“This is what I have been looking for all my life.” Lewis puts these words into the lips of several of his characters: John in The Pilgrim’s Regress, Psyche in Till we Have Faces, Jewel in the Last Battle. The words represent a lifelong search for what Lewis would describe as Joy, Sehnsucht.
Heroes in myths always seem to be on some sort of quest, and it is because we resonate with those quests that we love myths. Lewis would follow Tolkein in arguing that our desire for transcendence points to a real object that can satisfy that desire.
Again, having desires does not imply that those desires will be realized – that we will find what we have been searching for all our lives – but the fact of desire does imply that there is a real object out there to satisfy the desire:
A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread…. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it is a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.”
When we are confronted with the haunting, almost painful desire that is awakened through myths or mythic experiences, Lewis says that we have three choices.
1. Try to fulfill mythic longings through physical means
First, we can live as fools and look to physical objects to fulfill our desires. This is to mistake the vessel through which the longing comes for the longing itself, to believe that Joy is located in them instead of realizing that it merely comes through them.
Lewis depicts this in The Pilgrim’s Regress when John is deluded into thinking that his longing for the island is merely a longing for aesthetic experiences, first in the form of the “brown girls”, then, in the form of the woman Media. Upon kissing Media, he decides romantic love is what he has ultimately been looking for: “the brown girls [sex] were too gross and the Island [the longing itself] was too fine. This is the real thing.”
Those who live this way will go from one aesthetic experience to the other, continually in search of the “Real Thing.” But they will never find it: Joy is not found in them, it only reveals itself through them.
2. Deny or rationalize mythic longings
Our second choice is to deny the desire, to write it off as “Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence” to lower our expectations and to stop wanting so much. While Lewis admits that this way of living is better than the first way, as it keeps a person from being a nuisance to society, he asks: “But supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow’s end?” It would be a great tragedy to learn that Joy was waiting for us if we had only searched for it.
3. Hope that mythic longings can be fulfilled
This points us to the third option, the Christian virtue of hope. To believe that we will find what we are looking for – that what we desire is actually attainable – is the theological virtue of hope. Lewis points to this hope when he writes:
“creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The words, “This is what I have been looking for all my life” in Lewis’s writings signify not merely the search, but the end of the search, desire realized and satisfied.
Christians believe that a day is coming when we will speak words like these truly, because we will have found what we have been seeking.
“This is what I have been looking for all my life.”
Next: Myth Becomes Fact