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Bright Sadness

by Amanda Watson

…the “bright sadness” of Lent…

Alexander Schmemann

Bright sadness almost seems impossible. Sadness is associated with darkness, being lost, and brightness with clarity and revelation. Schmemann offers the image of walking in a still darkened valley even as the morning sun lights the tops of the mountains around us. Today we might have the image of night darkness with small LED lights leading the way.

The opening prayer of the Ash Wednesday liturgy reflects that juxtaposition of sadness and light. Acknowledging our wretchedness, we ask God to create in us a new and contrite heart, thereby obtaining God’s mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Isaiah wrote that God called His people to look within themselves for they serve only their own interests on their fast day, and that such fasting will not make God’s voice “heard on high.” God’s chosen fast is to loosen the bonds of injustice, the oppressed; to share bread with the hungry and their house with the poor, and to cover the naked. Although looking within ourselves is difficult and creates sadness, it is there that healing will “spring up quickly” and the Lord, who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103), will answer.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy is a reminder that the season of Lent is both a preparation for Holy Baptism and the reconciliation by penitence and forgiveness, for those who have been separated from the body of the faithful because of notorious sins. All Christians need to continually renew their own repentance and faith—Schmemann’s bright sadness. Lent is a time to become mindful of the sinfulness that alienates us from God, as well as, a renewal of our relationship with God. This self-examination should not be seen as a morose experience but as an opportunity—again bright sadness. For Julian of Norwich, to experience Christ’s suffering is to be transfigured into God’s abundant and overflowing love, to begin giving into Jesus and to those in need just as the prophet Isaiah told so long ago.

May this Lent be a holy Lent. May this Lent be both a difficult and arduous self-examination yet in sight far, far away of our destination—the joy of Easter. It is this vision that makes Lent’s sadness bright.


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