And now Legolas feel silent, while the others talked, and he looked out against the sun, and as he gazed he saw white sea-birds beating up the River. “Look!” he cried. “Gulls! They are flying far inland. A wonder they are to me and a trouble to my heart. Never in all my life had I met them, until we came to Pelargir, and there I heard them crying in the air as we rode to the battle of the ships. Then I stood still, forgetting war in Middle-earth; for their wailing voices spoke to me of the Sea. The Sea! Alas! I have not yet beheld it. But deep in the hearts of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas! for the gulls. No peace shall I have again under beech or under elm.
Have you? The indescribable feeling that stirs in your heart as you stand upon the sandy shore overlooking miles upon miles of rolling waves. Water stretching in all directions. Deep. Unfathomable. Seemingly endless.
And the cry of the gulls. Can you hear them?
And yet there are other things that inspire this same feeling.
A lightning storm. Flickering strands of light crawling across a midnight sky. The rhythmic drumming of hooves galloping across a green field. Soaring melodies that summon emotion and stir the soul. A book that resonates deep within. That creates this longing, this desire for something more.
According to Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories, this longing is the purpose of all true fairy-stories, for they are “not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.”
C.S. Lewis also speaks of this desire in The Weight of Glory.
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off
country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness . . . We
cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually
appeared in our experience . . . The book 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 . . .
Longing . . . but a longing for what? What is this desire that great beauty awakens?
The desire for something more. For a world beyond our own. For a purpose in our lives. For true love, true pleasure, true joy, true glory, true beauty.
The longing for our Creator.
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 things itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers 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 visited.
The book of Hebrews houses the “Hall of Faith” in chapter eleven. After mentioning Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others, it goes on to say:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own . . . Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
~ Hebrews 11:13-16
We are longing for a better country. A heavenly one.
I believe the longing that fills our hearts when we see the ocean, or the glory of a sunrise, or explore the depths of a truly great book, is a longing for our true home.
A longing for the far country.