Monday, December 1, 2014

"Low, sad and sweet…"

"O'er waiting harpstrings
of the mind
there sweeps a strain
low, sad, and sweet,
whose measures bind
the power of pain..."

I love music. I love songs that evoke deep feelings. I love that they break me open, shatter my fragile shell of self-comportment, and leave me borne again in a new, softer form.

One such song is James Taylor's version of "In the Bleak Midwinter." It stops me in my tracks and takes me apart. It's like a good cry -- I am better for having felt that deeply.

The other day someone asked me if I thought it was okay to be sad. I didn't have to think very long. Eddy's lyric (quoted above) came to me instantly. "Yes," I said, without hesitation. But I really didn't have anything very inspiring to say after that. I just knew it was true.

I thought about the woman who wrote that poem. I considered the depth of her own sadness. Widowed as a young pregnant bride, separated from her young son by her father and second husband, betrayed by loved ones, rejected, sued by trusted friends and family members, crucified in the press, maligned by those she'd helped and healed, and then widowed again.

One account shares, that following the passing of her third, and beloved husband, Asa, she went into isolation and wasn't sure she would be able to return to her work -- work that was drawing people to her writings by the thousands.  Work that left her held in such high esteem that she would eventually be recognized as one of the most famous women of her time.

So, when this woman says that measured strains of sad, sweet music bind the power of pain, I trust that she is speaking from experience.  And the next line from that same poem:

"and wake a white-winged angel throng
of thoughts illumined by faith
and breathed in raptured song…"

is such a holy promise. I have rested my hopes upon its encouragement countless times.

Some years ago I was navigating a heart-breaking life-chapter. I'd decided that I would do it with joy. Whatever sadness I felt I would "just not feel it."  I would not let myself descend into the depths of despair that loomed like a vast dark hole. I would not walk towards the edge of that abyss, and fall into a sea of tears.

I was doing pretty good. I was proud of my resolve. Then one afternoon I was sitting in a local coffeehouse when James Taylor's "In the Bleak Midwinter" came floating through the air on a cloud of freshly roasted coffee beans.

It wasn't the words that did it. It was the music itself - the sound of his voice, the poignancy of his interpretation. At first I refused to "give in." That was, until I heard the lines:

"what then can I give Him,
empty as I am,
if I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man,
I would know my part.

What then can I give Him,
I must give my heart..."

It was too much to bear.  Suddenly there was the realization that my emptiness was a legitimate spiritual feeling that I needed to fully experience. And more importantly, that my very, very empty heart was a gift -- and I was holding it back from Him -- well, it broke something wide open in me. I wasn't giving Him my honest feelings.

I'd been so sure that joy was the only reasonable gift of devotion and worship. But that song sent the first fissures of honest emotions through my fragile resolve.  And in the shattering, I gave myself permission to actually feel my sadness. I allowed myself to "go there," and to weep.

And through the lens of my tears I began to see that I wasn't actually empty at all. I was full of hope. I overflowing with deep feelings of love. The sorrow I'd been feeling wasn't because I was empty, but because I was full of yearning, longing to be understood, and accepted.

A white-winged angel throng of thoughts were released from where I'd held them prisoner behind a bulwark of pretense. My tears had melted those walls.

Sometimes, those measures "sad and sweet," can dissolve the very walls that would deprive us of seeing beyond a painful experience. Our tears provide a lens in which we discover something yet unseen about the experience itself. Perhaps through it, we have grown in humility, compassion, grace. Often we can find that we are less judgmental, or we realize that we have loved and been loved very deeply.

So, is it okay to be sad? I can only speak for myself. I welcome anything that reminds me that I have a heart, that I care, and that I feel deeply. I embrace those measures -- low, sad, and sweet -- that bind the power of pain and wake within me, a throng of angels to comfort, instruct, guide, and lead me home.

offered with Love,


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