When you yearn for something beyond your current experience, feel an indescribable longing, or miss someone or something with great intensity, you’re experiencing sehnsucht. Translated from German as seeing (sehn) + addicted (sucht), it is a deep desire to see what is inevitably and agonizingly elusive.
It is a haunting and poignant longing – somehow nostalgic – for a fulfillment of joy. When fall arrives with its bittersweet pleasure in the silencing of foliage, we have nostalgia for the joy of what was once green and alive.
Sehnsucht carries this same stab of longing for something that’s just out of our reach. “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside is . . . the truest index of our real situation,” as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory.
Getting on the other side of this door is our underlying pull, like a magnet drawing us to our True North. Joy, then, leads us toward an ineffable destination, a joy-ward journey to a distant home.
Like distant music which you could choose to listen to or not, or a faint wind on your face that you could easily ignore, Lewis described joy as “this feathery, impalpable, tingling sensation.” Lurking around every corner, yet not to be clutched at, this joy is meant to be a beckoning signal.
Each time we choose to hear it or feel it, we get a foretaste of what we are heading for.
Books and music are often what beckon me onward, that stoke the fire of longing. Yet like Lewis reminds us, this beauty “will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.”
What came through the stories and the songs is merely an echo of what’s to come, a whisper of a chapter yet to be read. Between the pages we search for meaning, in the lyrics we listen for consolation, and in our travels we seek and find fleeting significance to our lives.
Move farther along, come farther in, follow this joy into the unknown. Where joy is eternal, and where sehnsucht may at last place its scepter of wanderlust at the foot of the Throne of Grace.
Another song by Josh Garrels, whose lyrics and haunting tunes nourish my soul as I wander this dusty road in search of my heart’s home: “Sing Lord, come soon.”
Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by
Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen
Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home
So much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on
Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me
And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of God is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon