C.S. Lewis and Sehnsucht

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 3 Comments

One of the things I adore about C.S. Lewis is his ability to express concepts for which the English language has no words.  “Sehnsucht” is a German word that roughly translates as longing….but Lewis does a brilliant job of fleshing this rather bland translation out in a way that I think most people of faith can relate to.   

Lewis described Sehnsucht as an inconsolable longing in the human heart “for which we know not what.”  It is a haunting sense of longing which Lewis said touched him throughout his life.  It has elements of nostalgia and joy, but also an intense awareness of missing something.  “A golden echo.”  These stabs of joy and longing were pointing us toward something, and Lewis posits that this sense of longing is harkening toward a deeper spiritual world. 

My favorite novel by C.S. Lewis has always been Till We Have Faces, a gorgeously bleak book in which the heroine wages a lifelong struggle with faith and has glimpses of joy that were never really fulfilled:

“It almost hurt me . . . like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. The longing for home.”

I spent decades feeling the same way, and still enjoy a good occasional bout of sehnsucht.  In an odd sort of way, I almost feel like Lewis’s writings on this topic give me permission to simply accept sehnsucht, rather than try to chase it down and pinpoint the source of this longing.  This is just one of the hundreds of reasons I will always adore the writings of C.S. Lewis.

Photo courtesy of Joisey Showa

Comments 3

  1. Andrea Strong

    Thanks for a dose of Lewis. He’s one of my all time favorites. In his letters to readers, Lewis often said that Till We Have Faces was his own favorite of his novels. When I read that, I went out and bought it. Alas, it sits unread on my shelf.

    Your post makes me think of his book Surprised by Joy. I am inspired to bloviate a bit about Jack on my own blog sometime in the near future.

  2. Post

    I knew most of the literary critics consider Till We Have Faces is Lewis’s finest, but had not realized he considered it his favorite work too. I can understand why! It has a lot of beauty and heft to it. Not a light read….but a great one.

  3. Thomas Jennings

    The idea of a deep want for something we can’t yet describe/know of, yet is hinted at through all our greatest loves and desires…it’s so very true. Astoundingly so for something you would believe to be subjective when telling someone “you have it too”…but there we are, we all have it. It’s thrilling to consider there must be some reason behind it…

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