Posted by: Postordinandy | May 26, 2012


Last week, I finally gave in to a temptation I had been battling for a few years…

35 minutes of mild wincing, briefly interrupted by mild panic that I’d spelt it wrong, and I had the word Saudade tattoo’d over the symbolic place of my heart.

The word is Portuguese, and I first met it – and fell in love with the meaning – way back in 1994 while I was working in Brazil.

It’s one of those glorious words that has no direct translation into English. The source of all student knowledge has a half-decent crack at it, but the definition I most like is of ‘Mournful hope’.

The root of the word is in the fishing and sea-faring villages of Europe and South America – the ships would go out, but not all of them would return, and the spouses of those presumed lost would scan the horizon, desperately hoping for a sign of something they knew would probably never return to them.

We all have moments of Saudade in our lives, missed opportunities, plans that have gone astray, hopes dashed and tragedy arrived. Perhaps you can empathise with the word, even as you read this. If you can, wrestle with the feeling gently – for is is as liberating as it is ensnaring. I have significant Saudade in my life right now – mourning for that which is lost, hoping for the return, pragmatic about the fact I can do little or nothing about either.

My outlook has been shaped by Saudade significantly over the years. I have often struggled to articulate it.

It is why, when I see the fabled glass of water I see it as half-full, but desperately want it to be overflowing; why I sometimes struggle to celebrate progress that still leaves the best missing.

Theologically too, it has been an important, if often unspoken, theme for me in my work and relationships.

Saudade speaks of the ‘now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God’. The thing we sometimes get powerful glimpses of, and at other times seems too far from reality to be meaningful.

We live in a world where people go missing, plans get destroyed, hope gets hijacked.

Yet we are encouraged to scan the horizon for signs of hope breaking into our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we can be a part of that hope, other times we can only stand mute with those who are mourning. We wish for the best, we live with what we have, we refuse to accept that this is just how it is, we acknowledge that it may not change in our lifetime.

As the Israelites wandered the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, they experienced a kind of Saudade. Missing the apparent security of slavery and misery in captivity – “it would have been better for us to have died there!” – they didn’t understand that the best was yet to come. Of course, for most of them, that best came for their children, rather than themselves.

So, hope for the future. Deal with the present. Mourn that this is not how it is meant to be, do all you can to reach for the horizon, wait patiently for the sail to appear.


(with thanks to Richard Harris @the1harris for the following)

We are walking in silence
And time holds still
Till we find ourselves again
But time can’t hold us now
We are burning with flame
So Hope billows, like towers of smoke;
And we drink it in.
Rivers from our hearts will overflow
Like tears
Tears of sorrow; Tears of joy
Peace breaks the silence
Like the rushing of wind
And we find your peace has called us home again

There is hope even in the wilderness!


  1. […] has both informed and relieved some of my depression. I look at the world and see that things are not as they should be, and feel at once compelled to fight for the good, and the temptation to be overwhelmed by the […]

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