A Certain Slant

There’s a certain Slant of light
On winter afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
of cathedral tunes.
When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death.
~Emily Dickinson

During our northwest winters, there is usually so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is so I avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. Winter murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.

Yesterday when I went to grab hay bales for the horses at sunset, before I flipped the light switch, I could see light already blazing in the big barn. The last of the day’s sun rays were at a precise winter slant, streaming through the barn slat openings, ricocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke — the last things one would even want in a hay barn.

I scrambled among the bales without worry.

In my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to even venture out.

Then, on the darkest of days, light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it reignites again.

The Light returns and so will I.

The Day Breaks, Shadows Flee Away

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No heaven can come to us
Unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future
Which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow;
Behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
Take joy.

And so, at this Christmastime,
I greet you with the prayer that for you,
Now and forever,
The day breaks and the shadows flee away.
– Fra Giovanni Giocondo letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, Christmas Eve 1513

 

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May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
― Thérèse de Lisieux of Avila

 

 

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Now, newborn,
in wide-eyed wonder
he gazes up at his creation.
His hand that hurled the world
holds tight his mother’s finger.
Holy light
spills across her face
and she weeps
silent wondering tears
to know she holds the One
who has so long held her.
~Joan Rae Mills from “Mary” in Light Upon Light

 

 

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I watch the long night’s transition to day as the mountain is licked by bright flames of color, heralding our slow awakening.

The sun illuminates the darkened earth and we are bathed in its reflected glory and grace.

We work hard to be at ease, to lay down the heaviness of endings and celebrate the arrival of Brilliant Light in our lives.

The Son is now among us, carrying our load.  We take heaven, take peace, take joy as He takes He takes all our burdens upon Himself.

 

 

An Advent Paradox: Glory in the Darkest Place

 

 

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
dispel the shadows of the night,
and turn our darkness into light.
~from O Come O Come Emmanuel

 

 

 

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, O Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

 

I leave home in darkness to go to work and come home in darkness in the late afternoon.  It seems for days on end the sun never shines as I’m tucked away with patients in clinic consult rooms hearing their own struggle against the darkness.

Where is the light that I promise to each of them if I can’t feel it myself?

Yet Glory is present in the darkest place and the Light has come.

I will remember His promise.
Even in the darkness I know His face.
He knows I know.

 

 

 

[Verse 1]
Out of the depths of silent night
Immanuel, come hear our cry
Our grief is strong, our burdens great
The night is long and hope is faint

[Verse 2]
You came to set the captives free
A Morning Star of joy and peace
Why does this darkness feel so deep?
Why can’t our weary spirits see?

[Chorus]
Glory, glory
Glory in the darkest place
Glory, glory
Glory, let Your mercy reign

[Verse 3]
Out of the depths of silent night
A Savior born, a mother’s sigh
The darkness trembled at this Star
A beam of hope for troubled hearts

[Verse 4]
You came to make Your blessings known
And bear our curse of death alone
You came to share our suffering
So in our sorrow, we could sing

[Chorus]
Glory, glory
Glory in the darkest place
Glory, glory
Glory, let Your mercy reign
Glory, glory
Glory in the darkest place
Glory, glory
Glory, let Your mercy reign
Brittany Hope

Choosing Up Sides

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The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.
~G. K. Chesterton

 

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…our hands have always been able to heal as much as harm. 
…since the dawn of humanity, each of us contains three people—
the angel, the demon, and the one who decides which we will obey.
~Billy Coffey

 

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It shouldn’t take plunging into a profound darkness,
swallowed in a pit of sadness and sorrow
to experience God’s immense capacity for love and compassion,
but that is when our need for light and forgiveness is greatest.

It should not take sin and suffering to remind us
life is precious and worthy of our protection,
no matter how tempted we are to choose otherwise.

We are created,
from the beginning,
in the beginning,
with the capacity to choose sides between darkness and light
and we choose too often to be cloaked in darkness.

Our God chooses to shine the light of His Creation,
to conquer our darkness through illuminating grace,
dispersing our shadows,
suffering the deepest darkness on our behalf
to guarantee we are eternally worthy of His loving protection.

How then shall we choose when He so clearly chooses us?

 

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Love Stored Up

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the finale this morning

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today’s sunrise at its peak

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As it began this morning

Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet

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The sunrise this morning kept giving and giving, vanquishing the darkness through an illumination that made all things, even the sorry and the plain, beautiful.

