Today the Church throws a splash of pink into its sombre vestment colours. Purple, the colour of Lent and Advent – the seasons of waiting and preparing – is not my favourite colour. In my travelling days, it saddened me to see all the passenger assistance people at Heathrow airport funereally dressed in it as they stood around looking for people to help.
Cheer up. Today is ‘Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday’; and to make the point there’s a bit of pink. The point is that even in the long runup to a big celebration, a long-awaited event (birth, graduation, anniversary, opening a new centre) the waiting for completion should not obscure the right to be joyful. Of course, someone telling you to be joyful is immediately depressing. For the sake of politeness, we may pretend. But the smile vanishes as soon as the need passes. This is a characteristic of many religious people who believe they should be polite to God to hide their inescapable sadness and anger.
Waves of sadness run through life even for the most fortunate. But you can ride a wave of loss or failure or decrepitude while not losing the joy of being which is described in today’s readings:
the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.. in my God is the joy of my soul. (First Reading)
Maybe not for everyone, but for me these words ring true and bring a consolation that (rarely) is not false even in the most troubled times. By pointing to the bubbling joy at the heart of things, they invoke a spring of purity in the nature of consciousness itself. Just to be aware is to share in the joy of being.
It’s hard to experience this continuously. It flickers on and off, during meditation and from day to day. Glimpsed once, touching the tongue even once, however, it can never be refuted. But self-isolation, so rampant in today’s culture in the rejection of intimacy and trust as painful threats to my autonomy, stifles joy and blocks the spring. This sadness is an impossible hole to get out of by ourselves.
Help always comes in the form of another. Even when the other emerges invisibly from within, it will have an expression we can see and touch. Waiting for him we learn to drop expectations and all imagining of what he will be like. That’s the purple, apophatic, imageless splash. It’s needed because we so arrogantly interpret him. We judge him from the ego’s higher bench of observation. We tell him what he is like. All this protects us from the revolution in consciousness he brings, from his painful joy of ecstasy.
Meditation makes us like John the Baptist in today’s gospel. He is so confident the other will come that he feels his presence already. This makes him so ridiculously and impregnably humble, that his joy flows over; and makes you see him as the prophet in pink.
Laurence Freeman OSB