The Germans have a word for it. From the people who gave us schadenfreude for that pleasure we get from another’s failure, and zeitgeist for the spirit of the times, we get weltschmerz.
Most of us would have to admit to a little weltschmerz once in a while.
Who wouldn’t? Our news is filled with reasons for it. To the east, a cruel and senseless war rages. To the west, fire abetted by a hurricane destroys an island in paradise.
Oceans are simmering, glaciers melting, rivers receding, and global temperatures are beginning to sound like NBA scores.
The institutions we have relied upon in the past have forsaken our faith, opting instead for profit and power.
Our politicians promise the world but can’t deliver a flourishing neighborhood. The common good has no currency.
And we’re left with weltschmerz — a world weariness, a sickness in the soul.
Our world has let us down, failed both our expectations and our needs.
There is a deep sadness, depression, and at times, anger.
Weltschmerz doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t distinguish red or blue, me or you. No matter our political bent or religious flavor, weltschmerz embraces us all.
Stricken, often not knowing with what, we can retreat to our tribes, our creeds, our fortresses of like-minded victims.
And the world worsens, the weltschmerz mounts, and we become more separated from each other and from ourselves.
That German word has only been around a couple of centuries, but the feelings it describes are as old as our history.
The Israelites had weltschmerz. That’s why many of the Psalms that survive today are expressions of lament.
These are prayer poems that arise from sorrow, grief, pain and fear. The authors are not hesitant to name the suffering.
“My soul is in deep anguish.”
“All your waves and breakers have swept over me.”
“Why do you hide yourself from me?”
There is a candid self-revelation that is the first step to the lament.
After the confession comes the ask. The request for relief is often for the “we” — for the community, not just for the individual.
It is made with a profession of dependence, an acknowledgement that change cannot happen without the aid of a power much greater than themselves.
The lament psalm ends in praise, not some obsequious flattery, but a confidence that what has been asked is already in the works.
Honesty. Humility. Trust. If you’re feeling the weltschmerz, it might be worth a try.