Slideshow image

It was an hour of great beauty, the kind of beauty that the ocean and the coast give frequently. Towards the coming of evening the sun settles on the water, seeming to delay its own setting, pouring itself along the waters of the gulf. Reaching the city, it transforms the tall buildings into vast reflectors that flash and shimmer as the angle of the sun slowly changes.

We were walking near the museum, watching the sailing craft heading home after the day. Here and there an actual working craft is coming in - a tugboat, a police patrol craft. As we walked, we rounded a rise and were then facing westward towards the setting sun.

I became aware that people around us were also looking westwards. They were not talking to each other, some not even looking at one another, although they were obviously together.

Almost all were still and silent, facing west.

The thought that came to me has best been expressed years ago by C. S. Lewis. For some years he occupied the Chair of English at Cambridge and was a very well-known convert to Christianity at the time, pretty well my own years in university and the decades following. Lewis would say that we humans are all really exiles from another reality, another mode of being. In our exile in this realm of space and time we are given glimpses from time to time of loveliness and a glory that are our true surroundings. Because of this we are haunted by “music", if you will, or a language which we once spoke but have forgotten. Lewis had a word for this. He called it Joy. He often emphasized that he did not mean happiness, and certainly not mere jollity.

He used to say that he was referring to a kind of longing that we all feel from time to time, a longing for something you know with absolute certainty is real and of infinite value, but which cannot, at least in the present moment, be fully possessed. For Lewis that was the Divine Glory that lies at the heart of things, defying our familiar language.

For me the Victorian poet Francis Thompson captured this elusive but haunting thought.

0 world invisible, we view thee

0 world intangible, we touch thee.

0 world unknowable, we know thee.

lnapprehensible we clutch thee.

That evening, claimed for a few moments by the glory of the sunset, I knew a fleeting moment of that Joy.


istock 1439548434

Credit: Mago Walko