Ash Wednesday



A grey sunrise with a confetti of gulls feasting on the shellfish beached by the receding tide - cockles and razor clams and whelks and mussels and blunt gapers, which have fleshy protruberances hanging out of their open shells. I'm listening to This Bitter Earth/The Nature of Daylight by Dinah Washington and Max Richter. The lyrics fit the day.


There is a mournful yearning to life. This is not time I spend alone with God but time I spend alone without God, and that lack is all in all. The horizon recedes into the unending grey, but I look up and see a window into heaven fringed with the pink of the rising sun - a mother of pearl sky like the inside of the most delicate seashell.

One of the great joys of teaching is to discover a new source of insight and wisdom when marking a student's essay. That's why I'm currently reading Alina Feld's Melancholy and the Otherness of God : A Study in the Genealogy, Hermeneutics, and Therapeutics of Depression. It was the subject of a dazzlingly good essay I marked last week. Feld refers to Schelling's 'interpretation of melancholy as a vestige of the abysmal groundlessness of God ... a reflection of the otherness within God'. (pp. 13-14).


It's lack I want to write about - lack and yearning and melancholia. There is no joy without sorrow, no love without suffering. These are the dualities of the human condition. They are the marginal spaces within which it may be possible to do theology by groping along the fringes of meaning, not to grasp it but to let it go, to release it into the silence of unknowing.


My morning walk is lightened by acceptance of melancholia as the abyss of prayer. There's no point in trying to be eloquent. It's enough to recite the daily litany of the names of those I love, like confetti tossed into the air and hoping that there is Some One who will catch the names, grace and bless them, heal and protect them. Amen.


This Bitter Earth by Clyde Otis (sung by Dinah Washington, with music by Max Richter, On the Nature of Daylight)


This bitter earth

Well, what fruit it bears

Ooooh, This bitter earth


And if my life is like the dust

oooh that hides the glow of a rose

What good am I

Heaven only knows


Lord, this bitter earth

Yes, can be so cold

Today you're young

Too soon, you're old

But while a voice within me cries

I'm sure someone may answer my call

And this bitter earth

Ooooh may not

Oh be so bitter after all


This bitter earth

Lord, This bitter earth


What good is love

Mmmm that no one shares

And if my life is like the dust

Oooh that hides the glow of a rose


What good am I

Heaven only knows.




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