Saturday, February 8, 2014

Loneliness or Solitude?

“Language ... has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone.”

~ Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now

Monday, February 3, 2014

Vane's Glory

Vane stood before a dark oaken door with iron bolts. The heavy beams were obviously as ancient as they were imposing. Yet she felt compelled to step forward and knock on the door. Knock she did, for the better part of an hour. She heard the sounds of many feet going to and fro, of cheerful chatter, and of the clinking of glasses. There must be a feast inside, thought Vane. Her continual knocking was left unheeded, however, whether drowned out by the revelry within, or mercilessly snubbed—she could not tell which. After exhausting both arms and bruising her knuckles, Vane sat upon the cobblestone steps and wept, the bitterness of loneliness and rejection overwhelming her.

Vane woke with a start. She was lying in her own bed in Barton Manor, early morning sun making dust motes dance before her clear grey eyes. A dream, it was only a dream, she thought. But it was the same dream that had haunted her from childhood. Every now and then it would return, the pain of rejection piercing as deeply as if it were the first time she had dreamt the dream.

Rising from her soft couch, Vane splashed the rosewater in the basin on her face, drying it with a supple linen towel. The English countryside beckoned alluringly, its hills swathed in fresh green grass. Wisteria purpled the walls of neighbouring cottages, and pink flowerets graced many bushes along the path leading to the golden fields of ripe winter wheat. A sigh escaped Vane's lips. There were other things calling her name more loudly than the meadowlarks; things she must attend to first, before escaping to those fields and hedges.

Breakfast was a quiet affair, spent with a book of poetry. The thick door of her dream did not vanish like a morning mist, however. One poem was about a garden door, another about the ache of loneliness. It seemed she could not escape the oppressive hand of denial. She gave a shiver of relief as two little heads peered 'round the corner to see if her repast had yet ended. Vane rose to greet the boy and girl, leading them to the nook prepared for lessons.

At last, the final declension had been repeated, the last sum calculated, the history lesson was itself history, and the children were working on their compositions. Vane left them to their work and slid out a side door to walk in the wild of the early Spring. She thought only of the beauty of the world around her, carefully pushing every other thought from her mind. Dusk began to creep along the eastern edges of the world. Vane turned her face to the fiery sinking orb of the sun. Everything around her was washed in a golden glow. Almost before she really saw the beauty of this light, it was gone and the evening fell like dew. "And so day's glory is illusory after all," Vane sighed out, turning toward home.

Why could you never hold beauty in your hands? How is it that just at the moment you glimpse the first firebrand of the rising sun, it rushes over the horizon blinding the eye? It is almost as if you only know beauty once it has gone, a thing to be looked back on and wondered at, but never to be entered into at the moment you see it. Vane wondered at this realisation. How if beauty were but an echo of a conversation? What if it were a whisper overheard, not meant for us? With these thoughts smoothing away the cares of her day, softening the sting of last night's dream, Vane's step quickened.

She continued thinking about beauty, and the passing glory of each day and season, as she wrote letters after the evening meal. Though other women might find her thoughts inscrutable, one, at least, would not. Vane composed a letter to this dear friend, hoping for her response to deepen and strengthen her own musings. She then undressed, settled under her duvet, and blew out the candle. Sleep quickly claimed her for its own, fast followed by dreams.

All that Vane could recall the next morning, as a thrush called her out of bed, was that she had not dreamt about the formidable door. But what had she dreamt? Hazy recollections attended her to the basin of scented water. Upon looking at the green hills outside, a sharp image leapt up in her mind's eye. A gate. There had been a wooden gate in a green garden wall. Though it was shut, she was sure that if she tried the latch it would open. Yes, now she recalled the gate opening at her gentle push to reveal a meadow filled with rich purple heather. There had been snowdrops, gilded crocuses, and meandering sheep, too—as if the clouds in the heavens were reflected in those fluffy fleeces there below. At the bottom of the hill was a wide lake, silver with morning sunlight.

How could I forget a dream like that? It was peaceful and beautiful. When the gate opened, I felt like I had been welcomed home. Vane decided then and there that she would hold this dream like balm to her heart whenever the stab of rejection from the other dream tried to grieve her.

