Bright Sadness


I was conflicted and torn-up on the way home that night. My whole world had changed and I couldn’t see beyond the brights and dims of the SUV.  My sister and constant companion had married and we’d all had a lovely day, rejoicing, feasting, speaking, smiling. But it is hard to be watched by so many while so full of emotion, so truly happy and yet so anxious for time to slow down, to just stop for a minute and let you think, all while the fancy boning of the pretty dress presses on your diaphragm.

I bet I said some pitiful stuff to my friend, Kelly, who was driving me home. It was just the two of us. She had come across the country for this day, and we hadn’t seen each other in many years, but she was still the same – wise beyond her years, calling me to wisdom beyond mine. Maybe I was crying and complaining, I can’t remember much, except this:

“Have you studied the names of God?” she asked, so obviously missing the point. “Do you remember El Roi?”
“The God Who Sees,” I said.

In this Kelly admonished me implicitly, to buck up, to grow up, not on my own strength but on His, because it really didn’t matter who I was.  And I think it a tender evidence of His grace that I cannot remember my own pathetic ramblings that night, but rather His Name, which truly “calms our fears and bids our sorrows cease” as the hymn-writer said.

Time seemed to bolt on that wedding day, like a horse from the barn after a long storm, but since then it has kept close and moved slowly. Maybe because I am more zealous to hold it by the reins.

Liturgy comforts me. I don’t press hard for order in my daily life, but I do love order. Order outside myself, order I don’t have to control. Order above me, not below me. Order indifferent to the chaos of humanity. Order sans Sarah.

(And do you know, the world still twirls wonderfully?)

A dear friend sent me this poem recently by Arthur Hugh Clough:

It fortifies my soul to know
That, though I perish, Truth is so:
That, howsoever I stray and range,
Wherever I do, Thou dost by change.
I steadier step when I recall
That, if I slip, Thou dost not fall.

I love the liturgy of the seasons. The springtime and harvest, blessedly repetitive, rhythmic, reliable.

I love the great light who rules the day and the lesser lights who rule the night. I respond to their rule. There is peace in that, you know.

I’ve come to love the liturgy of the church calendar, though I’m still a novice at it.  It’s not the high-churchism I love; not the robes or outward marks or even the feasts and fasts.

It’s the low-churchism. It’s the similarity of the pattern to the soil.  In the cold nights, short days, naked branches, dying seeds, the very earth cries out: “Surely, surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!”

In the swollen pregnant bellies of the livestock, the earth waits. In the haunting song of the searching geese, the earth yearns.

Lent is a time for Bright Sadness, they say, which is something more fierce than melancholy, I’m thinking.

When David cried those chilling words, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalam! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”, He only echoed God’s anguish. The God Who Sees knows our sorrows and they grieve him. They are his own. He knows our sins and they grieve Him too. These also He took on Himself.

He is passionate, He weeps.  He is masculine, He moves – for there came a Warrior Ransom, a Perfect Son of David who died in the place of our Absalom-wicked hearts.

Yes, His Joy is as fierce as His Sorrow. But we mustn’t rush it.

Don’t be like those roosters who wake me up at 3:00 AM, please. Wait for it.

The sap rises in the grapevines, the new leaves hunker down in the final frost and in the cold night sky there shines Betelguese, whose name means The Branch Coming and Rigel below, meaning The Foot That Crusheth, and they sing again the battle story,

of that night when the The God Who Sees said,  “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death, remain here and watch with me.”

3 thoughts on “Bright Sadness

  1. Beautiful, beautiful words, Sarah. I loved reading your thoughts about the waiting, the yearning, and the way the seasons themselves express the very character of God. I never thought about how David’s cry for Absolom was simply an echo of God’s cry and his own grief.

    We can’t rush joy.

    Thank-you so much for giving me these thoughts of God to ponder as I start my day.



  2. Thank you, Schuyler!

    I was reading in Hosea recently, and verse 11:8 made me think of David’s sorrow over his rebellious son. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … My heart recoils within me…”

    I am so glad this was helpful to you.


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