You will make me full of gladness with your presence. (Acts 2:28)
The English word glad comes from the Old English glaed, which means “bright, shining, gleaming,” as well as “joyous, pleasant,” and “gracious.” It’s a rich word—deceptively simple, and more domesticated now than it once was. What seems worth retrieving is the frank and surprising awareness our ancestors seem to have had that gladness is radiant—that gladness is a form of light. That when we are glad, we shine. And when we are “full of gladness,” as the Psalmist puts it, and Peter, we are bright with God’s own light.
I have loved the parting blessing with which the priests at our church close the service most Sundays; it begins with the words, “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. . . .” Thinking of gladness as a light passed among us, one to another, like the light from the Easter candle, it seems a thing to be received and held with humble amazement—energy and beauty that flows inward, quiets and opens and fills and finally overflows.
It isn’t the same as exuberance. I often find other people’s exuberance a little oppressive when it seems to insist on being met and matched. It can be overwhelming, even overbearing. But gladness invites and welcomes and imposes no requirements. My heart has been gladdened by fleeting expressions, gestures, gracious words, and sometimes when I witness something larger that I would call “the beauty of holiness,” innocent and unconscious, powerful and radiant, that suddenly allows me to see the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”
Repeatedly Scripture directs us to “Rejoice and be glad.” I’m not sure gladness is something I can summon, but I can be willing to be “made glad,” to be “filled.” In those times when my heart is heavy and gladness seems unlikely, and when “gladdening” doesn’t come on command, I can, at least, let my heart be made glad. “Yes” and “thank you” open a crack in even the hardest heart where light can enter, and burn, and shine.
(image courtesy of snappygoat.com)