Every cloud has a silver lining… I have heard that, as you have, too, since we were kids. I guess our parents and grandparents and others were telling us that there is no situation so bad that you cannot find some good in it.
I realized it experientially before I could express it rationally, but the reverse is also true. There is no lining so silver but what you can find a cloud. No moment or situation or circumstance or thing so good that you cannot find the bad in it. And you do not even have to look all that hard. Oh, boy! Another birthday! Oh, boy, another birthday, another irretrievable chunk of a passing finite existence, gone.
You get a new dog, and the kids are overjoyed to see it and love it and play with it, you smile with their laughing, laughing, laughing, till poignance pulls the corners of your mouth down: you know there will come a day, sooner or later, when the whole family will weep because the dog died or ran away. A friend comes to visit, and as glad as you are to see them you know that very soon they will leave again and the emptiness they filled with their coming will seem all the emptier after they are gone. In fact, even when they are still with you feel the emptiness creep in already… You have a really good year in business, and immediately the fear begins to whislper in your ear that next year will not be so good. Yes, we are flush now but what if the market tanks or layoffs come or our best client takes her business elsewhere?
Henri Nouwen, the late priest and writer, puts it this way… “There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our life. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfacation, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness.”
He continues: “Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid colored leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of the barren trees. When you touch the hand of a returning friend, you already know that he will have to leave you again. When you are moved by the quiet vastness of a sun-covered ocean, you miss the friend who cannot see the same. Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you cannot find words to capture your complex emotions.”
Lent is a time, I think, to look at all of that complexity—the life and the death, the certainty of death and the promise of resurrection—in hopes of God’s using both our joy and sadness to give us the simple grace of peace. But we have to give him both—our hopes and our fears—to receive the one. We have to give him the weak places to find there his strength. Blessed are those who mourn, in other words, for they shall be comforted with an unexpected comfort.
Many, however, will not admit their fears or their hopes. They do not acknowledge the clouds, or the silver. They do not admit to being afraid of the dark, or of longing for the light. They cannot confess their weakness, or show others their wounded places, and so they are never healed. Sadly, the wound is stronger than it might be, the weakness more debilitating, the dark more terrifying because we imagine we have to face it alone.
But Nouwen says, “this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death”—and we might add to the list even this meal of Holy Communion, when the life-giving food is shared with us in view of Jesus’ death, in reverent memory of his sacrifice, his suffering, which promises us mercy—this awareness and experience of life and death, of joy and sadness, of confession and forgiveness, or witheredness and healing… these Lenten moments, says Nouwen, “can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy a joy that no one will take away from us.”
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.