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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