“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing 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.”
– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I was probably about five years old, it was a hot summer’s day with only the slightest breeze. I had found the shade of a spreading maple tree near where my mother was working in the garden. Wafted on that gentle breeze came a scent that I had never noticed before, a scent sweeter than anything I had ever known. I searched for the source of that scent and found it in patch of delicate, exquisitely beautiful flowers. When I asked my mother, she told me they were Sweet Williams. That instant in time, the scent, the beauty, has lingered in the deep recesses of my memory all these years. Sweet Williams still bring back memories of that moment, yet never quite the fullness of the transcendent beauty of that moment.
Isn’t this what C. S. Lewis meant by “images of what we really desire”? These instants when natural beauty and events take on a character beyond their earthly nature are given to remind us that this earth is not really our home. They feed a longing within us for something unknown, something beyond knowing. That something is what the Bible calls heaven.
To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, our physical hunger indicates that there must somewhere be something that we can eat to satisfy that hunger. In the same way, our hunger for paradise indicates that there must somewhere exist a real paradise that we can hope to someday reach. Many will scoff at that, say it is far too simplistic, we must work to make this earth a paradise. To which I will simply ask: when have men ever succeeded in making an earthly paradise that satisfied that inner longing for paradise?