Thursday, January 24, 2008

C. S. Lewis, Augustine and the Silver Bullet Band

Augustine famously wrote, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." This statement has been conceptualized with the image of the God-shaped hole in the human heart. This image suggests that we have a "hole" in our heart that nothing else can fill except God Himself. We can attempt to fill that hole with other things -- personal relationships, hobbies, stuff, etc. -- but those things are incapable of filling the hole. The writings of C. S. Lewis are heavily laden with this concept, but Lewis does not speak of it in Augustine's terms. For Lewis, this "God-shaped hole" is experienced in the universal phenomenon of Sehnsucht. Literally translated, this German term means simply "desire," but the concept is much stronger than this English word conveys. I have written elsewhere a survey of this concept in Lewis's writings.

All of us have had the experience of disappointment. Disappointment occurs when something fails to live up to our expectations of it. We have our hopes set high that some new gadget will revolutionize our life, so we spend a lot of money to get that thing, only to find that it does not live up to the hype, or we break the thing, rendering it useless. We are left in despair. What we desire remains somewhere outside of our grasp. We could illustrate the concept of Sensucht another way. Phineas is offered a pill that promises to deliver a sensation of euphoria. Phineas takes this pill and experiences its "high." Wanting to repeat the experience, Phineas takes the pill again. In time, Phineas will discover that taking one of these pills does not deliver the same effects anymore, so he begins taking two at a time. He continues this until two no longer fulfill his desire, and he begins taking three, and so on. The ultimate experience of euphoria can never be attained, always lying somewhere just beyond the grasp.

Of course, for C. S. Lewis and for Augustine, God is the only answer to our Sehnsucht. Our hearts are restless, always seeking and never finding the rest we desire, until we rest in Him.
When one understands this, one holds in his or her grasp the answer to the questions often asked in popular expressions of art -- including popular music. This came to mind this morning as I listened to the song "Roll Me Away," by Bob Seger. Of course, I could use many other popular songs to illustrate the point (perhaps readers will share their own thoughts on this concept in the comment section).

In this classic rock power-ballad, Seger sings:

Took a look down a westbound road, Right away I made my choice. Headed out to my big two-wheeler, I was tired of my own voice. Took a bead on the northern plains And just rolled that power on.
Who among us hasn't wished we could just get away from it all? Tired of our surroundings, the daily grind, and even our own voices, we have a desire for escape. Seger takes off on his motorcycle, and one can feel the sense of liberation that comes over him as he rolls the power on.
Twelve hours out of Mackinaw City, Stopped in a bar to have a brew. Met a girl and we had a few drinks And I told her what I'd decided to do. She looked out the window a long, long moment, Then she looked into my eyes. She didn't have to say a thing, I knew what she was thinkin'.
You have to wonder what kind of desolate place he has come to if it can only be described as "twelve hours out of Mackinaw (or Mackinac) City. Surely he must be only a few hours away from another city he could name. And one would also question the wisdom of having a brew -- having "a few drinks" in fact -- before mounting his ride again, but I digress. As Seger shares a few drinks and bears his soul to a strange woman, he recognizes in her the same desire, though she need not say it. Of course she doesn't need to say it -- it is something every soul longs for. The look in her eyes said to Seger:

Roll, roll me away, Wont you roll me away tonight? I too am lost, I feel double-crossed, And I'm sick of what's wrong and what's right. We never even said a word, We just walked out and got on that bike. And we rolled -- And we rolled clean out of sight.
Lostness, betrayal, the burden of playing the game of life under someone else's rules. There must be something better out there somewhere. Let's go find it.

We rolled across the high plains; Deep into the mountains; Felt so good to me; Finally feelin' free.
Could it be that Seger has finally found the freedom he longs for? The buzz of alcohol, the wind in his face, a strange woman's arms around him, the beauty of creation all around. But alas, the sensation is short lived.
Somewhere along a high road, The air began to turn cold. She said she missed her home. I headed on alone.
It didn't take long for the woman to realize (or sober up enough to discover) that this adventure failed to live up to her expectations. She missed her home. You recall that "home" for her was a place of lostness, betrayal and a seeming unjust value system. But a few hours in the hot pursuit of something different -- something better -- did not deliver upon its promise. Better for her to return to the familiarity of her unpleasant reality than to keep pursuing the unknown on the back of Seger's bike. Seger doesn't tell us what he did with her. For all we know, he might have killed her. Let's assume he didn't. Did he leave her on the roadside to negotiate her own passage back to "twelve hours out of Mackinac City" or did he take her back himself? We will never know. But the open road still beckons Seger, and he headed on without his companion.

Stood alone on a mountain top, Starin' out at the Great Divide I could go east, I could go west, It was all up to me to decide. Just then I saw a young hawk flyin', And my soul began to rise. And pretty soon My heart was singin': Roll, roll me away, I'm gonna roll me away tonight.
Gotta keep rollin', gotta keep ridin',
Keep searchin' till I find whats right. And as the sunset faded I spoke to the faintest first starlight. And I said, "Next time -- Next time we'll get it right."

One can almost feel the disappointment uttered in Seger's reluctant confession. He wants to experience the boundless freedom he sees in the flight of that young hawk over the Continental Divide. But alas, he won't find it on this journey. As the sun drops behind the mountains, Seger is left with the realization that, like the woman who abandoned the journey, he too must give up the quest and return to place from whence he came. But the desire will still be there, and he'll act upon it again. And "next time, we'll get it right."

The theme is familiar. You or I could have written this song, changing some of the details. But we have all found ourself lying in darkness uttering that reluctant confession -- "Next time, we'll get it right." The thing we so desire is just beyond our reach. And this will be the epilogue of all life's pursuits except one -- the pursuit of God. Only He can fill the hole. Only He can save us from our lostness. Only He will be faithful. Only He can remedy the betrayal we have experienced from others. Only He can right the wrongs. As we pursue Him, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Only in Him will we find the contentment for which we are all longing.

Seger says: "Just then I saw a young hawk flyin', And my soul began to rise."

Isaiah says: "Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." (Isa 40:31)

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