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I Have a Dream of Sehnsucht

Recently, I came across a brilliant essay by Bret Lott in the journal, Image.

Drawing on C.S. Lewis, Lott defines a German word, sehnsucht, is an intense desire for somewhere we may never have been. It is a compound word whose roots are yearning and addiction. I love that the German language just slaps words together to form a new one! Side-by-side, different words can interpret one another, offering new insight. More poetically, sehnsucht is “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”).

This reminds me that we are all seekers, journeying with our heads and our hearts and bodies towards wholeness and healing. It is the yearning for the reign of God here on earth. We are in a sense addicted to this desire. I am reminded that Simone Weil called all sins the attempt to fill a void.

In light of the coming holiday, I’ve been reading the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” The closing refrain is obviously the most famous and is certainly inspiring. But while he envisions a better future, earlier in the same speech MLK powerfully spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” He warns of the “luxury of cooling off” and “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

But I fear that, too often, the church advises the faithful to do precisely this: to wait and watch, to swallow that burning desire, to tamp down passion, hope, and dreams.

So, this MLK day, I have a dream of sehnsucht … I have a dream that people will mobilize for justice, rather than simply gathering for fellowship … I have a dream that churches will spill out the walls, instead of cowering inside … I have a dream that we will realize the urgency of now is more indicative of life-giving power than the fear that would tell us to wait.

This dream is a yearning addiction … I have a dream that we would seek 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.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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