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Sehnsucht

Longing for the Everlasting

Making Sense of God

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We live in an age of skepticism. Our society places such faith in empirical reason, historical progress, and heartfelt emotion that it’s easy to wonder: Why should anyone believe in Christianity? What role can faith and religion play in our modern lives? In this thoughtful and inspiring new book, pastor and New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller invites skeptics to consider that Christianity is more relevant now than ever. As human beings, we cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity provides us with unsurpassed resources to meet these needs. Written for both the ardent believer and the skeptic, Making Sense of God shines a light on the profound value and importance of Christianity in our lives.

Hebrews on Longing for a Heavenly Country

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All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. [14] People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. [15] If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. [16] Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. …

Julian Barnes on Sehnsucht and German Diction

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There is a German word, Sehnsucht, which has no English equivalent; it means ‘the longing for something’. It has Romantic and mystical connotations; C.S. Lewis defined it as the ‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what’. It seems rather German to be able to specify the unspecifiable. The longing for something — or, in our case, for someone

Mordecai Roshwald on a Religious Yearning

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In much later years, I came to comprehend, and even to share, a not clearly defined religious yearning. The notion that humanity, like other animals, lives only in order to perpetuate the species seemed senseless. There had to be some meaning in the perception of truth, of right, of beauty, of love, of compassion, of quest for these and other, ostensibly unnecessary yearnings of the human link in Evolution. What the meaning was I could not tell, but I could not erase or disregard it. Indeed, I was glad that I could not!

Charles Taylor on Moments of Fullness

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Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity of condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worth while, more admirable, more what it should be. This is perhaps a place of power: we often experience this as deeply moving, as inspiring. Perhaps this sense of fullness is something we just catch glimpses of from afar off; we have the powerful intuition of what fullness would be, were we to be in that condition, e.g., of peace or wholeness; or able to act on that level, of integrity or generosity or abandonment or self-forgetfulness. But sometimes there will be moments of experienced fullness, of joy and fulfillment, where we feel ourselves there.

N.T. Wright on the Echo of a Voice Calling

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We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently, where we not only know what we ought to do but actually do it. And then we wake up and come back to reality. But what are we hearing when we’re dreaming that dream? ¶ It’s as though we can hear, not perhaps a voice itself, but the echo of a voice: a voice speaking with calm, healing authority, speaking about justice, about things being put to rights, about peace and hope and prosperity for all. The voice continues to echo in our imagination, our subconscious. We want to go back and listen to it again, but having woken up we can’t get back into the dream. Other people sometimes tell us it was just a fantasy, and we’re half-inclined to believe them, even though that condemns us to cynicism. ¶ But the voice goes on, calling us, beckoning us, luring us to think that there might be such a thing as justice, as the world being put to rights, even though we find it so elusive. We’re like moths trying to fly to the moon. We all know there’s something called justice, but we can’t quite get to it.

Eric Reitan on Schleiermacherian Piety

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By "feeling," Schleiermacher didn’t mean some rush of emotion, but rather a kind of primal experience — or, perhaps better, a way of experiencing. He called it the feeling of piety, and in the Speeches he tried to describe it as the awareness of "the Infinite in the finite." … Sometimes, instead of "feeling," he used the term "self-consciousness," although it is clear that what we are conscious of in our experience of piety is not our isolated ego but the self in relation to something beyond us.

Madeleine L’Engle on Longing for Home

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We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…

Thomas Cahill on an End to the Everlasting Hills

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Is not the desire of the everlasting hills that they be saved from their everlastingness, that something new happen, that the everlasting cycle of human cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, be brought to an end?

David James Duncan on Sehnsucht

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To describe in words makes the kingdom sound stark and empty, like the scrub desert of eastern Washington or something. But this is only because words can’t explain the feeling that everything had. The fullness of things only made you notice this feeling more. The air, for instance smelled something like sea air, but whereas sea air makes you hungry, kingdom air made you full, and it wasn’t a fullness like when you’re stuffed from overeating: it was more like foodless fullness you get at the end of a really good movie. Like when the Captured Girl is about to be killed because she won’t tell The Secret, and she takes a last look at the hills with tears in her huge brown eyes, and here comes The Hero you thought was dead, riding down out of nowhere with his sword flashing or gun blazing, making hamburger out of Evil while the music surges through you and the goose bumps shoot up and down you. That sort of fullness. Like I said, I can’t explain it.

Steve Jobs on Hippies and Something More

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Ask yourself, “What is a hippie?” I mean, this is an old word that has a lot of connotations. Remember, the sixties happened in the early seventies. That’s sort of when I came of age. So I saw a lot of this. A lot of it happened right in our backyard here. To me, the spark of that was that there was something beyond what you see every day. There is something going on here in life beyond just a job and a family and two cars in the garage and a career. There is something more going on. There is another side of the coin, that we don’t talk about much. We experience it when there are gaps. When everything is not ordered and perfect, when there’s a gap, you experience this inrush of something. And a lot of people have set off throughout history to find out what that was. Whether it’s Thoreau, whether it’s some Indian mystics, or whoever it might be. The hippie movement got a little bit of that and wanted to find out what that was. And of course the pendulum swung too far the other way and it was crazy, but there was a germ of something there.

