This Holy Sadness

June 4, 2007

I’m in the process of reading books and more books to prepare for my comprehensive exams. This morning I was reviewing Friedrich Schleiermacher‘s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) and came across this sublime little passage:

What do you call the feeling of an unsatisfied longing that is directed toward a great object and of whose infinity you are conscious? What seizes you when you find the holy most intimately mixed with the profane, the sublime with the lowly and the transitory? And what do you call the mood that sometimes forces you to presuppose the universality of this mixture and to search for it everywhere? The mood does not seize Christians now and then but is, rather, the dominant tone of all their religious feelings; this holy sadness–for that is the only name language affords me–accompanies every joy and every pain; every love and every fear accompanies it.

He is probably wrong about this feeling (holy sadness) being the dominant tone of all Christian feeling, but he makes a good case for it. Perhaps the tango would be the best hymn tune; it arrives at melancholy in such a seductive way.

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5 Responses to “This Holy Sadness”

  1. Songbird Says:

    I’m afraid it’s my theme song, even if it isn’t Christianity’s.

  2. Charles Says:

    Schleiermacher’s statement reminds me of an illustration my pastor used a couple of weeks ago.

    A mother observed her son in the backyard with his bat and baseball. He’d toss the ball in the air and swing mightily at it as gravity brought it back down. Over and over he’d toss and swing, toss and swing, toss and swing…missing every single time. She prepared herself for when he would come inside feeling dejected. As he stepped in the back door she said, “Don’t worry son, keep practicing and things will get better.” He answered, “What are you talking about? I just pitched a perfect game!”

    Moral: perspective is everything

    It is sad that we are so profane, lowly and transitory. But isn’t it a wonder that the holy and sublime would so freely choose to “slum” with us out of love? Nothing to be sad about there.

  3. sheepdays Says:

    Songbird, it’s certainly my tune as well. Barth once said that there is no room to be morose in Christianity. Too bad for me.

    Charles, thanks for the story. I think that Schleiermacher is looking at sadness in a positive light, though. The longing to be rid of finitude is a kind of holy sadness as is the perplexity one feels about the inscrutable nature of God.

  4. Songbird Says:

    Oh, well if *Barth* said it…


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