Through Shadow Into Light

Caney Creek 24

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said.  ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.’  Mark 16:1-6

Through darkness, you shall come to the light. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin,’ Unfinished Tales p 21

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Shadows, Part Four

path in shadow

shadow:  a shaded or darker portion of a picture

‘The story of Jesus is full of darkness as well as of light.  It is a story that hides more than it reveals.  It is the story of a mystery we must never assume we understand and that comes to us breathless and broken with unspeakable beauty at the heart of it yet by no means a pretty story.’  ~ Frederick Buechner, ‘The Two Stories,’ A Room Called Remember p 51

We call it Good Friday, this darkest day in the history of the church.  We don’t understand.  We, like the disciples, are so often sleepy, bewildered, unable to grasp the significance of what is happening.  We’d prefer to avert our eyes, to fast –forward from the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday right on to the triumphal resurrection of Easter.

But this is the story as it happened.  These dark hours are the hinge-pin upon which all that went before and all that comes after turns.  The shadows cannot be skirted; they must be walked through.

 ‘When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, he said, ’I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’  Matthew 26:20-21

 ‘Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.’  Matthew 27:1

 ‘From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Matthew 27:45-46

 ‘And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.’  Matthew 27:50

My Life As a Doll, Part Four

By the end of my twenties, I had begun to recognize that I couldn’t go on as a wind-up doll forever, that no matter how faithfully I followed the programs and performed the tasks expected of me, I could not win the deep affection and unmitigated approval I longed for.  No one could love my true self, because no one – not even I – could see my true self, obscured beneath so many layers of attempts to appear acceptable.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t hold my world together.  My husband lost his job and had to go back to working on the road, leaving me alone with three young children from early Monday morning to late Friday night most weeks.  My church fell apart and the friends to whom I clung desperately to keep me afloat were no longer there.   None of my well-rehearsed scenes were playing out according to the script I had studied, no matter how hard I tried to adapt my lines.

Sometime around my thirtieth birthday, when I was broken open enough so that a bit of light and air could get through to my real buried self, I made a decision to stop:  to stop trying to be perfect enough to make my parents happy, to stop trying to be sophisticated enough to mingle with my husband’s business associates’ wives, to stop trying to be spiritual enough to accept human leaders’ foibles and failures as God’s master plan.  I realized that I didn’t want to be a ventriloquist’s puppet any longer, reciting the speeches my various audiences wanted to hear.  I wanted to be Rebekah, a real live girl of whom I had caught occasional glimpses through the years.

Praying

photo courtesy of Joel Brotzman

photo courtesy of Joel Brotzman

Praying
by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

The blue iris has always looked, to me, beautiful in a regal, formal, set-apart sort of way.  Prim and proper, standing straight and austere, head held high; I can easily picture it rendered in stained glass, shining above a wondrously-carven altar.

I sometimes catch myself heading down the blue-iris-lined path; in my writing, and in my relationships, I can fuss over a phrase or worry over a nuance for hours – hours that I could spend actually writing or relating – in my anxiety to make everything perfect.

I run up against this tendency in prayer, too.  I grew up in small churches populated by simple, salt-of-the-earth people; farmers, mostly, and mechanics, a postman, a piano teacher, sincere souls one and all.  I learned from their example that regardless of one’s natural manner of speaking, one addresses the Almighty in carefully chosen King James English, thereby making one’s petitions known and presentable.

Blue irises are lovely; so are stained glass cathedral windows and the poetic cadence of the King James Bible.  But they are not the only appropriate adornments for worship, not the only paths of prayer.  The tall grasses waving in an untended field have an approachable beauty of their own.  The sun-warmed shells that I pick from the sand and hold in my fingers draw me to their Maker more palpably than polished gems behind climate-controlled museum glass ever could.

Precisely cultivated flowerbeds and intricately worked icons can move me to awe, certainly, and lofty language can evoke visions of splendor.  Each of these has its proper place.  But it is the simple pleasant things, plentiful and near enough to touch, that assure me that I don’t have to produce an elaborately-worded application to enter the presence of God, that I may encounter Him walking along a back road, that if I sit quietly under a gnarled old tree I may hear His voice.

This piece was originally posted on http://www.allninemuses.wordpress.com on November 11, 2012.

The Last Goodbye

042

My circle of friends has been touched by death several times in the past few weeks.  Many of these departures were long-expected; elderly relatives who had been pressing toward the mark finally reached the prize, desperately ill friends who had been fighting the good fight won through to perfect healing.

Does the expectedness make the parting any less painful?  Does the opportunity to say goodbye make it any easier to let go?  I don’t know.  Both my grandfathers passed suddenly, one in an accident that happened so fast that even my uncle who was right there with him had no chance for a farewell.  Both my grandmothers lingered on long past threescore and ten; I shared with them what I knew were the last embraces, the last words, the last leave-takings.   But when it came to it, though I wouldn’t have kept them here in pain and confusion a moment longer, I wasn’t ready to be left behind.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around this realization that someone we love, someone we can see and touch and talk to today, can be gone beyond our reach tomorrow.  As C. S. Lewis said, we of all men hope most of death – we believe and affirm that our greatest hope and joy lie on the other side – yet we can never quite be reconciled to the unnaturalness of it.

In our poor human understanding, we tend to think of farewells, especially final farewells with great sadness.  We imagine an irrevocable severing of the ties that bind our loved ones to earth, to us.  A vast, impassable abyss seems to open between us.

But as I read a friend’s comment, three summers ago now, about saying goodbye to his elderly father overseas, perhaps for the last time, the words struck me differently.  Yes, we say goodbye for the last time.  We say goodbye for the last time.  When next we meet, it will be beyond these petty limits of physical space and bodily tangibility.  When next we meet, it will be outside the walls of this world and outside of time.  When next we meet, it will be for always, past parting.