Monday, March 20, 2017

A Shadow of Beauty

I woke in darkness to the jingle of my alarm and the chatter of birds. Perhaps the birds knew it was the first day of Spring and were thus employed with extra jubilation, but my suspicion is that they greet every morning with such exuberance. I listened to their Lauds—their morning prayer-chant—with a slow smile on my sleepy face. Finally pulling myself out of bed as the sky became a deep rose-gold. I never can decide if I like sunrise or sunset better, I'm glad I don't have to—I can simply like them both for their own sakes. 

Being the first day of Spring meant it was my friend-and-co-worker's birthday, and I had offered to make breakfast for the office. As I toasted English muffins and poached eggs in my cast iron skillet, I turned around to rinse my hands and saw a lovely moment: a reflected shadow. The sun coming through my antique windowpanes lit up the tawny dried grasses in the bottle on the sill, but the shadow it cast made them look like fresh wildflowers. I paused my poaching liturgy to snap a photo of the spiritual reality bowing before my eyes. 

There are times in life when all we can see are the dried grasses of our dreams or best laid plans. No matter which way we look at them, they are brittle, dried up, monotone kindling tucked in the corner of the sill. But maybe the problem is that we keep looking at the broken dream or the mislaid plan, whilst God is nudging us to turn around and look at the reflected shadow. When we turn, we see flowers outlined on the wall. We see the contour of each stem and leaf; each pod becomes a glory of its own. The dried grass looks different from this perspective, looks fresh and lovely and renewed. 

Sometimes the shadow is full of beauty, not mere darkness. Sometimes the shadows that fall on our lives are not snuffing out the sun, they are the evidence that there is sunlight. Without light there couldn't be shadows cast, after all. All would be utter darkness, impenetrable, blinding. For darkness, as well as overpowering light, blinds the eyes after time. But shadows are a mix of light and solid things; they are the delicate darkness dappling the wall.

One of the darkest things I have witnessed is my faithful sister being turned out of her home and her marriage. We could only stare at the pieces all around, the shattered lives of those affected, with shock and disbelief and horror. How did this happen? Those pieces looked sharp and irreparable and bleak. In many ways, they are. But when we stop looking at the shards and begin to see the light shine on them, through them, around them, we see the shadow reflected on the wall. We see Beauty and hope springing out of dead things. It isn't the restoration or reconciliation we hoped for, but other good things are germinating. There is Beauty in the shadow, as well as beyond it. There is light high beyond the reach of darkness, as Samwise discovered in Return of the King:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

The Fall and all its evil is but a small and passing thing from God's perspective. There is Light and there is Beauty that evil cannot touch. There is unseen Reality that cannot be destroyed, even when all the seen is turned into so much ash and concrete dust. The truth is that God is Real—He is high and beyond the reach of evil. God is the Light of the world, and it is His light spilling on and through and around us that casts a shadow of Beauty on the wall of life. Many times we get too busy looking at ourselves to see the whole Beauty-filled outline; to see the Light by which we see—but He is there, prodding us to turn around and see what the Light has made new.

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