De Profundis

De Profundis ~ from Georges Rouault’s series, ‘Miserere et Guerre’

In his fifty-eight print series titled Miserere et Guerre, the French Expressionist painter Georges Rouault struggled over a thirty-five year period with issues of faith, the suffering of Christ, and human cruelty.

A retrospective of Rouault’s work, “This Anguished World of Shadows,” was held in 2006 at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City.  Writing about the exhibit, the Museum says:

The brutal, contemporary images of the series — which are, in part, a reaction to the almost unimaginable destruction in France during World War I — become even more poignant when one realizes that, by the time they were published, the artist had lived through World War II as well, and witnessed the almost total transformation of Europe and of French society.
Their ultimate message is a testament to Rouault’s overriding belief in the redemptive power of suffering.

The title of Plate 47, De Profundis, translates as “from the depths,” a phrase which serves to open Psalm 130, one of fifteen Songs of Ascents contained within the Old Testament.  Ascension or pilgrimage songs (in Hebrew, Shirei ha Ma’alot) were sung on the occasion of the great feasts of pilgrimage: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. They first would have been sung on the way to Jerusalem: then, on the steps of the Temple. Today, The Psalm often is included in Christian Good Friday services.

(Psalm 130: A Song of Ascents)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Over time, a multitude of more contemporary writers took inspiration from Psalm 130. Christina Rossetti’s “De Profundis” is lighter, more oblique, while the letter written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, also known as De Profundis, captures in words the same heaviness, despair, and longing that haunt Rouault’s images:

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey.

In East Coker, one of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, the Psalmist’s realities are dressed in new and compelling imagery.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away-
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing-
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

Being human — which is to say, being imperfect, contingent, and given to foolishness — we’re easily tempted to choose life’s surface over its depths. Unsatisfying fulfillment often appears more attractive than on-going emptiness; obsessive activity seems preferable to stillness; and false comfort offers itself as a reasonable substitute for the searing realities of destruction and death.

Still, as the Psalmist knew and artists affirm, the chaos of the depths also serves as a source of creativity and hope. Daring those depths is our challenge; learning to wait is our task.

Comments are welcome, always.

64 thoughts on “De Profundis

  1. Georges Rouault’s painting that you show here, is to me, one of utter bleakness, sadness and, despair. The overall blackness of the scene does not allow the eye to look for more than a minute, at least for me that is the case.

    I wonder what was the mood and mind set of the artist while painting a scene such as this one. It is somber and it is deep. So I suppose that is how the painting was named.

    Eliot’s poem seems appropriate I think for what is going on in the world today. War and turmoil increases as the days go by. As Good Friday nears the poem is fitting.

    Nicely done, Linda.

    1. It is a difficult scene, isn’t it? Still, there are times when we’re called to face difficult realities, even if we can bear to look only for occasional minutes.

      I’ve thought for some years that separating Good Friday from Easter does as much as anything to trivialize the message of resurrection. There’s not a thing wrong with bunnies, new clothes, and baskets of chocolate, but if that’s it? We risk something Wilde wrote about in his “De Profundis”: sentimentality.

      “A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it. We think we can have our emotions for nothing. We cannot. Even the finest and most self-sacrificing emotions have to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine… As soon as you have to pay for an emotion you will know its quality, and be the better for such knowledge.”

      As for Eliot, there’s always something in his work that seems fitting. I’m glad you thought this selection appropriate There’s not much sentimentality there.

      A blessed Good Friday and happy Easter, Yvonne.

    1. I don’t find it at all odd, Gallivanta. In fact, Mary’s experience is the experience of too many mothers through time: pushed to the edges and forced to watch helplessly as their children suffer.

      Arvo Pärt also has set the Stabat Mater. I’ll enjoy listening to both: so different, and yet equally touching. Thanks for adding the Pergolesi.

      1. Yes, after listening to De Profundis I went to Arvo Part’s Stabat Mater. I decided that Pergolisi’s Stabat Mater was the one that entered my heart. I suppose with my own children I have been close to that edge.

  2. Speaking of De Profundis and profound, I found this statement in the Wikipedia article about Rouault: “At the end of his life he burned 300 of his pictures (estimated to be worth today about more than half a billion francs). His reason for doing this was not profound, as he simply felt he would not live to finish them.” The article at

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/510732/Georges-Rouault

    gives a different take: “In 1947 he sued the heirs of Vollard to recover a large number of works left in their possession after the death of the art dealer in 1939. Winning the suit, he established the right of an artist to things never offered for sale, and afterward he publicly burned 315 canvases that he felt were not representative of his best work.”

    1. Thanks for expanding on this note I found in the MOBIA article:

      “Originally commissioned by Rouault’s dealer, Ambroise Vollard, the plates were created between 1914 and 1927. Miserere was not printed until 1948, when Rouault gained control of the images after a prolonged court battle with Vollard’s heirs.”

      While the circumstances were different — it was Rouault who burned his own canvases, after all — the situation did remind me of a recent discussion about VARA, the Visual Artists Rights Act. I thought this distinction was so interesting:

      “VARA encompasses two basic rights: the right of attribution and the right of integrity. Under the right of attribution, an artist has the right to: (a) claim authorship of his or her own work; and (b) disclaim work that is not his or her own or that is distorted, mutilated, or otherwise modified such that it would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation.

      The second right, and probably the more important, is that of integrity. Under this right, an artist may prevent or claim damages for (a) any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the artist’s work that would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation; and (b) any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work of recognized stature.”

      Most of the discussions I come across are about attribution, but integrity/modification clearly would be of great interest to painters, photographers, and so on.

      1. I noticed in your linked article that “still photographs produced for exhibition purposes are protected only if they are unique or are in signed, numbered editions of 200 or less.” Reading about the lawsuits used as examples in the article, I found the matter to be too complicated to absorb in one reading. Talk about ramifications….

  3. What a wonderful beginning- Roualt’s “Miserere” works- and end- Arvo Part’s choral work- to another beautifully written post, Linda. Two of my favorites, to be sure. Both plumb the deeper reaches which is, as you point out, the source of great creativity. Thanks and have a good (or even Good) Friday.

    1. It always pleases me when I turn up someone’s favorite, Gary. That I managed two of your favorites in one post is wonderful.

      I was thinking about the paintings you showed in today’s post. I can’t think of a better example of going deeper in order to make a painting “right.” However they’ve been combined, “better, faster, smarter” seems to be today’s mantra. Isn’t it nice to have “slower, deeper, livelier” as an option?

  4. Beautiful! A very apt Lenten post. Quite a revelation, too (at least for me)! I wasn’t aware that Psalm 130 has inspired such great pieces of art and literature.

    A challenge indeed to dive into the depths of our being and live life to the full. But most of us prefer to live in the surface, because journeying to the depths involves confronting the Human Condition to which we are all subject to; it involves facing our fears and our darkness.

    But that’s only one side of the story. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. After winter comes spring; after the crucifixion comes the resurrection — but only if learn to wait and hope.

    Thank you, Linda, for sharing…

    –Matt

    1. There’s much I love in the Old Testament, Matt, and the Psalms are especially meaningful. I found this version of Psalm 121, another Song of Ascents, that I think you’ll enjoy.

      Over the years, I’ve found the great “empty space” that is Holy Saturday more and more compelling.The portion of Eliot I quoted above seems especially apt. To wait for a certain, coming event is one thing. To wait for an end to trauma is another. But to simply wait, not knowing what will come next, or what it will demand? That’s something else entirely.

      A blessed Easter to you and Jojang. By the way, I noticed and enjoyed seeing the photos of your father you posted recently. It hardly seems possible another year has passed. I’m sure it’s the same for you, but the memories are wonderful.

      ~Linda

      1. Same here, Linda. In fact, the Book of Psalms is my favorite part of the Old Testament. And every morning I and Jojang pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which for the most part consists of the Psalms.

        To my knowledge the Psalms were originally hymns. As a devout Jew, Jesus probably sang the Psalms, especially the Song of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), on his way to Jerusalem. (Being a devout Jew, I would imagine, even before His pubic ministry, that He would have gone at least a few times to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage).

        Thank you for sharing that video on Psalm 121. That’s one of my favorites. (“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”) I really liked also the haunting melody of the first part of video.

        Love the way you juxtapose Psalm 130 with that excerpt of T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” It made me realize, which is what I suspected all along, that I haven’t yet plumbed the depths of either the Psalms or the poems of T. S. Eliot, especially “Four Quartets.” (I probably never will). There is so much to appreciate and learn…

        Also, “emptiness,” “nothingness,” “darkness,” are not that bad at all. No wonder mystics and poets, like T. S. Eliot, spoke of it in positive, even glowing terms. (“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”) Indeed the “emptiness” of Holy Saturday makes Easter Sunday all the more meaningful.

        Yes, I posted some pictures of my father a few days ago. It was his birthday last April 1. He would have been 75 years old. We all miss him.

        A Blessed Easter to you, too, and to your loved ones!

        –Matt

  5. Love this post. Thanks for sharing a meaningful message. The illustration speaks volume. Interesting how the visual can inspire thoughts and even the literary. I too have shared one. But can’t write more now… a Good Friday service awaits.

    1. It was intriguing to see your illustration, Arti. Compared to Rouault’s, it’s almost soothing, but it’s just as truthful, and just as painful to contemplate.

      I’ve always found the stripping of the altar during the Good Friday liturgy profoundly moving. As I think about the images we chose, it occurs to me that each has the power to do the same: strip us bare, and leave us without pretense.

      The overheard line of the day? In the supermarket, near the bunny-and-candy display, one woman said to another, “Well, at least the marketers haven’t found a way to cash in on Good Friday.” No, they haven’t. Perhaps they sense that they couldn’t offer anything more than what already has been given.

  6. This post most likely resurrects emotions among your readers that have been buried deep over time as a form of survival. This post brings to the surface, up from the depths, our trials during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, coming up on the 10th anniversaries; as well as the five-year mark of the devastating Maconda oil spill carnage.

    I’ve come to realize, having gone through these dark times, that the deeper one buries the emotions, the longer it takes for them to surface; and when they do, how will we cope? Will we wallow in self pity or will we find some way to turn grief into hope or creativity? For me and another close friend, that remains to be seen.

    1. Wendy, you’ve reminded me of a tender, respectful, and deeply moving video that was made after the final capping of the Macondo well. A fellow whose postings I followed through those weeks set it to music, and every time I watch it, it brings tears to my eyes. The thought of that memorial, two miles down, gives a rather different slant to the words: “Out of the depths, I cry unto thee, O Lord.”

      More than a few people commented at the time that the ROV seemed to be doing its job with an almost palpable gentleness, as though the feelings of the humans at the controls were being communicated through the technology. It may be fanciful, but I’d like to believe it true.

      What is true is that a real community was built around that problem-solving process. And maybe that’s part of it. If we try and cope with the chaos, loss, and grief on our own, we’re bound to wallow — at least a bit. On the other hand, if we work together in hope, creativity becomes possible. Remember this one? I watch it now and then, too, to be reinspired by a friend.

      1. Thank you, Linda. I had never seen the capping video set to music. It’s sort of haunting, too, really, when I combine with the image I took of the 11 crosses on Grand Isle Beach. I had forgotten about the Faces of Bayou Grace video, which does make me happy-sad!!!

  7. So many themes, dark and moody, but glimpsing light which is hope. Could be that this very spiritual struggle is part of the appeal of black and white photography because it boils things down to the essence of being…shape, shadow and light. And, I am not meaning to minimize the greater theme of redemption, but rather wonder about the hold darkness can have over us and what we respond to.

    One of my favouite poems is Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol…though there’s little of hope in it. I understand it was his last creative effort. It can be heartrending when darkness gives way to creativity as it does not always bring peace. As in your excerpt, the blue sky outside figures repeatedly in his poem as the example below:

    “I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky,
    And at every wandering cloud that trailed
    Its ravelled fleeces by.”

    While I have always felt that we don’t have the facility to appreciate the light if not for darkness and that we need the duality, I do not want to feel that we must rise from a platform of suffering in order to become whole. Christ’s role in assuming the cloak of darkness and despair for us is all the more significant on account of that.

    TS Eliot’s points on Waiting are like being born again, that we are just floating around in amniotic fluid spiritually speaking…waiting without thought because we are not even ready for thought…. Waiting for spiritual awakening is difficult; we were not made to be patient.

    As I used to close letters back in the day when reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land:

    Until waiting is filled………………….

    1. Your reference to shape, shadow, and light reminds me of the wonderfully descriptive story in Mark’s gospel about a man whose sight was restored: “[Jesus] asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” I can’t help it. I laugh every time I read that.

      As for the hold darkness can have over us, sometimes we’re the ones doing the holding. Dark thoughts, dark deeds, can be perversely attractive. The fact that the phrase “twitter mob” has entered our vocabulary is proof enough of that. Of course, the ones who threaten to burn down your house or kill you aren’t the ones who need worrying over.

      As for that business about suffering as a path to virtue — well, I’m with you on that one. The point is to learn how to cope with the suffering that will inevitably come, not to court a little additional suffering, just for good measure. I’ve kept this article in my files for several years, even printing it out, just in case. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s funny as heck, and I’ll bet you know at least one person it perfectly describes.

      Happy Easter!

      Linda

  8. Thank you – Georges Roualt’s work will always be the most inspiring painting I have ever had the pleasure to see. He paints from the soul like none other. Beautiful music by the way.

    1. I stopped by your blog, edenbray, and noticed your post about Rouault in your sidebar. Very nicely written, and very interesting. This is the first time I’ve referenced his work. I’m glad that you found the post, and enjoyed it.

      Many thanks for the visit, and your comment. You’re always welcome here.

      Linda

  9. Love your last two paragraphs, Linda! “Waiting” is such a foreign thing to us in our hurried world. Perhaps that’s why we NEED times like Lent and Advent, so we can calm our emotions and purge our To-Do lists for a time to focus on what’s most important!

    I’m particularly drawn to our Catholic Good Friday services (this is the only day of the year in which Mass isn’t said). I love how we pray for so many groups typically forgotten, love the somberness of the services, love hearing the Passion as told by St. John. Suffering is common for so many in other parts of our world, and joining in that suffering — even for a day — perhaps will lighten their load.

    You’re right — Eliot’s imagery is amazing! Here’s hoping you have a wonderful Easter, my friend, and LOTS of chocolates (if that’s your favorite, too!)

    1. Debbie, I agree that both Advent and Lent provide important times for reflection and re-ordering priorities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful it we could find a way to live out the values we discover during those times through the whole of life?

      I didn’t know that Mass isn’t said on Good Friday. That’s interesting and a parallel to other traditions that focus on readings and prayer. Whether a congregation carries out the stripping of the altar at the conclusion of Thursday’s service, or includes it as a part of Good Friday’s, it’s a powerful way to emphasize the solemnity of the day. And yes — remembering those who suffer around the world (or the forgotten in our own) is so important.

      One of the smaller mysteries of this Easter season is my sudden lack of desire for chocolate. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual biting-off-of-the-ears with chocolate bunnies, and there’s nothing better than good chocolate eggs. This year? There’s not a single one in the house. I even stopped at the candy display at the grocery yesterday, and walked away without a thing. It’s puzzling.

      A blessed Easter to you, and send my wishes along to Domer. (Did you send him a chocolate bunny?)

      1. Domer got a chocolate egg, filled with MORE chocolates. No bunny this year — when he was a kid, he hated biting off those ears! I’m puzzled at your lack of interest in chocolates the sudden. I don’t know that I’m ever going to get to that point (though I must confess, the older I get, the less I find myself gorging on it, ha!) Happy Easter, my dear friend!

  10. The cross is meaningful only because it leads to new life. To experience new life, we first experience the cross. There are no shortcuts. Here’s an Easter message from my friend, folk singer Michael P. Smith: “He is risen, and I feel pretty good myself.”

    1. I love the understated and slightly wry humor expressed by your friend. It reminds me of Orthodox traditions of telling jokes on Easter Monday, imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection.

      And of course you’re right about cross and resurrection belonging together. Focusing only on the cross can lead to despair. Resurrection without the cross can bring sentimentality, or worse. I once knew a pastor who reminded his flock at the beginning of each Lenten season that, if they neglected Good Friday services, they should stay home on Easter. New members always were shocked. After a couple of years, they understood.

      A blessed Easter to you and yours.

  11. Oh, nicely done, and on schedule, too! The lines from East Coker are particularly resonant: “Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.” Your closing lines offer an elegant summation of the whole, and your choice of Arvo Pärt’s De Profundis as accompaniment is inspired.

    1. Of course, now I have another deadline. I suspect you can figure out what that one is!

      I knew you’d enjoy both the Eliot and the selection from Arvo Pärt. I was particularly taken with the video itself. I thought the combination of music and images was just right, and fading to white rather than to black at the end was an unusual touch.

      Among the many blessings I’ll count this Easter, I’ll surely include the fact that you’ve helped bring me to the point that Arvo Pärt would be a first choice for music for this post!

  12. Thought 1: “Be still and know that I am God.” One thing we here in the west are neither taught, nor encouraged to do is to be still. To be in a quiet, reflective, meditative, “thought-free” state. That, to me, is what that verse is about. Being still and receptive.
    A character in one of my stories is asked by the primitive society he encounters if he goes hang gliding over a vast, grand canyon, so that he could talk to the gods, who were reputed to live there. His reply was, no, he went hang gliding in order to listen, in case the gods had something they wanted to say to him.
    You can’t talk and listen at the same time. Prayer is a dialog, and dialog is at least 50% listening.

    Thought 2: Of a woman (girl really, she was barely in her 20s) who really hated (and, I suspect, was afraid of) being by herself. (Was she afraid that if there was no one there to reaffirm her existence, she would disappear?) It was difficult for me to understand her antipathy to being alone. I don’t mind being alone, and a lot of the time, really prefer it.

    Thought 3: Everybody thinks T. S. Elliot was British. He was American, born in Boston. He became a British citizen later in life and spent a lot of time there, but he was American to start with.

    Thought 4: Elliot’s “Wasteland” was composed during his deeply unhappy first marriage.

    Thought 5: It is out of the silent depths of our minds, that great well, from which our creativity and art, and spirituality flows.

    Thought 6: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The Walt Kelly quote covers more than pollution. When we accuse one another of acting like animals, the animals have a right to be offended by that accusation. Animals are not cruel, sadistic or destructive. They do not kill for the sake of killing, only to eat, and/or protect their young. They do not torture, maim, mutilate or brutalize. The events commemorated by Good Friday are a poignant example of our inhumanity to each other. Crucifixion is an extremely sadistic and cruel way to kill somebody.

    1. There’s a lot to respond to here. Any of your points would allow for great conversation. A few things did come to mind:

      I still like the concept, first popularized years ago, of the duologue. A good example would be two television sets, turned on and facing each other. Today, the same dynamic can be found online. A good bit of so-called social media isn’t social at all: at least, not in any traditionally recognizable sense.

      And of course, everyone repeats the truism that “being alone isn’t the same as being lonely,” but not all who say so, believe so. I’ve never read Pascal’s “Pensées” in its entirety, but I have enjoyed this quotation from the work: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I might quibble about the “all,” but there’s no question he’s on to something.

      I remember how surprised I was when I learned some years ago that Eliot wasn’t British. You’re right that his family was rooted in Boston, but he was born in St. Louis. That’s actually how I found he was American. When he calls “the river” a “strong, brown god” in the Four Quartets, it’s the Mississippi that flows in the background.

      No matter what the subject, Walt Kelly and Pogo are fine commentators. I wonder from time to time if they could make it today, in these days of narrow-mindedness, condescension, and censorious spirit we call “political correctness.” Kelly would have to be issuing a dozen “trigger warnings” a day, lest the little cupcakes be offended. When’s the last time you saw “tough-minded” used as a compliment?

      Well, if you knit your baby sweaters and bonnets as well as you do your thoughts, they’ll be quality, for sure.

  13. A powerful and moving post, fitting in this season of remembrance of death, and celebration of life.

    I appreciate how Eliot links them–the agony of both death and birth.

    And I’m reminded that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.

    Happy Easter Linda.

    1. I was caught by that linkage of death and birth myself, Bill. I thought it interesting that he didn’t choose “death and re-birth.” Then, I remembered the concluding lines from his poem, “The Journey of the Magi.”

      “All this was a long time ago, I remember,
      And I would do it again, but set down
      This set down
      This: were we led all that way for
      Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
      We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
      But had thought they were different; this Birth was
      Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
      We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
      But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
      With an alien people clutching their gods.
      I should be glad of another death.”

      Happy Easter to you and Cheri, and your flock.

  14. A feast of a post to ponder.
    Found these lines quite timely, too ““Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.” Life and the world seems wound like a tight clock spring right now. A little pause would be welcomed and beneficial – doesn’t it seem like Easter weekend once was a slow down, a quieting mind and body time – where now it’s just as frantic as pre-Christmas with everyone rushing to get ready for summer activities?
    People are so busy being busy – and not thinking much at all – just dancing as fast as they can. We need to teach stillness again – for many reasons.

    I always like Rouault’s works – dense in thought and style compared to many of that era.
    Enjoyed the music. The music, honest basic hymns – one of the best reasons to go to church. (Think much of my early reading skills and vocabulary came from those holding those heavy hymnals each Sunday with a finger gliding under each word)
    Happy Easter, Linda. It is a time to reflect and rejoice
    (despite the fire alarms…or maybe there’s some intentional symbolism sneaking in with those for the world…no, just a speck in the eye annoyance.)

    1. I know this, Phil — we’ve gone past the point where it’s just busyness and frantic activity that’s consuming us. Twitter, especially, is turning into something that’s truly ugly, and social media lynch mobs are becoming more common. I’ll spare you my thoughts on the “negotiating” that’s been going on, or the utter fecklessness of politicians. We need both a pause for thought, and better thought. How to get there, I haven’t a clue.

      Funny you should mention hymns. I was thinking about childhood church and hymns when I was writing my Easter post — we had some good ones. But time passed, and my musical horizons began expanding. Now, Easter comes around, and it’s the combination of old songs and new musicians that’s so pleasing. Here’s one of the best — perfect for Easter.

  15. I personally think that a search for profundity can best be done alone, deep in the wilderness where things are real and divorced from the emptiness of society and human arrogance.

    1. I’m not so ready to give up entirely on society — at least that portion of it that’s comprised of family, friends, fellow workers, and friendly strangers. There are realities and experiences to be cherished there: some of them profound.

      On the other hand, there’s no question that American society as it’s been constituted is fraying, unraveling, coming apart at the seams, or being ripped apart, depending on your point of view. I think a sense of that is part of what’s making Wendell Berry and his view of things ever more popular. This is one of his best, I think:

      “When despair grows in me
      and I wake in the night at the least sound
      in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
      I go and lie down where the wood drake
      rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
      I come into the peace of wild things
      who do not tax their lives with forethought
      of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
      And I feel above me the day-blind stars
      waiting for their light. For a time
      I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

    1. I see you turned to Eliot, too, Anne. He is one of the best, especially for times of waiting. Wishing you and your loved ones the best in this time of waiting, and great Easter joy!

  16. What a thoughtful post. So many issues to think about, yet the overall feeling is one of great sadness and a haunting helplessness. The painting is powerful, in all it’s bleakness and despair. Yet the light awaits….xxx

    1. Snowbird, sometimes I think helplessness is the worst. I’ve thought about it in regard to your work with the birds and animals — especially the impossibility of helping them all. It must be very hard at times.

      Still, we do what we can, and though we’re sometimes forced to work in the dark, the light always returns. It’s no wonder equinox and solstice have taken on such importance through time.

      It’s funny. I felt compelled to deal with Good Friday this year, at least in part because of so many terrible events in the world. But it’s already Easter for you! I hope it’s a lovely one.

  17. As to the subject matter in this post there is little I can contribute. However I have, as always, enjoyed the scholarship in this work and which you always bring to your writing, Linda.

    1. When it comes to these holidays, Steve, I try to find a way to write about them that’s both welcoming and interesting, even for those outside the traditions. I can be more or less pleased with the result, but I suspect that’s true for all of us.

      Coming up for Easter? A story of ten-year-old me, discussing miracles with a hometown minister. ;-)

  18. Reading this on Holy Saturday after our very spare Good Friday service at church – I’m still in that place of despair… I enjoyed the music – & I listened to the Stabat Mater too. Perfect.

    I didn’t know that the hymn which starts, “At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last” IS the Stabat Mater! I was going to say that we had sung it at church last night – very affecting. I was looking it up to share here & realized that it was the Stabat Mater. I always learn something new here :)

    Now I shall continue my Saturday of waiting – tomorrow is Easter!

    1. I tried and failed to respond to all the Good Friday post comments before Easter rolled around, and just couldn’t do it. In one sense I’m glad, because it’s strangely easier now. Perhaps it’s just a tiny taste of what it must have been like on that first Easter, when unexpected (!) events re-shaped the disciples’ understanding of what they’d been through.

      In any event, Easter is here, and despite our rain and gloom, it’s a lovely one. I hope your day is wonderful, too, Dana!

  19. Thanks for sharing this theme in poetry, art, song, and more. I like the challenge to press for depth in life. So many “necessities” mitigate this but I read today in the paper of a poet who felt that the last five months of his life – before his death to cancer – were the richest, as a kind of clarity descended upon him.

    Of course, no-one would wish such a sentence upon others or themselves, but this makes his dying a living for those who bear witness to his transformation. The Triduum, it seems, is woven into the fabric of life – for those with eyes to see. Thanks for opening our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds.

    1. On the other hand, I always smile when I hear someone say, “Imagine that you were going to die. How would you want to spend your time?” The only difference between the poet you mention and the rest of us is that he had more specific knowledge about the “when.”

      Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given are the built-in protective devices that allow us to set aside thoughts of death in order to live. But now and then, a memento mori comes along and focuses our attention. When that happens, and however it happens, it’s good to have been reminded that living — and dying — with grace is possible.

  20. I am of two minds of depth. Depth is good, makes us think. Makes us more aware. But depth gets a little too damned depressing for me sometimes and I think that’s because I’ve had too much of it in my life. I can go down the rabbit hole (and have) more often than I like but I get no joy out of it. Not really, not most of the time. Now that I want to skim the shallow surface of life and faith either. But when I go deep with death, we go into the dark spot. Been there and back more times than I can say. I have had far too much death in my lifetime and too much in spring when Easter falls. Too many close calls. I enter my dark period right about now and find absolutely no comfort in all the Easterness and such. Give me my bunnies and chicks and pretty eggs and that will get me through my worst month.

    I know that one day, maybe sooner than later but who knows, I will have to deal with this in the most personal of ways. I hope I can do so with the grace of my mom and Gretel rather than the anger of my dad and so many others. I will not go gentle into the good night, but I hope I find the way to do that with a grace and dignity. Then again, we never know, do we.

    All that said, I just love that painting which is depressing as all get out and the music which I find calming and healing. I listen to that period of music often Interesting visuals, too.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it, Jeanie. It surprised me that you seemed to equate depth with death, darkness and all manner of other negative things. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but in my own life I’ve found that the depths usually are the place where healing takes place.

      Now, granted: we’ve all been depressed, experienced death, been abandoned, feared loss, and so on. You’ve had such terrible struggles with health issues that you’re bound to have been a lot farther down than just “in the dumps.” I’ve been known myself to talk about the “depths of despair,” or the “depths of grief.” Still, there’s more to life’s depths than only despair.

      One of the most interesting phrases in the Apostles’ Creed, at least to me, is the assertion that on Holy Saturday Christ was down in Hell, tending to business there. It’s sometimes called the harrowing of Hell. Whatever it’s called, it’s a pretty strong affirmation that even the depths have been redeemed, and I find that hopeful.

      As for dealing with death personally, I’m with you on hoping it’s later rather than sooner. Still, time is passing, and it’s interesting how matter-of-factly my friends and I talk about these things. Even absent a coronary or a terrible accident, war, or pestilence and plague, it’s a fact that twenty-five more years probably is my outside limit. Sometimes I think about that, and sometimes I try not to. Mostly, I just hope I outlive Dixie!

      Be of good cheer. Spring is here, Harry will be back, the forsythia’s in bloom and there’s traveling to be done. Before long, you’ll be heading up to the lake, and we’ll all be traveling with you, nagging you for photos of your time there!

    1. Don’t you think we can see that difference in painting, photography — portraiture of every sort? I’ll never forget encountering this painting in a Houston gallery. It was powerful enough to stop me in my tracks — I hardly could stop looking. Somehow, Cassatt had captured not only the girl’s superficial characteristics in her portrait, but the depth of personality.

      Perhaps that’s what we all try to do, in our chosen way: break through the surface, to expose the depths.

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