Sweet Desire

Felt Polski: Filc Magyar: Nemez
Felt Polski: Filc Magyar: Nemez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In several of his writings, C S Lewis makes an argument whose merit I doubted until recently. He argues that there is something that we desire, something that we do not find here on earth. I did not think that I had noticed such a desire in me when in truth, I had merely forgotten it or suppressed and ignored it. However, after reading his book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, I attended a party.

I first noticed the desire while listening to someone sing a solo and almost immediately, I realized I had felt it before. In fact, I feel it very frequently. It has been there for as long as I can remember. It takes the form of an intense longing. Lewis rightly notes that the object of this longing is very easily mistaken for something else. All my life, whenever I felt this longing, if it was when heard a beautiful song, I thought what I wanted was to be able to sing with such a beautiful voice. If it was while I was watching a ballet, I thought what I wanted to be able to dance so beautifully. So, when I heard the lady’s beautiful voice and felt that longing once again, I still did not know what it was that I really desired.

I finally saw the folly of my thinking today. I was going shopping with a friend and we were on a highway. I glanced out a window and saw a beautiful sight; the sky, with a city below it and two flags waving in the wind. Then I felt the longing. What did I want this time, that scene? To be the scene? If I took a picture of it, framed it and hung it in my home, would I stop longing? Of course not. This is the same longing we feel when we see a beautiful item in a shop. We buy because we think that it is what we want but it never satisfies. We still long, we still want.

That is a puzzling thing indeed. Lewis said that the reason these things do not satisfy is that they are not what we really want. He said that if a man desired something, he would be satisfied when he found it. If a man is thirsty and he drinks water, he is satisfied. I am not certain I believe that but I have to concede that I know of no other desires that behave in such a fashion. Desires usually disappear one they have their object. So, Lewis’ argument may be a good inductive one.

Lewis, in Mere Christianity, used it to argue for the existence of heaven. He said that every desire has an object, so if we find a desire in us that nothing on earth satisfies, it must have been made for another world.

Have you felt the desire I speak of? When and where? What do you think its object is and what do you think of Lewis’ argument?

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I’m Tracy

9 thoughts on “Sweet Desire”

  1. Yes! Beautiful article.

    I think the memory of Eden is in our hearts. And even though the world continually attempts to push forward towards a utopian vision, I don’t think the goal is based on a future vision as much as it is on a memory, an inward recollection of how things SHOULD be. It’s like a primeval instinct, something out of the past that hounds us and refuses to leave us alone, causing us to be obsessed with the attainment of perfection. I almost think it can be a type of tyranny — as we try to fulfill that memory individually and collectively.

    And yet I am surprised with joy, too, when I see examples of perfection–they are the things of pictures and screen savers–soft pink roses, orange sunsets, waterfalls, and cuddly pets. And who can’t appreciate the beauty of Rembrandt’s art, Bach’s music, or even a perfect pitch in a baseball game?

    It’s also like a foreshadowing of heaven, a time when all that was lost will be restored. Is it any wonder that so many political and religious organizations are involved in the attempt to “restore” things? But I think these efforts are based on our own abilities. I believe only God can really restore our planet through Jesus. And I would even go so far as to say that the collective desire to fulfill that longing without God is the cause of some of the greatest evils in history.

    Lately, that longing, for me, takes the form of wanting to have the mysteries of the universe be revealed. I long for the veil to be pulled back and the truth to be revealed in a way that all will see. It’s a hope, a longing in my heart. I often look at the sky and try to imagine it.

    Thank you for sharing your heart! I read your column to my husband and we have had a great conversation.

    1. Thank you for commenting Diana. Yes, I can see how people would frantically try to satisfy this desire and I can see how all their efforts would come up short. It is a most stubborn longing.

      But, I don’t see how it can be a memory of Eden. Were we ever in Eden? How can we remember it if we weren’t? I am considering the possibility that it is something God has put in our hearts to make us seek him, but I think it is also possible that it is essential to our nature as humans. Perhaps it is just a product of the fact that we need God and this need expresses itself when we see the perfection in his works.

      I don’t really know yet.

      1. I guess what I mean by “memory” is something placed in our hearts by God as a token of what we lost. Kind of like we just “know” that something is wrong in our relationships or in our surroundings. Why do we even long for anything better? Why do we feel guilt for our imperfections and our inability to order things in the way they “should” be?

        I think it may be both something God put in our hearts, and something essential to our nature. Why the experience of longing is most intense when we see perfection, is perhaps because of this “memory” God has placed in our hearts.

      2. That makes sense. A token of what Adam and Eve had in the garden; What we could have had but lost and what will be restored when Christ returns.

  2. I think all three ways of talking about it are reasonable—memory of Eden, desire for heaven, and desire for God. I definitely agree with you two and C. S. Lewis—this desire is very real and very important.

    Mrs. Lesperance used the words “surprised by joy”. I was just going to ask you, Tracy, have you read Lewis’s quasi-autobiography, Surprised by Joy? It’s sort of all about this desire you’re talking about. I recommend it, it’s a wonderful book (although you should be advised that I think that about all his books…).

    I’m more interested in talking about the ideas themselves than about my experience of them, but since you ask, for me, the desire has been associated with the smell of the air outdoors on a cool autumn day; the delicious taste of slow-cooked beef; and driving by houses out in the country and the small towns and contemplating the fact that the people who live in them live whole lives, decades and decades’ worth of experiences that are extremely important to them, that I will never know anything of, among other things. As Lewis says somewhere, the desire will be associated with different things for different people; God gave us all the desire, but also made us all different.

    1. I have read some of ‘surprised by Joy’, but not much. It wasn’t what I needed to read at that point. I’ll probably read it at some other time

      Yes, I do see that different things bring it on for different people. For me, it’s beautiful music, sights and dancing. Our senses of smell, sight and hearing have a lot to do with it, I think.

      By the way, may I say that it is extremely interesting that you noticed it? I was literally feeling it for years and couldn’t even tell. I knew that I wanted something, I just thought I knew what it was that I wanted and it never occurred to me, until I looked out my window and saw those flags, that I didn’t really know. I wonder how many people are in the same situation.

      So, you say it could be a memory of Eden or a manifestation of our desire for God, or heaven or all of the above. Do you have any other ideas about it?

    2. Well, I guess I meant to agree with all of those characterizations of it. I think it can be in some sense a “memory of Eden” even if none of us individually was in Eden at some earlier point in our lives, because in some sense, we were all there in the Garden, we all sinned there; in some sense, we all remember that the world isn’t meant to be like this, that God meant for it to be so much better—in a sense, we remember how the world was meant to be, which is Eden.

      You said, “I am considering the possibility that it is something God has put in our hearts to make us seek him . . . .” I think that’s right, too.

      I think another way to put it would be to say that we are made for union with God, and in this world, where at best the curse leaves some kind of veil between us and Him, we always ache for that union; we miss it. So I think the feeling we’re talking about is the desire for God Himself. I was just reading another blog that mentioned the line from Saint Augustine, that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

      1. All of the above then, in some sense. I feel the same way too. I do long for that day when we finally see it. It promises to be beautiful.

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