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Sehnsucht
O. P. Kretzmann

One of the curious things about life after noon is the slow emergence of certain patterns of behavior for the passing hours and days… One of my own is an inevitable hour of wakefulness about four oclock each morning… No matter at what hour, late or early, the previous day has ended I find my spirit lifting itself into consciousness at the same hour night after night… There may be a little more sleep later but for about an hour I find myself under the blessing of solitude and quiet and reflection… all of which should be an essential part of life after noon…

It is a good time to be awake, especially in mid-summer… The sky is turning gray and the spreading elm beyond my window stands clear before the cold accuracy of eyes that are not yet tired by the confusion of the day… The first birds, two mourning doves, a martin and a robin, tentatively announce the bridging of the gap between night and day… Now and then there is a mysterious flock in the elm which wells into a discordant chorus to greet the age-old miracle of day… There is something ritualistic about the whole performance, a part of creation obediently and joyously welcoming the sun, dancing before the Lord, dipping wings as the seraphim are said to do…

And this is the hour when I have most often experienced what I can only describe as Sehnsucht… Mr. C. S. Lewis in his autobiography also mentions it… This strange fusion of joy and sorrow and longing… of belonging and not belonging… this (literally) desire to see perfection and wholeness… It is a wish to see and hear, not to be… Sehnsucht — the desire to see… It is long now since the Mount of Transfiguration and the Mount of Olives but they still hold what I want to see so many years later at dawn in a little Indiana town… In them is all of life, all its anxiety and joy, its night and day, its questions and answers… Suddenly I remember Ralph Hodgsons Song of Honor which tells a part of it:

 “I heard it all, I heard the whole
Harmonious hymn of being roll
Up through the chapel of my soul.
And at the altar die…

To die — but only to live again in a greater way… At this hour, I remember, a few men found a tomb empty and returned to face, finally and triumphantly, the incredulity and inhumanity of men… This is then the real object of one Sehnsucht… to see the white garments even now… to see more surely that the world (and men) that have rolled into darkness will roll out of it again… just as my momentary world did this morning…

I have found Sehnsucht elsewhere too… in the haunting, falling cadence with which Handel clothes the words of the prophet, “A Man of Sorrows and acquainted with Grief… It shows that nothing, not even a diamond-bedecked contralto, can rob the descending notes of pain and the sequence of sorrow… the reflection of Sehnsucht”, a joy and a grief, personal and universal, but not without end… Or I have found it in a few moments in a church in Wisconsin as dusk falls and the last sun comes through the windows… It is Saturday night and I hear the organist enter, laboriously climb the stair and begin the trumpet tones of Wake, awake, for Night is flying… Suddenly here was in the little church all the Sehnsucht for the end of the vesper twilight of Christendom and the coming of the last dawn…

And so these moments of Sehnsucht are good for all of us… They are the soft, clear answers to the questions of the night, so long now and so bitter, and the problems of the day, so great now and so filled with terror… A stranger may live without them, but not a pilgrim… There is always before him the last answer, the purple and gold of the City and the sound of Domes day in the air… the dual treasure of the receding hour of darkness and the slow rising dawn of the day without night… the light into which we have not yet quite come…

I lie quietly as the sky beyond my window turns from gray to blue and the inevitable bruises of the soul seem to heal, the night flies, and my own little acquaintance with grief assumes its true perspective against the majesty of all the years in which He has caused this glory to happen… For a moment I am secluded into peace… the shadow, a hint, a fraction of what is still to come… For suddenly, I know, with a warm contentment, that there will surely be a day when I shall bridge for the last time this chasm, narrow but deep, between the solemnity of the night and the glory of the day… and there will be an angel beyond the window… visible only to God and to me… and a voice, far beyond the stammering of earth, telling me to come home…

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