A Fleeting Melancholy

Lent can be tough. It has its own particular hazards in a monastery because there is no escape. Everyone is so horribly fervent — save, perhaps, for the dog. The fasting, the unaccompanied singing which means we go flat even more frequently than usual, the fact that we aim to clear the decks, so to say, to give more time to God and the things of God but discover, every year, that what we intend isn’t quite what God intends — these can all take their toll. A friend’s death, an unexpected rudeness from someone, a few aches and pains we hadn’t expected, and we are thoroughly miserable. Gloom and doom! We are in the belly of the whale with Jonah and never expect to see daylight again.

Then, early one morning, we hear a blackbird singing, see a burst of daffodils by the hedge, read something that strikes us as new-minted, or someone says or does something kind or generous, and life is transformed. A fleeting melancholy is recognized for what it is: fleeting. We come out of the belly of the whale and find ourselves safe on the sea-shore.

At the risk of stretching the analogy too far, we need to remember that Jonah was saved for a purpose. He had a work to do, and so have we. Sometimes we have to know what it is to feel really ‘down’, to experience vulnerability, in order to be truly compassionate. There is a link between misery and mercy. So, if this morning you are feeling a little bit miserable, a trifle glum, try showing mercy to yourself and to others. It won’t change the world, but it will change you.

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11 thoughts on “A Fleeting Melancholy”

  1. I call such moments my “silver linings”, no matter how bad the day might feel, you can always find a “silver lining” – some little incident to put things in perspective or just to take the sheer “pleasure of being” from .

  2. Dear Sr Catherine. Thank you for your words this morning. They resonated with me about a few things I could not put my finger on until I read this blog. Really grateful to you.

  3. Even when one least feels like doing so, smile, be kind, radiate pleasantness to everyone one meets. Finding that inner grace will help one to love the Lord as well as one’s neighbour. What could be better? Mental sunshine for all!

  4. My current bout of melancholy is rather more than fleeting but nevertheless you have, as you so often do, found the formula for beating personal misery.
    The answer is of course to look outward for it is introspection which leads to despair.
    God shows us in tiny ways the wonderful things we overlook each day.
    Eyes and ears (and more importantly) hearts open, we can ‘see’ those things we never notice on our daily inward-looking path.
    Thanks for yet another timely post.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I’m sure I don’t need to add that this post is not about depression, which is a serious illness, nor about the much deeper grief/anxiety we experience when we receive bad news or are confronted with some major difficulty or loss. Nor do I maintain that we all have to experience some degree of misery to learn how to be merciful. Some of us do; some of us don’t — and sadly, there will always be some for whom a negative experience seems to lead to less compassion rather than more. We just have to be ourselves and make the best of things, to the extent that we can, without resorting to forced jollity. Grace, as St Thomas says, builds on nature: gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit. And one thing we can be sure of is that grace abounds. 🙂

  6. I am going through a down patch right now. When I feel down I can usually see that a large component of the feeling is being down on myself. There is a strong flavor of guilt, self-criticism, self-judgment, and recrimination. I am not living up to my ideals, or rather life is not living up to my expectations. The ruminations go on and on, and as neurobiology now tells us, these negative, conditioned thought patterns suck us down into the “miry clay” much faster than positive thoughts. And they are almost always about ourselves.

    We are usually much better at being kind and compassionate to others than to ourselves, especially if we have sensitive consciences. We heap
    scorn and judgment on ourselves rather than self-compassion. And it tears us to shreds of “I’ll never be good enough!”

    Let’s learn to treat ourselves as God treats us, to speak to ourselves as God does, with words of compassion, forgiveness, understanding, peace, and love, spoken to us in the Word.

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