I can’t say I’m feeling a great deal of gladness these days. But I think it is a worthwhile pursuit. Not the kind of gladness that is frivolous or willfully ignorant, but the kind that arises from the knowledge that beauty is that much more vivid when held against the dimness of all that brings us sadness and fear. As I returned to this post from 2016, I was reminded of that uneasy combination of the good and bad in our lives. The way our trials can sometimes encourage us to seek and find true joy, true friendship, true kindness and generosity. And maybe, just maybe, we are able to triumph and shout with louder voices than whatever clouds the view.
In thee is gladness, amid all sadness, Jesus, sunshine of my heart.
By thee are given the gifts of heaven,
thou the true Redeemer art.
Our souls thou makest, our bonds thou breakest;
who trusts thee surely hath built securely,
and stands forever. Hallelujah!
Our hearts are pining to see thy shining;
dying or living, to thee are cleaving;
naught can us sever. Hallelujah!
If God be ours, we fear no powers, nor of earth nor sin nor death.
God sees and blesses in worst distresses,
and can change them with a breath.
Wherefore the story tell of God’s glory
with heart and voices; all heaven rejoices,
singing forever; Hallelujah!
We shout for gladness, triumph o’er sadness,
love thee and praise thee,and still shall raise thee
glad hymns forever: Hallelujah!
I’ve always liked this hymn – it seems like a happy thing. A tune that dances along; a title that implies something good. It’s fun to sing. It’s fun to play. The words, written in 1594 by Johann Lindemann and translated by Catherine Winkworth in 1858, were set to one of Giovanni Gastoldi’s 1591 madrigals. One of the characteristics of late 16th century madrigals was to let the music express the words. This tune certainly does express the gladness, praise, singing and hallelujahs found in these words.
And yet, these words do not reflect gladness in isolation. It exists amid sadness, broken bonds, death, distresses and pining hearts. I think this is important. I often wonder at our tendency to assume there are easy solutions to emotional and mental challenges. Believe this and all will be well. Look on the bright side. Count your blessings. Nothing will be a greater burden than you can bear. Maybe on some level these platitudes are true, but often they fill me with a sense of unease. They imply that there is no place for sadness; no place for looking at the darkness that exists in all of our lives. And for those that regularly live in this darkness, platitudes are a heavy burden.
I am learning to treasure the coexistence of both sadness and gladness as described in the words of this hymn. There is balance in accepting both. We share this experience – the good and the bad. We need to understand that our culture’s pursuit of happiness is a flawed endeavour.
These particular words refer to God as a source of gladness that carries us through all the darkness, and for many that is the case. But there are other sources as well. Perhaps it is family and friends, or nature, or art or music. Something that reminds us that while life is complicated, there is gladness to be found. For those that find themselves deep in the depths of sadness, I hope we can exhibit gladness as we help carry, counsel, treat and encourage. Gladness that doesn’t judge, but that simply provides a picture of the wholeness available to us; of the possibility of balance. Gladness that allows us to sing Hallelujah! despite the spaces where we live. Gladness amid all the sadness. Hallelujah.