bright sadness

Our hearts are broken for our brothers and sisters in Japan.  Even the mere idea of more than ten thousand lost - perhaps many more - is too much to bear.  The terrifying footage, the unspeakable sorrow...

Facing such tragedies, Christians can do at least three things.  May God grant us the grace to do them well.

First, we can deny easy answers.  In suffering and disaster we confront great mysteries, and the mysteries demand to be honored.  We cannot say, "God willed this," and we can respectfully, strongly object to those who do.  But at the same time, by the same token, we cannot simply say, "This happened against or despite God's will," thereby conjuring up a world full of chaos against which God is powerless or indifferent.  Either way, we claim to know too much, and we are in no position to make such pronouncements.  We are in a position to pray.

And so second, we can pray.  We can pray prayers of solidarity, standing as best we can with the suffering and displaced, the living and the dead.  We can pray not only with our words but also with our wallets, our time, and our talent.  We can reach out across the Pacific and around the block to all those affected, near and far.  We can act, touch, listen - and lend a hand.

Third, we can lament.  We can join our voices with the brokenhearted singer of the Psalms, asking those passionate, difficult, ancient questions that ring down through the ages:  “How long?” and “Why?”  Anger and sorrow have a place in our lives and therefore in our prayers, and denying easy answers sometimes means persistently pressing the unanswered questions.

We stand today at the outset of the season of Lent, and sure enough, there is so much that needs to be done.  People that need to be fed, wars that need to end, bodies that need to be protected, homes that need to be found.  Dictators that need to fall, nuclear materials that need to be contained, whole cities that need to be salvaged and rebuilt...

It's enough to overwhelm us, too much, too much.  It’s enough to send us back to Ash Wednesday, to cover ourselves in dust and ashes, the very debris of death.

And yet, think of this:  the Eastern Orthodox Church calls Lent the season of "bright sadness."  That sounds just about right, doesn't it?  We are called to be a light to the nations, to let our light shine – but not in a way that stands apart from the world’s sorrows.  On the contrary, we are called to shine in a way that illuminates those sorrows, and that stands with the sorrowful in their grief and their hope.

This is who we are:  people of bright sadness.  Each of us called to deny easy answers, and pray, and lament, and shine until the shadows become like the noonday sun.

Our hearts are broken.  There’s nothing easy here.  Let us pray.


Holy and beautiful God, you created this soft, green earth, and you called it good.  You made the oceans depths and the soaring mountains.  For your earth and for your people:  Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.

God of wind and rain, God who said to the waves, "Peace - be still," we cry and beat our breasts with all those who are grieving.  How long will the living search for the lost?  How long will the poor and vulnerable suffer?  How long will parents bury their children?

God of grief and anger, this is what we know:  Even in the valley of the shadow of death, still we are held, still we are loved, still we are brought back to life, rocked so sweetly in your everlasting arms.  God of hope against hope, we call on you, we depend on you.  Deepen and brighten our sadness.

God of love and new life, for your earth and for all of your people, living and dead, lost and found:  Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.  You are our refuge and strength.  You are our very present help in times of trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea.  Be with us now.  Have mercy.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Thanks to Japanese artist Hokusai for his timeless woodblock print, The Great Wave.