Longing for Home

Michael Potts
2 min readNov 11, 2020

Have you ever taken a walk, watched a butterfly flitter from blade to blade of green grass, and suddenly felt transported back to your childhood when everything around you gave you a sense of wonder? I imagine most people have; the trigger could be a sight, a sound, a scent, or the tickle of a light breeze on the skin. These moments are all too rare, and the paradox is that if you try to have such experiences, the very motivation makes them impossible to experience. It is the times you are not trying to have that experience that is arrives as a surprise guest, a gift unexpected, a joy that almost hurts. “Sehnsucht” is the word C. S. Lewis used to describe this experience that makes the best of the past present and revives feelings we have not had since we were five. Lewis thought it a longing for God, a sense of missing Eden and desiring Heaven simultaneously. Some of the Greek mystical thinkers of the late Byzantine period said that we ought to love everything in nature as we observe it, even black widow spiders and poisonous snakes. Gerard Manley Hopkins wanted to communicate a sense of the beauty of form in each natural object. Each object shares in existence in its own way, and “through a glass darkly” we perceive the transcendent through nature during those periods of Sehnsucht. As a philosopher, I have studied proofs for the existence of God and think Aquinas’ Third Way works. However, that is not convincing at the emotional level. Contemplating nature, walking in nature, keeping my mind blank and welcoming whatever experience comes, leaves me open to natural things — the walnut tree just inside the woods next to my house, the mulberry tree with its twisted branches, the acorns strewing the ground near the shed — all these things share in the beauty of the Deity. Through their beauty and their precious uniqueness, the world seems right again, no matter what is in the news, and I know, with St. Julian of Norwich, that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Take a walk in nature and love everything you see without trying to experience anything specifically. You may find Sehnsucht and long for something lost that one day can be refound.

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Michael Potts
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Michael Potts is Professor of Philosophy at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC.