More Lenten Poetry from Wendell Berry

I know for a while again,

the health of self-forgetfulness,

looking out at the sky through

a notch in the valley side,

the black woods wintry on

the hills, small clouds at sunset

passing across. And I know

that this is one of the thresholds

between Earth and Heaven,

from which I may even step

forth from myself and be free.

~ Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2000

Lent 2015 ~ A Bright Sadness

The post below first appeared in 2011 not long after I was encouraged to read Alexander Schmemann. Let us enter the forty days of Lent with a heart focused upon Christ and less upon ourselves. 

MARCH 8, 2011

The Bright Sadness

Many of us are melancholy by nature. We like sad movies, sad music and think that tears rolling down the cheeks of a friend are a good thing. We may appear happy most of the time but there is a part of us that longs for those seasons of mourning. We’re not morose, we’re melancholy.

Those melancholies out there might think that this Lenten season is perfect for them. Yet, it is a season for all of us. We all need to settle down, get still and contemplate how God is at work. Perhaps you don’t see God working in the world right now. That is something to mourn. Perhaps you see how you’ve been working at cross-purposes with God. Still another thing to mourn.

On its own sadness is no virtue. But a sadness entered into with purpose and maintained with discipline has benefit. The season of Lent has been this for the church. This is not a sadness that we would associate as depression or despair. It is a melancholy that helps us be attentive to the work of God. Alexander Schmemann has called this “bright sadness”. This paradoxical phrase describes the environment that is created in our hearts and minds during the season of Lent. Through prayer and repentance it leads us to a place where, in the words of Schmemann:

… the noises, the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access—a place where they have no power. All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having in the words of Dostoevsky, “touched another world.” And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.

Buechner describes the “Law”

imgresThere are basically two kinds of law: (l) law as the way things ought to be, and (2) law as the way things are. An example of the first is “No Trespassing.” An example of the second is the law of gravity.

God’s law has traditionally been spelled out in terms of category no. 1, a compendium of dos and don’ts. These dos and don’ts are the work of moralists and, when obeyed, serve the useful purpose of keeping us from each other’s throats. They can’t make us human, but they can help keep us honest.

God’s law in itself, however, comes under category no. 2 and is the work of God. It has been stated in seven words: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Like it or not, that’s how it is. If you don’t believe it, you can always put it to the test just the way if you don’t believe the law of gravity, you can always step out a tenth-story window.

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words


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