Days flitted into weeks, the sun shone its face that Summer as it rarely does in England. One evening, Vane was watching the westering sun and she felt the nip of Autumn and smelled not a Summer smell, but one of sweet hay and dying grass. She thought again about beauty and how she had not fully known the warmth and loveliness of Summer until she had smelled the sweetness of the withering grasses and felt the chill of Autumn. Will it always be so in this life? She mused. Will I never catch the moment as it comes, knowing then and there that I am inside beauty?

That night, Vane fell asleep with her window open to let in the fresh night air. The smell of warmth and ploughed dirt mingled with the feel of a dirt road beneath her feet and the smell of a kitchen fire. She travelled on, not knowing where her path would take her, but simply enjoying the going. As if her feet knew the way, she found herself leaving the dirt road and threading her way through the cobblestone streets of a small village. Each house had either a neat garden or window boxes brimming with flowers; stables scented with sweet hay or the aroma of fresh bread wafting from the kitchen. Vane was filled with delight at just being there—amidst the sights, sounds, and smells of life.

Soon, she found that she was coming to the end of the village; there a great stone manor stood. Vane walked right up to the door of the manor—a great oaken door with iron nails and bolts. She could hear laughter and music behind that door. A rich golden light streamed out into the deepening evening shade. More than anything Vane wanted to be on the other side of the heavy door. Fearlessly she raised her hand to knock, but she stayed it a moment, knowing she had knocked on this door since she was a wee girl. Never once had it opened. Her hand did not waver. She would knock anyway. Even if she knocked on that door until she were still older and grey, she would knock in the hope of one day being let in.

Vane knocked. The sounds of steady footfalls and more music greeted her. Those inside were dancing. This door is like all of those moments I realise I have been surrounded by beauty, but it has just passed away. Vane thought as she continued to beat the wood. I know that something beautiful was just there, I have the vision of it, but it is already gone. I could not pass into it any more than I can pass through this door into the light. I want to be inside, accepted, part of the beauty itself. She beat the door will all her energy, but at last her arms grew weary and her knuckles were bloody. She sat down on the cobblestone steps in the darkness, tears streaming down her face, like the light streaming out the crack under the door. She was so close she could taste it, but no one would open the door. "Please, let me in," she whispered as she put her head down on her knees.

Behind her the door slowly opened. A kind-looking man with a weather-beaten face and crinkles at his eyes stood before her. He stepped out and sat beside Vane, putting his hand upon her shoulder. "My dear, why are you crying?"

She looked up into his eyes, deep green eyes that turned blue and sparkled when they caught the light. She knew he was the Laird of the manor by his stately appearance, yet there he was, sitting on a dirty step with her. "I... I have always wanted to get in, beyond that door," she said haltingly. "For years and years I have knocked, have heard the laughter and feasting, but no one ever opens the door." Here she began to weep violently, and the master took her face in his hands. "Vane." She opened her grey eyes in complete surprise—he knew her name. "Vane, your name means gladness, and here you are in tears of sorrow and dejection. Why did you never before call out to be let in? I know your voice, I would have opened the door."

Vane looked bewildered, "I never thought to call out to you," she whispered. "I did not know that you would hear me. No one ever heard my knocking." He smiled down at her, "No, no one ever heard the noise you tried to make with your own hands. But I heard you when you only whispered your desire to be let in... And here I am. Now then," he stood and held out his hands to her, "Let us go inside where the feasting and dancing are in full tilt." Vane put both her hands in his and he pulled her to her feet. They walked in—to the very heart of beauty and acceptance, shutting out the darkness behind them. And inside was only joy and light and praise from the Laird.

Dawn crept in the Barton Manor window, dressed in velvety pink and orange. The lark rang out his final Summer song of the year. Light shone in delicate shafts through the chequered panes onto the form lying in her downy bed. A joyful smile played about her mouth. But Vane did not rise to wash her face in rosewater, or dry her hands and rosy cheeks on the linen towel. She was carefully raised and gently laid in a bed of earth. When Spring arrived, ripples of purple and honey-coloured crocuses pushed their way out of her grave. Snowdrops graced her headstone. It was carved with an arched gate and read, "She has gone in gladness into the good adventure of God's glory."

“The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire.

For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”