Anticipating Delights

The taste of a fresh orange. The smell of coffee in the morning. The calm hush of snowfall. A long-awaited trip arriving in a day or two. For each one of us it is different, but there are certain things which seem to open suddenly a new dimension to us: a brief moment of eternity, almost separated from space, where we revel a pleasure and let it drip down to our guts, filling us with serenity and joy, and igniting our imaginations, until we come back to reality. For me, there are a few songs which transmit this sense of transcendence, and one of them is called Sailing. A hit in 1980 by Christopher Cross, it portrays the experience of sailing – the vast horizon, the smell of the deep sea, the clap-clap of the water against the boat – as an example of this kind of window to timelessness.

Well, it’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility

For Cross, experiences such as sailing transmit innocence and serenity; they make “all the world in a reverie, every word is a symphony.” He uses grand words to describe such moments, like freedom and miracles, and names the arrival of a flash of paradise, of “Never Never Land.”

Curiously, C. S. Lewis has seen a similar connection between moments of delight and our longing for eternity. In his book about pain, after dealing with all the emotional and philosophical ramifications of suffering and evil, Lewis reserves his last chapter to talk about heaven. But it is actually a chapter about pleasure, about that undefined longing which consumes us, that craving we try to satisfy but which is meant only to leave us aching for the more splendorous reality which one day will engulf our senses and bathe us anew. “You have never had it,” writes Lewis. “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.” [1]

This longing is, as Lewis puts it, a delicious dissatisfaction, a tasty hunger, a longing to hear in song what arrives now only in indefinite echoes. It is similar to the paradoxical, unsatisfied  manner with which a sixteenth-century poet (Luís de Camões, the Portuguese equivalent of Shakespeare) once described love:

Love is fire which burns without being seen;
It is a wound which hurts without being felt;
It is a discontented contentment;
It is pain which maddens without hurting [2]

What I find interesting in Lewis’ understanding of our longings, hinted somewhat also by Cross, is how he connects them to our desire for heaven. “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.” In an address called The Weight of Glory, Lewis points out that the books or songs which mediate beauty to us do not contain beauty, but only transmit a brief glimpse of it, only a longing for it. “For they are not the thing in itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” [3] The full satisfaction of our longings, the definitive sailing across the eternal ocean, our final immersion in endless bliss will arrive only when God creates everything anew, and we can’t even imagine how it will be like.

I find it funny that Lewis identifies heaven as a country we have never yet visited. Today Sarah and I leave for a country we haven’t yet visited, and we are almost shaking with excitement. After an exhaustive year, and before a second baby and a season of even more work arrive, we can’t wait for a week of rest. I’m really looking forward to it. But no matter how tasty the food is there, how colorful the beaches, how fascinating the culture, I know this week will only be a glimpse, only an appetizer of the rest we will one day enjoy. We will relish this trip to the full, yet knowing that our final delight is yet to come, and boy, am I excited for that one.

René Breuel


[1]   C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 150-151.

[3]   C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 31.

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