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.