The Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness

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Love is the root of all joy and sorrow.
Slavish fear of God is to be put away.
The right fear is the fear of losing God.
– Meister Eckhart

Often the mystics will speak of a great sorrow in contemplation. It is very common, especially in our modern times to have an intense aversion to any talk of spiritual sadness as a virtue. We have a prevailing feeling, especially in the west, that spirituality must always be uplifting and positive. This tendency arises out of a confusion about what love truly is. We know that God is love, and that we are called to live lives of love, but we often think of the fake love of Hollywood movies and catchy pop songs. Love is not a positive happy feeling. It is not always uplifting and encouraging. Love is selflessness, it is the rapture of being lost in the well being of others. So, it follows naturally that if we have love for creation, as God does, that we will feel a great sadness for the condition of the world and those within it.

There is a great heaviness in truth. In the reality of life there is hurt and pain for all of God’s creatures, and in many of God’s children this pain and injury is all consuming and relentless. For this reason God weeps for humanity. Through Jesus, God has chosen to be enmeshed with our suffering and our death, both spiritual and physical. And so, as we become gradually aware of the truth we become more and more aware of the great sadness of reality. In the words of King Solomon, the great mystical teacher:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
With much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief

Deep within the spiritual world is a center of absolute nothingness. This is a profound realisation for the spiritual practitioner to make. Underneath all our ideas of what is right or good the truth is much more bleak. The knowledge of this is a necessary step if one wishes to dwell with God. For in order to understand fully what is God and what is not, we need to see that without God we are meaningless. There is nothing innovative or excellent we can do, and the more we learn and try the more this grief grows in relation to our efforts. The more we acquire, the more we realise our own poverty. The more we come to know God the more we see the meaninglessness of all creation.

So, if you find yourself feeling a heaviness in your heart, don’t assume that means you are off track. If you find yourself mourning for the state of the world, then you are mourning with Christ. Do not fight the sadness, do not run from it. Be at peace with it. Be comfortable in it. And know that it is fleeting just like our meaningless lives. Learn to rest in the beauty of the Divine Sorrow. For not only are we empty in our being but God is just as much grief as love. If we are not tangibly soaked in the tears of Christ then we are not living in the truth. This is the sacred sorrow.

When it comes to sadness, as with all things, the presence of the sacred can be known by the presence of peace. Divine sadness is a peaceful sadness, a heavy sadness. If the sadness you are experiencing is accompanied by anxiety or anger then it is not the sadness of the Lord. There is something so pure about the sadness of Christ because it does not worry. After all, anxiety too is meaningless. Therefore the sorrow of God is peaceful and even beautiful. It is the reason the autumn colours which herald the season of death and bitter cold, captivate our hearts and eyes so well. It is a magnificent sadness worth relishing in!

Yet, underneath this delectable sorrow is a river of love which is neither sadness nor joy. It is eternity, beyond any human description. We call it love because that’s the closest human word we have – but it is more than love, more than the joy and sorrow which go along with love. It is the root of all joy and sorrow. Once we find peace with our sorrow and with our joy then we can move into the realm of the Eternal – and our spiritual journey will have found the sacred well from which our soul longs to drink.


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28 thoughts on “The Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness

    1. Mourning for the church is a great gift it brings great joy to my soul worthy I’m not grateful I am

  1. Beautiful….I disagree with the point you made about anxiety being meaningless. Actually, it is. From a psychology point-of-view, I say it’s meaningful If appropriately directed, you can do wonders with it!

    1. Good point! I think I was more trying to describe the type of sadness that is part of contemplation. Even anxiety can be used for good though 😁

  2. So good to read especially for hyperkinetic folks (like myself) who busy themselves away from this type of Sacred sadness

  3. I appreciate your article very much. it is close to something I am working with. I came up against a personal sadness that I have spent my whole life trying to banish, but the effort to banish it only drives it deeper into my self. I am now learning to let it be. I am not sure that is the sadness you mean here. But allowing room to just be sad is considerably more real, more honest, and sometimes less anxious, than what William James called “the religion of happy-mindedness.”

  4. Thank you, Justin, for your pertinent thoughts. This is a slightly different (but similar) observation from the one you’re making….
    The first time I tried a Christian contemplative practice, involving a time of silence, I was overcome with sadness and tears. It almost put me off trying it again, but then I realised that the period of stillness, of just ‘being’, had allowed the stuff I was carrying within me to rise to the surface, and it had therefore proved to be a healthy, cathartic practice. Since then, I’ve also had many times of joy, smiles, laughter, bubbling up from within during times of reflection and contemplation, particularly in response to nature – as well as times of sadness – both kinds of experience being an overflow of something deep within and proving to be a way of connection with self (and God) and a type of therapy.

  5. The 1996 Lenten Devotional of the church of my childhood where my parents’ ashes are and mine will be someday (Bradley Hills Presbyterian in Bethesda, MD) was titled: Sacred Suffering. Amen. And thank you for this magnificent meditation.

    1. This is my poem.

      The pain of the world

      H
      A
      N
      G
      S

      today upon the Cross.

      Darkness was upon the face of the deep.

      Death.

      And then,
      There was Light.

      Fiat lux; lux fiat.

      On the third day—or was it today in Paradise—
      the
      Light
      illumined
      every crevice,
      every cranny,
      every dark and desolate wilderness.

      The Light
      of the World
      lives and reigns
      over All.

      Not

      the dying of the Light;
      but the ReBirth of Light
      into the receiving
      Hands of God.

      “Into Thy Hands, I commend my Spirit.”

      Light merged with Light.

      Now lettest Thy servant depart,
      according to
      Thy Word.

      In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
      Word was God.

      Written by Christiana Adams on Good Friday 1995 and first published in “Sacred Suffering,” Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, Maryland, 1996

  6. I am glad that I did not understand, or agree with much of this. for me, this ‘spiritual sorrow’ is an indulgent luxury. I am so sad, most of the time, that I can hardly breathe or operate. that pain certainly does not produce a holy, peaceful monk out of me. I lost the only one I ever knew to trust, the only worthy person I knew, who gave my life joy, peace, purpose and context – my Mother. the sacrifices we made for one another gave our lives hope and meaning . I know that I will never find what we had, again for the remainder of my time on this earth. christ is my only hope – he has promised to wipe every tear, and so much more. romans 8:19-21

  7. Cath,
    You carry a treasure trove of gifts (experiences, memories, lessons) in the Aliveness of your heart. All born of the relationship with your mother. Your life has been enriched in its living. You say your sacrifices for each other gave you hope and meaning. Your sharing it does the same for us, for me. Thank you. I connect with you now. We share in the common-union of the Blessed One.
    Be free, be blessed, be loved in Christ,
    Luz

  8. I sat silently at the end of a charismatic-ish service recently, tears hot on my face. Someone came by and asked if I was ok. I smiled at them and nodded. Inside I was saying ‘never been better’. Such sorrow merging with such joy.

  9. It is so wonderfully helpful to read this text which incites and challenges us to look into nothingness wihtout regretting pain which we must befriend to plod ahead!!! Thank you!!!

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