The Window in the Garden Wall
A consistent theme running through much of Lewis’s writings is the expression of Sehnsucht--a German word meaning wistful, soft, tearful longing. But Lewis describes it as a fleeting sensation, when glimpsing the divine:
It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? . . . Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”
~Surprised by Joy
Lewis experienced this longing while reading the works of George MacDonald, and also many of the ancient myths. While he struggled with his rational explanations as a young man that there was no God or Supreme Being, he was at the same time aware of these deep emotions which pointed to a dimension of existence beyond time and space. A longing that so many of us feel, but find so difficult to put into words. We are all seeking restlessly that which eludes us: the divine, the magical, the Northern-ness, the ecstatic, the Truth.
"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food . A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. 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. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of a copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same."
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, "Hope"
I hope “The Window in the Garden Wall” will become a tool for all of us seekers—to learn a little more about C.S. Lewis, and also discover some glimpses of the world beyond. I hope you will join me in my search for my true country.
And now for the quote which prompted the name for this site:
Then came the sound of a musical instrument,
from behind it seemed,
very sweet and very short,
as if it were one plucking of a string
or one note of a bell,
and after it a full, clear voice
-and it sounded so high and strange
that he thought it was very far away,
further than a star.
The voice said, Come.
Then John saw that there was a stone wall
beside the road in that part:
but it had (what he had never seen
in a garden wall before) a window.
There was not glass in the window and no bars;
it was just a square hole in the wall.
Through it he saw a green wood full of primroses:
and he remembered suddenly how he had gone into another wood
to pull primroses, as a child, very long ago
-so long that even in the moment of remembering
the memory seemed still out of reach.
While he strained to grasp it,
there came to him from beyond the wood a sweetness
and pang so piercing that instantly he forgot
his father's house,
and his mother,
and the fear of the Landlord,
and the burden of the rules.
All the furniture of his mind was taken away.
A moment later he found that he was sobbing,
and the sun had gone in:
and what it was that had happened to him
he could not quite remember,
nor whether it had happened in this wood,
or in the other wood when he was a child.
It seemed to him that a mist
which hung at the far end of the wood
had parted for a moment,
and through the rift he had seen a calm sea,
and in the sea an island,
where the smooth turf
sloped down unbroken to the bays,
and out of the thickets peeped the pale,
wise like gods,
unconscious of themselves like beasts,
and tall enchanters,
bearded to their feet,
sat in green chairs among the forests.
But even while he pictured these things he knew,
with one part of his mind,
that they were not like the things he had seen
-nay, that what had befallen him was not seeing at all.
But he was too young to heed the distinction:
and too empty, now that the unbounded sweetness passed away,
not to seize greedily whatever it had left behind.
He had no inclination yet to go into the wood:
and presently he went home,
with a sad excitement upon him,
repeating to himself a thousand times,
"I know now what I want."
The first time that he said it,
he was aware that it was not entirely true:
but before he went to bed he was believing it.
~C.S. Lewis, "The Dream of the Island", from "The Pilgrim's Regress"