Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings that no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I’m not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called successful marriages or vacations or learned careers, I’m speaking of the best possible ones. There is something we have grasped at in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent and chemistry may be a very interesting job, but something has evaded us.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
–C. S. Lewis,
Our culture has failed precisely because it is a secular culture. A secular culture is a culture reduced to thing and function. Typically, at the outset, people are delighted to find themselves living in such a culture. It is wonderful to have all these things coming our way, without having to worry about their nature or purpose. And it is wonderful to have this incredible freedom to do so much, without bothering about relationships or meaning, But after a few years of this, our delight diminishes as we find ourselves lonely among the things and bored with our freedom.
Our first response is to get more of what brought us delight in the first place: acquire more things, generate more activity. Get more. Do more. After a few years of this, we are genuinely puzzled that we are not any better.
We North Americans have been doing this for well over a century now, and we have succeeded in producing a culture that is reduced to thing and function. And we all seem to be surprised that this magnificent achievement of secularism—all these things! all these activities!—has produced an epidemic of loneliness and boredom. We are surprised to find ourselves lonely behind the wheel of a BMW or bored nearly to death as we advance from one prestigious job to another.
And then, one by one, a few people begin to realize that getting more and doing more only makes the sickness worse. They realize that if it gets much worse the culture will be dead—a thoroughly secularized culture is a corpse.
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in the world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise . . .
–C. S. Lewis
There is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul. At the heart of all great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion lies the naming and analyzing of this desire.
The Holy Longing