Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.
It is Fundamental Sadness.
Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?
Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.
Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.
It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.
It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.
It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.
It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.
It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.
It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.
“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”
— G.K. Chesterton
For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.
Do you know this feeling?
People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.
And yet Jesus wept.
“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.
Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.
Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.
The Deeper Magic
“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.'”
Witches never know the deeper magic. They know only winter and death, sorrow and pain. Half-truths all.
But the deeper magic persists, refusing to be overwhelmed. It is older than death and wiser than time. The deeper magic knows that there is more.
There is hope.
And when hope is born (or reborn), the thaw begins. Without the deeper magic of hope, we might stop our story at the table of sadness and end up with an eternal winter and a dead lion. And that truly is horrible.
But the deeper magic must be got at, not through escaping sadness or loss, but through fully embracing it. Through laying down. I don’t think we need less lament, I think we need more lament, more tears.
So I invite you to the paradox of life bittersweet. Life’s not EITHER bitter OR sweet. But it’s also not neither. It’s both.
I invite you to make room for the person who is totally happy and deeply clappy.
I invite you to make room for the person who is frozen in sadness and depressed.
And I invite you to make room for the person who feels all of those things at the same time.
Why do we forget?
I sometimes wonder why others don’t see it or feel it. Life is sad. People are hurting. Why aren’t more people sad? But sadness doesn’t sell well, and it doesn’t seem to preach well either. But it’s there. It’s there in our families and ministries. It’s there in our churches and friendships.
Truth be told, it’s much easier to be angry. And so instead of being sad, everyone is angry. All.The.Time. And anger does sell well. (It seems to preach well too.)
Maybe you don’t believe me, maybe you don’t think sadness is there. But do you think that anger is there? That it’s in our families and ministries? That it’s in our churches and our friendships?
As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of anger. But anger’s just a fire alarm, alerting us to the real problem. People don’t have an anger problem. People have a pain problem. And that pain is most often unlabeled, unwelcomed, unprocessed sadness.
Of course, sadness by itself isn’t the solution. (That’d be depressing.) But insofar as sadness prepares us for Hope, it is the solution.
And although I do not like it and I wish it weren’t so, deep sadness is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.
When we’re unwilling to hold space for sadness, when we can’t handle the unwieldy truths of mystery and paradox, we block the very pathway that leads to hope. And hopeless people are dangerous people, willing to hurt themselves and others without measure or limit.
If we stop at sadness, without digging deeper, many terrible things become imminently rational. But the deeper magic shouts out and ushers in what only it can. Hope.
I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
The Shock of Magic
The beautiful and shocking deeper magic meant that, in the near future, “the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
Hope still means that.
The instrument of pain, the actual place of loss, which seems so strong and immovable, will move. It will be redeemed and transformed by the deeper magic; what has broken us will break, shattered by the love of the Lion.
There is Hope!
The altar will be cracked, and where blood and sadness once flowed, will soon be sunrise and Aslan’s roar.
May we never forget.