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A Journey to Joy from Longing

God found C.S. Lewis among Oxford University’s prestigious lecture halls and dormitories; He found me among Hollywood’s dark, dank dives, firmly seated on one of the many red, cracked vinyl covered barstools. C.S. Lewis was an avid reader from a very early age; one could not pay me to read a book until I reached my early twenties. Despite some very drastic differences in our lives trajectories C.S. Lewis and I do share a very important journey, one from atheism to Christianity. Only I was able to benefit from Lewis’ journey during mine. Looking to his writings and his expressions of what plagued him I was able to put my finger on what it was that also plagued me. Lewis often described a longing sensation that we all share and a journey that that longing produced. It is my goal to discuss in this paper how reading Lewis’ thoughts as he struggled with this feeling of longing, what he comes to call ‘joy’ and his journey helped this average young man come to know the God of the all creation.

The Longing We All Share:

“But words are vain; reject them all – They utter but a feeble part: Hear thou the depths from which they call, The voiceless longing of my heart.”[1] 

 Do you ever pick up a book which you have read more than a few times? Or a movie, have you ever watched one over and again? We all do but why? We know what happens, why read the same thing again? Lewis likens this to a child to whom is told a bedtime story. And when that child particularly likes the story what does she say when the story is through? “Read it again. Read it again!” Why? The plot and its twists and turns are known. There are no more surprises, the end has been revealed. Lewis suggests that we go back to these favorites because we long for the world of the book. It touches us at that place where we long for the only other world where we can really know which is heaven.[2]

Narnia, The Shire, Perelandra, and Neverland, we visit these places in literature as we hunger for something. But it is more than that. This longing extends far beyond the re-reading of stories. In Surprised by Joy Lewis describes one of the first times he sensed this feeling of longing when he writes of his youth and a toy garden his brother had made with moss, twigs and a discarded biscuit tin.

My brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It was difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me… It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss… and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned common place again, or only stirred by a longing.[3]

Similarly, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we once again meet up with two of the Pevensie children. Lucy and Edmond express their ever longing to go back to Narnia and hold close the promise of one day returning, “a promise, or very nearly a promise, had been made them in Narnia itself that they would some day get back. You may imagine that they talked about it a good deal, when they got the chance.”[4] But why do we long and what for?

Lewis later writes that “we found ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”[5] I believe this with all I am. I too sense this longing. Whether it be the notion that things are not as they ought to be, or while daydreaming in my office of past adventures and future ones too; the longing feeling is there. Lewis understood this longing as being so central to our lives that he believed it was woven through the major experiences of his own. He called this longing “joy.”[6] Lewis describes this sense of joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[7] He also makes it clear that the thirst of our longings are not quenched through pleasure and happiness. ‘Joy,’ he writes, “must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from pleasure.”[8] Lewis then points out that the experience of joy in turn produces a longing to experience it again. And perhaps most importantly Lewis makes it clear that we cannot produce joy on our own. C.S. Lewis put words to this feeling in me that just would not go away. And like Lewis, it was the pursuit of this ‘joy’ that sent me on a journey that would forever change my life.

The Journey from Joy:

“[There] is a craving which makes [man] a pilgrim and wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’.”[9] 

We are all so broken. It’s this realization that sent me on a personal journey leading to the Cross of Christ. And it was this longing, this ‘joy’ that made me weary and aware of my brokenness. How I long to be whole and right. If we are all honest about the longing in our heart and we recognize our brokenness, that longing would send us questing for a fix to the brokenness. About this Lewis writes,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[10]

Lewis, through his relationships with friends and many author’s books came to better understand what we have described above. And his recognition of his own brokenness was one of the things that lead to a conversation from atheism to theism and then to Christianity. It is when we all come to this conclusion we see our deficiencies and then our gravitation towards God; or as Lewis put it, “my Adversary began to move.”[11] And it was Lewis’ pursuit of ‘joy’ that lead him to stop asking ‘what did I desire?’ but ‘Who is the desire?’ Bringing him into a “region of awe.”[12] It was then that Lewis for the first time examined himself. “And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears… My name is legion,” he writes.[13]

Another critical part of our journeys comes once we become aware of our longings and the in ability of earthly pleasures to satisfy them. While we think it is pleasure we are in search of I believe it’s actually something else altogether. In actuality we are not chasing anything but trying our hardest to avoid suffering. We are “far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.”[14] This too is an impossibility. Lewis suggests that the desire to avoid suffering stems from a lesser yearning perhaps. He would say, and I agree having experienced this personally, that we avoid suffering because we do not want to be interfered with.

This was my last major obstacle to recognizing God as God. I thought I liked my life. I thought I was pursuing ‘joy’ and gaining on her. In reality though I was refusing to acknowledge what which was the Truth because I refused to bend my knee. I want to “call my soul my own.”[15] Once this attempt proved futile I was His. “The great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.”[16]

Where does this journey end, where do the longings cease to be, and ‘joy’ is actualized? This brings us not to the end but the beginning. C.S. Lewis writes that as he made his transition from theism to Christianity that it was only then he started “approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot.”[17]

The Beginning:

“In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[18] 

Our journey of longing, our pursuit of ‘joy’ does not end, not until they are realized in heaven. However, the longings no longer have the significance they once did because they are understood. We have a better perspective but only once viewed from the Christian angle. We can now see that the longings are not intended to be satisfied but instead serve as signs, pointing us to our final ending, which is also our beginning. Lewis compares ‘joy’ to signpost for hikers in the woods. When they are lost a sign is a wonderful sight, helping them again to find their way. The first deserves marvel but once on their proper path they needn’t stop and marvel at them all. Similarly, these longings are there to point us in the right direction, to point us to the glory of heaven, the fulfillment of ‘joy’ and ultimately to God.

            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 no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.[19]


[1] MacDonald, George. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (London: Daldy, Isbister, 1874) 86. (Emphasis mine)

[2] Root, Jerry, C.S. Lewis: His Thought and Work seminar series at Biola University, Spring 2012

[3] Lewis, C.S., Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1955) 14.

[4] Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 5: Location 50.

[5] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002) 114.

[6] Surprised by Joy. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid 16

[9] Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Books, 2005) 90 (as viewed on Googlebooks.com).

[10] Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 25: Location 257.

[11] Surprised by Joy. 209.

[12] Ibid 214.

[13] Ibid 219.

[14] Ibid 220.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid 204

[17] Ibid 222.

[18] Psalm 16:11 (ESV).

[19] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory, p. 41: Location 406.

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