This post is dedicated to C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago yesterday. Someday, Mr. Lewis, I hope to meet you in the far off country.
Life is interesting. The more we live it – really live it – the more we feel a sneaking suspicion that there must be something more.
There is a kind of subtle longing… but for what?
It’s a kind of sweet ache, a kind of melancholy, a kind of wish that all would be made right in the world. Surely we were made for more… if we only could put our finger on what that was. Everything we try – everything we touch, everything we accomplish – these things are never quite what we imagined, and never quite enough.
Of course this is the magic stuff that seems to drive us to keep trying to create, to achieve, to search. And for humanity, this is a beautiful thing. Without that urge, we probably wouldn’t have the people who push themselves to climb mountains, to solve problems, and to ask big questions about life, science and the world. In short, we wouldn’t be who we are without that mysterious inner drive. We are supposed to know this challenge – it gives life its flavor- both bitter and sweet.
But every so often, no matter who we are, we reach the pinnacle of our mountain, we attain the highest accolade, we get the job, we win the race, or our dreams for relationships or marriages or families come true. And while those things are truly wonderful – at some point or another they never feel quite like we thought they would. Something disappoints. “Well, the grass is always greener,” we will say to ourselves, in order to try to avoid disenchantment. But we can’t.
There are many Oprahs and Chopras out there who make a lot of money by simply telling us to chill out, to settle down, and to be satisfied. Countless products have been designed to help us to forget and ignore our unsettling suspicion that there might be something missing. We hide from the thought. We run to Facebook, to alcohol, to relationships, to work, to sex, to the stuff we buy, to feel-good religions… to anything, really. An endless parade of distractions are available at our fingertips. But shouldn’t the fact that this is all such big business… shouldn’t that tell us something profound about human nature itself?
What DOES cause that common and relentless desire within our hearts? It is at this point, that some of us realize – suddenly – startlingly – that our desires will really never be satisfied. So what does that mean? What should we do with that? Should we despair, or hope?
“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in the world. There are all sorts of things in the world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in the first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.” – C.S. Lewis
Lewis often spoke of this feeling as a kind of “sehnsucht” – a German word meaning a longing for something greater. He described a far off country: a country suggested by the Narnia tales. In this country the King is alive and still on his throne. It is the place where we began, and where we long to return again.
It is here that one might offer quasi-religious descriptions of “heaven.” I can’t do that, because I simply do not know. No one does. And unfortunately, heaven is often a word that conjures up fear, anger, dread, or annoyance with many people, thanks to the way it has been positioned over the years.
But what if we put all of that cultural baggage aside for a moment? What if we knew that this place existed? What if we believed that we will someday discover what we have been subconsciously searching for all our lives? What if the words “satisfaction” and “rest” will mean something fuller and deeper than we could ever comprehend here?
If we saw a glimpse of the far off country, would it inspire us to truly live life in the here and present now? Would we put down our iPhones and go in search of who we really are and where we’re from? Would we embrace the person next to us as a fellow citizen, brother, friend?
In the far off country, everything sings aloud- even the stars. The mountains are the mountains I remember from before I was born. The weakest will be made to be the strongest. The lowest will be the highest. Rest will be rest. Love will be love. Joy will be joy. Fair will be fair. Just will be just. And those that suffer here will be restored- they will get up and dance in the far off country.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis