I recently read Death by Living, by ND Wilson, again on the bus. There is in it a little section about the yearning felt by Solomon, which is a curious spin on my fascination with CS Lewis’s idea of Sehnsucht, and of all our homesickness here. But read the quote first so you understand what I mean. It’s the last paragraph that’s of interest, but the rest is lead in:
No matter how many pictures we take, no matter how many scrapbooks we make, no matter how many moments we invade with a rolling camera, we will die. We will vanish. We cannot grab and hold. We cannot smuggle things out with us through death.
But this shouldn’t inspire melancholy; it should only tinge the sweet with the bitter. Don’t resent the moments simply because they cannot be frozen. Taste them. Savour them. Give thanks for that daily bread. Manna doesn’t keep overnight. More will come in the morning.
Our futile struggle in time is courtesy of God’s excessive giving. Sunset after sunset make it hard to remember and hold just one. Smell after smell. Laugh after laugh. A mind still thinking, a heart still beating. Imagine sticking your fingers on your pulse and thanking God every time He gave you another blood-driving, brain-powering thump. We should. And we shouldn’t, because if we did, we would never do anything else with our living; we wouldn’t have the time to look at or savour any of the other of our impossibillions of gifts.
My wife and I tend to overgift to our kids at Christmas. We laugh and feel foolish when a kid is so distracted with one toy that we must force them into opening the next, or when something grand goes completely unnoticed in a corner. How consumerist, right? How crassly American.
How like God.
We are all that overwhelmed kid, not even noticing our heartbeats, not even noticing our breathing, not even noticing that our fingertips can feel and pick things up, that pie smells like pie and that our hangnails heal and that honey-crisp apples are real and that dogs wag their tails and that awe perpetually awaits us in the sky. The real yearning, the solomonic state of mind, is caused by too much gift, by too many things to love in too short a time. Because the more we are given, the more we feel the loss as we are all made poor and sent back to our dust.
I think it fits, in that CS Lewis describes feeling this Sehnsucht, this desire, when overcome by a thing of beauty, “the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead”, a gift if you will. And the knowledge we have in that moment that such beauty, and more of it and perhaps even a giver of it, exists. But then it’s gone and we can’t get it back – “too many things to love in too short a time” – and we feel it’s loss, as well as a desire for its return. Thus the homesickness comes via the receiving of gifts, but then their loss or their passing in time. We feel the loss as a longing, followed closely by the idea of, and the haunting from, a land of endless gifts, that never “perish, spoil or fade”. It is the gift that rends the veil.
I don’t know whether this makes any sense or means anything at all to anyone else, but I like it.