Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bright Sadness

Lent is well on its way, and thus far it has been a great experience. Soda hasn't been nearly as hard not to drink as I anticipated, although not buying any new music has been harder than I thought...I forgot that Arcade Fire's Neon Bible was coming out...anybody gotten their new album? It's gotten great reviews thus far...

As I mentioned before, Lent is traditionally called "Bright Sadness" in the Orthodox tradition, and after a few weeks of exploration into apophaticism, this notion of Bright Sadness has come to more adequately explain this time of Lent during this season of the church year for me. It has marked a period of my life rampant with dramatic change during the last few years and last few months. The Bright Sadness of this time of advent (or Lent), this time of waiting and participating in joining Christ in his sufferings, has brought great illumination, and yet sadness too. There have been moments of recognition and brightness that have reminded me of the importance of spiritual disciplines and obedience, rooted in humility, and a deep reverential silence that have shaped my life since childhood. Yet there have been periods of sadness and grief over the changes from where I've come from, and the loss of former perspectives. There has also been sadness in the changed relationships that have stemmed from deep theological shifts in the last five years, that have made it difficult to continue to perpetuate perspectives that no longer urge me along the journey of faith. And while I grieve in a way the loss and change of certain relationships in that they don't remain the same or rooted within a particular time and place, I also rejoice, for the journey of faith is also bright and illuminating. There is truly a sense of Bright Sadness right now--i.e. I am seeing life in new ways, yet there is a sense of loss, and I am changing and finding God in new ways, yet the relationships around me are also changing.

I've realized that it is important for me to wrestle with some more of these thoughts, and so I've decided to start blogging through Peter Rollins' book How (Not) to Speak of God. This book has been a breath of fresh air, and has helped put into words many of my thoughts that I had yet to find words for, and also stretched me in new ways. Combine this book with some of the best lectures and discussions of my seminary experience on Apophatic Theology from the last few weeks, especially as seen expressed in Pseudo-Dionysius, and bright sadness takes shape in powerful ways.

This should be fun and challenging, and for my friends and family reading this, if there are words that don't make sense, let me know. I know that I have yet to "define" apophatic theology (or for a Wiki definition, click here), and I will come to that, but for now, I'd like to quote a bit of the introduction of Rollins' book, that I won't even comment on tonight, but would simply like for it to ruminate and give shape to the coming discussion. This is found in Rollins' introduction, and explains his reasons for being drawn to mystical theology, which shapes a large part of the book and which illuminates much of my own perspective of how this dialogue about faith, church, the kingdom of God and so much more should take shape. This quote is in reference to Rollins trying to explain why how we (don't) talk about God is important:

"Each time I returned to the horns of this dilemma, I found myself drawn to the Christian mystics (such as Meister Eckhart), for while they did not embrace total silence, they balked at the presumption of those who would seek to colonize the name 'God' with concepts. Instead of viewing the unspeakable as that which brings all language to a halt, they realized that the unspeakable was precisely the place where the most inspiring language began. This God whose name was above every name gave birth, not to a poverty of words, but to an excess of them. And so they wrote elegantly concerning the limits of writing and spoke eloquently about the brutality of words. By speaking with wounded words of their wounded Christ, these mystics helped to develop, not a distinct religious tradition, but rather a way of engaging with and understanding already existing religious traditions: seeing them as a loving response to God rather than a way of defining God (Rollins, xii)."



Stephen said...


Sounds exciting! I'll be following your journey as you blog through the book. Why is it that we are so uncomfortable with the mystery of God? I especially like the last part of Rollins' quote: "seeing them as a loving response to God rather than a way of defining God." If only we would do the same with our words and traditions!

As for 'Neon Bible', it sounds awesome so far! I'll let you know as I listen to it more and let it sink in.


Josh said...


thanks for the comments man. i can't say why i think that everyone is uncomfortable with the mystery of God, but i think that a big part of it is a fear of the unknown and the fear of what uncertainty means. it usually comes back to the whole slippery slope argument, either we can 'really know' things about God, or we can't know anything...as if those are the only two options.

What if there is a third way, of affirming things about God, while realizing that we are still using finite language to speak about an infinite Creator, which humbly calls us to realize that our language and propositions can never encapsulate God?

dude, let me know how Neon Bible is after is soaks in some more. i've been waiting for a new album by Arcade Fire for a long time now. are there any songs you really like on it so far?