Sehnsucht

Posted by David

I recently came across the curious word, Sehnsucht, while reading an article by C.S. Lewis. It forced me to look it up. It’s German and doesn’t seem to have an adequate translation in English. It’s the sort of word that’s difficult explain in any language. The closest word I know to it is nostalgia.

Wikipedia states, “Sehnsucht is a German word that literally means ‘longing’ or in a wider sense a kind of ‘intensely missing’.” I get the feeling that this word may refer to a peculiar, fleeting mood that overcomes me every now and again.

My wife was looking at a Lopi knitting book a few years back and I noticed a photograph of a house along the sea in Iceland. For a few moments I was overwhelmed with the feeling. It is like deep nostalgia, but because I’ve never been to Iceland, it’s a nostalgia for something I’ve never known. I get the same feeling for the ‘North’ country, whatever that means. High latitude skies, cold winds across the bracken might trigger the feeling in me. I also get this feeling from simpler things, especially good children’s literature. Try the original Winnie-the-Pooh Series, especially the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner.

I also get the feeling when think about The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. After reading those books in rapid succession, I went through a mild depression when I realized I had left the place for good, the series of books were over and I couldn’t go back. Today, I still long for the Shire in my life. But it can’t be. I know that. There is a purpose of Sehnsucht and its purpose is to point us in the direction of life. We are not supposed to go back or retreat into or relive or even seek out to restore the Sehnsucht in our lives. I expect that one day I will awaken into it. I will learn that it was God calling all along. If I understand correctly, this is how C.S. Lewis understood it, too.

Just a couple of days ago I had another experience with Sehnsucht in the early morning hours. I had one of what I call my ‘Nostalgia Dreams’. It’s always the same. I’m in a beautiful dream, usually of childhood. Then I slowly recognize in the midst of the dream that it’s only a dream. Then it hits me. An intense wave of sadness, akin to depression, sweeps over my body. The feeling is so strong that I’m shocked into consciousness. At first, I can still feel the deep longing and sadness. Within about a minute or so, it is mostly faded. But the feeling never really ever fades completely. My entire being lives partially in Sehnsucht. Today, I know it’s God calling me home.

It makes me wonder if Jesus lived his life on earth with this feeling. As Emanuel, ‘God with us’, how greatly he must have longed to return to his Father.

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty…

Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

The Last Battle, The Cronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

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3 Comments

Filed under Christianity, language

3 responses to “Sehnsucht

  1. You know, I really regret having never read “Chronicles.”

  2. Ranger Bug

    Hmm…I was going to leave a long comment, but I might just have to write my own blog about this idea…. I do get that feeling. Usually, it’s not so much a longing for a particular place I know I have never been. More of a crazy wish that the world I live in was more to my liking… But it still strikes me the same way, as a heartache that persists for days on end.

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