feed.



Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife