October 15, 2023

Lean in to the melancholy

Fall, for me, and for many I am sure, brings with it a sense of melancholy.

Evidently, Martin Luther said that he experienced the law (that which says “no” to us) in the rustling of the leaves. In the falling of the leaves, in their collecting on the ground, we experience life’s movement toward death. Fall is the season that prepares us for death. In Winter, the natural world becomes cold and dead. Fall is the segue to the death of winter. No wonder, then, that Fall is a time of such melancholy. Most of us aren’t ready for death.

Melancholy can be unsettling. But like every emotion and experience in life, melancholy has a role to play. Melancholy gets us in touch with our longings. And longings generally are good things. Yes, we often want our longings to be satisfied, to be fulfilled. But our longings bear witness to the fact that we need something, that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves, a reality that really is the first step toward health.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who mourn.” In his world (we call that the kingdom or reign of God), those who are in need are blessed or honored. This is wisdom that is so counter to the wisdom offered by the world. What the world tells us is that we are blessed when we are self-sufficient, when we have everything we want. Being full is thought to be the good life. But maybe, the true good life includes unfulfilled longings. Without hunger, food doesn’t mean that much. Hunger bears witness to the goodness of food. Deep longings bear witness to the goodness of that which can meet those deepest longings. Longings make room for God.

Enjoy Fall. Celebrate its colors, its great produce, its gifts of school sports and other school activities. And don’t run from the longings and melancholy that Fall brings. Perhaps they will help you go deeper. Many of us skate on top of life, paying little attention to the darker and harder things of life. We cover these realities with busyness and denial, which

tend to make us shallow. The deeper people in life are those who embrace the fullness of life, maybe those who live into the depths of all the seasons of the year.