I was born with an old sadness.
There may be a psychological way of classifying it, a category that I could ascribe myself to in an exercise of cultural integration. But I think such a category would tilt too generously in my favor. It would be about highly codified language, a mention of depressive tendencies, and would somehow conclude with strategies and tactics to best address, prevent, and endure.
Modern sensibility arrests me in this: I do not want a category, a type, and I wonder if perhaps I do not even want to be healed. (Is this a healable thing? What is the line from St. Mark, St. Matthew too, that this kind only goes out by prayer and fasting.)
What do I mean by an old sadness? What do any of us mean when we try to speak candidly and with some measure of understanding of ourselves?
I mean that sometimes the world makes me sad.
The loud, cacophonous vulgarity of it, the impossibility of its pain. For all its beauty, for all its good, for all that He hath made beautiful in its time, there is still the aching consequence of Fall, of less-than, of so close but yet so very far.
Some days I wake and feel this first. The cresting sun in the drapery, bright and full, but veiled. And this, veiled light, is icon of our present state and the present self, and though the light breaks through in part---and I am a Christian, so I believe the Light breaks through---the terribleness of what does not break through, does not break in, remains.
These are the dark times. They come without reason, without bidding, without respect to good or bad news. They simply come, shadow and enchantment, lean against the doorways and whisper their sorrows as you pass by.
And you would think them evil for this, perhaps, but they are only speaking what you know, deep and in the old and ancient seat of self, to be true. This is not a beautiful place. Not in full. Not yet.
And you hold onto that not yet. You hold onto it because it is all you have, like Him in the wafer and the wine, this too is the promise of not yet.
I was talking about myself. I was talking about my own sadness.
I woke that night with a pain in my heart. The pain that punctured deep and quick: I do not like myself at times. I do not like this fundamental collection of atoms that comprise me.
I'm thinking of O'Connor, of her little desk, of her life spent in quiet faithfulness turning out words of harsh and cataclysmic beauty. Then I'm thinking of Walker Percy, his stretched and weary faith, his perennial and loud struggle, his inability to even function at times, but his words, too, enduring and revealing.
Both used by God.
All things to the good of those who love Him. (This, too, from a saint.)
But with no comparison spared for my own talent---for it shall be what it is and I am too young and too old to worry now about fame or recognition or award---I am left considering them as people.
I am left wishing I was O'Connor, sitting in the quiet and managing to find that a sense of enough.
I am left thinking I am Percy, cycling through an endless whirl of sinful ambition and regret, used more in spite of myself than through faithful merit.
Why is it so hard to be good?
Why is it so hard to do all the things, the ordinary things, that need doing?
The old sadness, the hurting world.
I despise the talent within myself on these days. I think it wasted. I think it would belong better to someone else, someone who would spend it well.
(A parable, I think, about servants and a Master and the question of entrusted gift. The question of use. The question, always the question, of integrity.)
And they have played the harlot, departing from their God.
This is from the prophet. This is part of the sadness. This is, without qualification, one of the places in the Scripture where I replace they with I on instinct. Were I to read it aloud, I think I would have to pause not to do so. (Exposure. The fear is of exposure.)
So the people without understanding are ruined.
This comes later, from the same prophet.
Is this why we do it? Is this why I do it? Because of the old sadness, because it is somehow linked to the knowing of the ruin; because there is a sense of obligation, however without integrity and nobility it may be, that for the sake of others, for the sake of their lack of understanding, certain things must be written, a certain art conceived?
Ultimately, is it because we fear for them, because we want better for them, because the thought of their ruin only brings to mind our own?
It is an exercise in warning. It is the hope that if we can give them some sort of understanding, the light may just break through.
And now our bodies are the guilty ones.
This was neither saint nor prophet, but I suppose there is an interpretive question resting idly even in that distinction.
The old sadness swept in last Sunday. I knew it that morning, when I checked the bread baked from the day before, tapping the bottom and listening to the hollow.
I have yet to figure out how to answer it. I have yet to know what it means to abide it. I could spin a very noble version of events, I could call this thorn, I could speak of the aching for Home. And it is those things, but it is not all at once.
It is simply an old sadness. A kind of birthright. Melancholia. A zealous hopefulness.
How strange sadness should be what comes from so much hope.
The body of Christ.
The blood of Christ.
Here there is no hollow.
I hold wafer tight. Not yet.
This shall be written that a generation to come might yet praise the Lord.
We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies.
Our bodies are the guilty ones.
I have played the harlot.
And He offered up His spirit and the veil of the Temple was rent in two.
I am a Christian--I believe the Light breaks in.