Albert Camus on Suicide and Absurdity

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In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let’s not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering. ¶ What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.

Bede Griffiths on a Feeling of Awe

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One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing that full chorus of song, which can only be heart at that tat time of the year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed to me that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this all year round and I had never noticed it. As I walked I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom and again I thought that I had never seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing I could not have been more surprised. I came then to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God.

The Weight of Glory

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Selected from sermons delivered by C. S. Lewis during World War II, these nine addresses show the beloved author and theologian bringing hope and courage in a time of great doubt. “The Weight of Glory,” considered by many to be Lewis’ finest sermon of all, is an incomparable explication of virtue, goodness, desire, and glory. Also included are “Transposition,” “On Forgiveness,” “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” and “Learning in War-Time,” in which Lewis presents his compassionate vision of Christianity in language that is both lucid and compelling.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Justice of God

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At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man. But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance. When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

Ingmar Bergman (as Karin) on Sehnsucht

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[Karin] One day someone called me from behind the wallpaper. I looked in the closet, but no one was there. But the voice kept calling me, so I pressed myself against the wall, and it gave away like foliage. You think I’m making it up?

I enter a large room. It’s bright and peaceful. People are moving back and forth. Some of them talk to me and I understand them. It’s so nice and I understand them. It’s so nice and I feel safe. In some of their faces there’s a shining light. Everyone is waiting for him to come but no one is anxious. They say that I can be there when it happens…

[David] Why are you crying?

[Karin] It’s nothing. Nothing to worry about. But… sometimes I have this intense yearning. I long for that moment. When the door will open and all the faces will turn to him.

[David] Who is coming?

[Karin] No one has said for certain. But I think it’s God who will reveal himself to us. That it will be him coming into the room through that door.

Is this all for real? I don’t know. I’m caught in the middle, and sometimes I’m uncertain. I know I’ve been ill and that my illness was like a dream. But these are no dreams. They must be real. They must be real.

A god steps down from the mountain. He walks through the dark forest. There are wild beasts everywhere in the silent darkness. It must be real. I’m not dreaming. I’m telling the truth. Now I’m in one world, now in the other. I can’t stop it.

C.S. Lewis on a Distant Voice

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But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegner’s Drapa and read “I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful, is dead, is dead.” I knew nothing about Balder but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.

C.S. Lewis on Joy or Sehnsucht

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The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire, but desire for what? Not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past… And before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.

C.S. Lewis on Joy or “Sehnsucht” as an Unsatisfied Desire

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It is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the wold. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.

C.S. Lewis on Desire

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That walk I now remembered. It seemed to me that I had tasted heaven then. If only such a moment could return! But what I never realized was that it had returned; that the remembering of that walk had also been desire, and only possession in so far as that kind of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession we can know on earth; or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting. There, to have is to want and to want is to have. Thus the very moment when I longed to be so stabbed again, was itself again such a stabbing.

C.S. Lewis on Sehnsucht as Thrillseeking

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I smuggled in the assumption that what I wanted was a “thrill,” a state of my own mind. And there lies the deadly error. Only when your whole attention and desire are fixed on something else — whether a distant mountain, or the past, or the gods of Asgard — does the “thrill” arise. It is a byproduct. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer. If by any perverse askesis [asceticism or discipline] or the use of any drug it could be produced from within, it would at once be seen to be of no value. For take away the object, and what, after all, would be left? A whirl of images, a fluttering sensation in the diaphragm, a momentary abstraction. And who could want that? This, I say, is the first and deadly error, which appears on every level of life and is equally deadly on all, turning religion into a self-caressing luxury and love into auto-eroticism.

C.S. Lewis on the Voice from the World’s End and Immanence

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For the first time the song of the sirens sounded like the voice of my mother or my nurse. Here were old wives’ tales; there was nothing to be proud of in enjoying them. It was as though the voice of which had called to me from the world’s end were now speaking at my side. It was with me in the room, or in my own body, or behind me. If it had once eluded me by its distance, it now eluded me by proximity — something too near to see, too plain to be understood, on this side of knowledge. It seemed to have been always with me; if I could ever have turned my head quick enough I should have seized it. Now for the first time I felt that it was out of reach not because of something I could not do but because of something I could not stop doing. If I could only leave off, let go, unmake myself, it would be there.

C.S. Lewis on Immanence

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Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert. “The first touch of the earth went nigh to kill.” Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow. unde hoc mihi? In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer.

C.S. Lewis on Bittersweet Sehnsucht

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I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.

C.S. Lewis on Sehnsucht as That Unnameable Something

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Sehnsucht is “the longing for that unnameable something, the desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of, The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”