So is the love of one person for another, reflecting the Light that illuminates us all, even to the depths of our shadows.

May we too give and give without ceasing, our plainness made beautiful, our shadows no more.

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Weep for Wonder

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Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Let Fall Your Shadows

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Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Let fall your shadows on the sundials,
upon the fields let loose your winds.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
Press them to completion, and chase the last
sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now – he will never build.
Whoever is alone now, long will so remain;
will stay awake, and read, and write long letters
and wander the alleys up and down,
restless, as the leaves are drifting.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Autumn Day”

 

This sadness that fall brings
is less about the ending of a long hot dry summer
and more about deepening shadows,
the fullness of harvest,
the drifting and dying to self.

I am misty in memories
of children dressed for school
eating around a full kitchen table,
of chores done hurriedly on frosty mornings,
of afternoons darkening too early
from drizzly clouds,
of nights under heavy comforters.

Lord, it is time.  Too soon, too soon.
Help ready me.

 

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The Shadows of a Moment

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I hated waiting.
If I had one particular complaint,
it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation.
I expected —
an arrival, an explanation, an apology.
There had never been one,
a fact I could have accepted,
were it not true that,
just when I had got used
to the limits and dimensions of one moment,
I was expelled into the next
and made to wonder again
if any shapes hid in its shadows.

Memory is the sense of loss,
and loss pulls us after it.

~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping

 

Winter weather has a way of exacerbating loss, reminding us over and over what it is we’ve lost and still waiting for — the sun’s warmth on our cheeks, the feel of cool breezes in our hair on a sweaty day, the presence of color when numbed by the sky’s constant weeping of whites and grays.  We keep waiting for that next moment, and then the next, looking for when we may settle down and stay, however briefly, content.

We are pulled through the shadows of each emerging moment, losing what we just had to mere memory:

Last night, my husband and I attended our children’s former high school’s winter musical production, as we had done for over a decade while our three children were among the actors and actresses on stage.  I sat in the audience for two hours, emerged in the music, the singing and the dancing, the beautiful costumes and sets,  allowing each wonderful make-believe moment to carry me to the next and the next.

Only after the bows had been taken, the applause and whistles quieted, and we made our way to the lobby to greet the performers, did I realize my loss.  My memory of our children overwhelmed me:  not as they acted a role in the lights and shadows of the stage, but after the production, in the lobby as themselves, albeit costumed and overly made up, greeting grateful audience members.  But where were they last night?  Not here, I realized through my tears, not where I was so used to seeing them stand a bit apart from the crowd, smiling and laughing, waiting my turn to hug them.

Gone and moved on to other roles and other stages, far far away.

They have each left the magic and the hard work of high school musical productions into the magic and hard work of real life.
And we are left waiting for each next moment, remembering and accepting, filling and emptying,  wintering within our hearts again and again.

 

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Shadows Moving with the Sun

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Be comforted; the world is very old,
  And generations pass, as they have passed,
  A troop of shadows moving with the sun;
Thousands of times has the old tale been told;
  The world belongs to those who come the last,
  They will find hope and strength as we have done.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”

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The shadow’s the thing. 
If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,”
as do the newly sighted,
then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light.
They give the light distance;
they put it in its place.
They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel
,
here in the world’s flawed sculpture,
here in the flickering shade of the nothingness
between me and the light.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground.
~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables

Dead Daylight

photo by Josh Scholten

“Every trace of the passionate plumage of the cloudy sunset had been swept away, and a naked moon stood in a naked sky. The moon was so strong and full, that (by a paradox often to be noticed) it seemed like a weaker sun. It gave, not the sense of bright moonshine, but rather of a dead daylight.”
― G.K. Chesterton

It is not the real thing, only a reflection of the sun’s brightness and warmth and energy. Still we believe in lunar paradox, willing to put faith in what cannot give or sustain life. Naked, the bluffing moon puts on a poker face to fake the light of day. It looks real but is mere phantom.

We are seriously seduced by moonshine, unconcerned about its origins.

It is time to go to bed for the real sun rises early, chasing away the overnight imposter, welcoming a new and vital dawn.

There can be nothing dead about it.

20120821-220933.jpgphoto by Josh Scholten