In The Shadows

We are in the midst of Holy Week. Soon it will be Maundy Thursday, on which the Christian churches traditionally hold Tenebrae services.  Tenebrae means darkness or shadows.  An image associated with Tenebrae is called “The Man of Sorrows”, such as this one by Guido Reni:


From the end of the institution of the eucharist and the betrayal in the Garden of Sorrow through Easter dawn, the whole world sits in the shadow of the Pyrrhic victory of evil, sin, and death.  What began forty days before with the recollection of our mortality and impending death comes to a near-climax with the victory of these same forces over the one person who stands between us and the abyss.

We are, until the women discover the empty tomb on the First Day of the Week/New Creation, under the shadows of the angel of death.

angel of death

Just as the Angel of Death in Exodus came for the first born, so, too does the Angel of Death come for the one declared the First Born of all Creation.  The Blood of the Lamb who was slain is no protection from this grim messenger of finality and nothingness.

Accompanying the liturgy of the Passion, the words of the Lamentations were once used, set to music to express the sorrow and loss we recall and relive.  Some of the most beautiful, mournful music of the Christian tradition are these Tenebrae Lamentations by the Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria.  This is Lamentation III:

These reflections of mine are not only borne out of my faith.  They are most definitely rooted in it.  Yet, I cannot but be honest and admit there is much more here than a kind of anamnesis, a remembering-through-reliving of the loss and grief at the end of the hope carried by Jesus of Nazareth.  After months of troubled soul, and weeks of confusion, despair, and fear, I went to the doctor last week.  My condition has a name.  Well, actually two.  I was diagnosed with severe depression and severe anxiety.  These are more than just name for states of mind.  They are not moods.  These are not things out of which I can work myself, or snap-to with the help of positive thinking and positive reinforcement from loved ones.  These are near-debilitating conditions, brought on not by environmental conditions, although they can factor in, reinforcing what is already happening in my brain.  Rather, they are somatic illnesses, requiring both pharmacological and therapeutic responses, reinforcing one another as my body and sense of self begin to heal.

I find it more than a little odd that I begin this journey of healing in the midst of Holy Week, as we move from triumph through tragedy and loss and despair to the victory that defines all other victories.  Right now, I am still a person lingering in the shadows, despite the small improvements my wife has noted.  That I know there is light out there, even light for me, is cold comfort because for now I cannot see it, feel its warmth on my face, or allow it to lead me on.  I am, in a very real sense, in Tenebrae, knowing I must move through much worse before the victory comes, the light of the New Day shines, and I can celebrate with real joy the new life we all share.

In an email correspondence yesterday, I told someone that one of the few things that does bring me true joy is music.  While it would be easy to settle for more Lamentations, to revel and wallow in my own despondence, I cannot do that.  I must remember that victory does come, has come, will come.  And so I will end with that great humanist song of victory and life, the 4th movement of Beethoven’s last and greatest Symphony:



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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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