I’m convinced it is those who claim an adverse disdain to reading who are most in danger of continually rejecting the call to an ever deeper interior life. Nonetheless, it is not without evidence that there are those among us who, in their innocence, have affected miracles with complete illiteracy that intelligence cannot comprehend. While the world certainly benefits from both, the read and the unread, perhaps what we are being called to witness is not the manner in which we are called to deep waters of interior fulfillment, but rather the recognition that we are indeed being awakened to the seemingly illusory longing for JOY. What the man of deep reflection in quiet waters gains from an introspective welcoming to intelligence through the expansion of wisdom in the written word, a man of illiterate means can gain quite naively through experiencing it. In effect, becoming the word made flesh. In either case, we do well to respect the movement of the Spirit of Wisdom at work among us, calling out to each of us according to our gifts and measure of understanding, beckoning us beyond the illusory curtain to see behind the veil and behold die Blaue Blume “the Blue Flower” imprinted in our souls, the ever imaginative without proper worldly description longing for eternal JOY that can only be found by the guiding of Wisdom’s hand.
As the great literary author C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiography “Surprised by Joy” this combination of longing and wonder symbolized by the Blaue Blume can only be expressed by Lewis using the German word “Sehnsucht.” I’ve often mused how of all the words allotted in the English language, the great author identified his longing most accurately with a word of German origin. Lewis said there simply was no other word which could so accurately convey the longing in his heart more descriptively than this one. A great example of the inherent unification of beauty in the varied tongues of men. What does Lewis mean by Sehnsucht? The word is rich with emotional and imaginative associations, famously described by the poet Matthew Arnold as a “wistful, soft, tearful longing.” Theologically, when we experience the awakening of Sehnsucht, according to Lewis, we are beginning to understand that there is another world, a better world, of which this world is just a shadow. In his book, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis sets out to describe it as such:
“When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that is not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or a copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the door. And of course it is different, as different as a real thing is from a shadow or waking life is from a dream.”
Thus, here among the shadows, it is enough of a struggle that we must be awakened, while the rest of the world sleeps and clamors to, in the immortal words of King Lear, “endure their going hence.”
And what of the Blue Flower? Leading German Romantic writers, such as Novakis (1772-1801) and Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857), used the image of a “Blue Flower” as a symbol of the wanderings and yearnings of the human soul, especially as this sense of longing is evoked-though not satisfied-by the natural world. Lewis was just 6 years old when he met with Sehnsucht and the Blue Flower, yet his youthful mind could not yet fully understand them and finding the answer would become the fruit of his life’s work.
We are each called to a deeper understanding of infinitely more. It is the Deep calling out to deep. It matters not in which manner one hears the call, whether by book or good pleasure, or whether we acknowledge it at the age of six or sixty-six, it matters only that we recognize it’s whisper and align it with our longing, turning our gaze to the interior door and pressing in upon it until we can see the softly rolling hills blanketed with shades of Joy and rest our hope firmly in Him who made them bloom.
If we are ever to see our longing fulfilled and experience the fullness of Sehnsucht, we must first give ourselves over completely to our awakening, lest we sleep forever.
How about you? What makes your soul come alive? Can you recall the times in your life you felt most awake to the possibility of infinitely more? When was the last time you spent 10-15 minutes reading a book?
I love books. I love reading them. I love writing them. I love just holding a good book.
Author and Speaker Matthew Kelly writes in his book The Rhythm of Life, “Spiritual Reading is one of the great intellectual and spiritual traditions of Christianity. Fifteen minutes of good spiritual reading a day… not two hours today and none for two weeks… can change your life and awaken our spiritual senses and inspire us to focus more of our time and efforts on the spiritual life.”
It is also well noted in C.S. Lewis’ autobiography that he was a lover of books from the earliest age he could read, often spending days lost among his father’s personal library stacks, a foretelling of his call to a literary vocation, perhaps. No book was off limits to the young Lewis. He attributes one of his earliest awakening experiences to one sentence from a volume of work that so struck his soul it became the spark that would later ignite his Joy in Christianity. Lewis also credits his love of books for the expansion of his imagination which would later give way to his own volume of written works for which he has become well acclaimed.
One of the first books I read as a returning prodigal was Matthew’s The Rhythm of Life. In it, he offers a list of suggested readings that renew our spiritual orientation by reminding us that we are each called to become the-best-version-of-ourselves and that give practical tools to grow in the spiritual life. I’ve read every book on this list and they have changed my life. I want to encourage you to become an avid reader and especially, a lover of the word of God. Just 10 minutes a day, that’s all you need to start! As Matthew is fond of saying, “OUR LIVES CHANGE WHEN OUR HABITS CHANGE.” Why not start today?
In addition to the Holy Bible, Matthew suggests reading them in order.
1. The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly
2. Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft
3. Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
4. Made for More by Curtis Martin
5. Three Philosophies of Life by Peter Kreeft
6. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
7. In His Spirit by Richard Haydee, S.J.
8. Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor by Allen Hunt
9. He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.
10. Conversation with Christ by Peter Thomas Rohrbach
11. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
13. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
14. Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre DeCaussade
And I would add also, 15. Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly as a way to round out the list for a nice transition into the next.
Many of these works can be found for free on Amazon’s Kindle, Apple books and by request from dynamiccatholic.com. There’s no better time to get started!
May God bless you with a prayerful spirit, a peaceful heart, and a mind that yearns for truth.