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Clean, Well-Lighted Places

Filed under: — jen d @ 3:58 pm

Two weeks ago I spent most of a Saturday afternoon dodging snow bullets. Big, fat, wet flakes pummeled the Boston area for the better part of the day and into the evening. If it hadn’t been so wet, it would have qualified as “Charlie Brown snow” or, as Mels calls it, “engagement snow.” Mind this was the 30th of October we are talking about. Seeing that much winter that early in the season is rare even for us and, frankly, a frightening harbinger of things to come (think many early mornings spent breaking shovels in half while trying to dig your car out of crusty, rock-filled snowbanks; if you succeed, and make it out, someone else steals your spot or the ploughs fill it in again before you get home again later that evening.) Still, despite the fear and trepidation at the thought of another record-breaking Boston winter, I couldn’t help feeling that sense of wonder at a first snow. Something so clean and cheerful about it, so quiet as it falls. The trees, still laden with most of their leaves which are ironically very late in turning this year, couldn’t have handled anything more than the dusting they received by the end of the “storm,” and by Monday temps were back up near 70 degrees. I just don’t know, sometimes, about this city of mine. But I do know I love the way the snow looks against the wrought iron streetlamps, dusts the edges of the shopwindow awnings and how it fills in the cracks between the bricks on the sidewalks in my neighborhood.

Walking home that Saturday evening, I regressed a little and found myself face-up at the sky delighting in snow like angel’s ashes brushing my face and dusting my lashes. I flicked icy droplets from my sweater and marveled that winter seemed to have overtaken summer so seamlessly, and without warning. It was as if I’d slept through autumn which, as a child, had seemed to last forever and progress in degrees. What’s changed? Am I just too busy? Not busy enough? Have I become that boring, not to notice my favorite season, to fail to relish in the little pleasures of harvest times, mulled spices, vivid colors and clear mornings? Where had the days gone? Sadness replaced my light-hearted snow-scoping as I approached 102 Chandler, sometimes known as my home.

In my building, the lights had gone out in the common areas and so the only light guiding me up the somewhat warped and winding staircase came from an unseen skylight several stories above. Climbing that staircase that evening was like ascending out of a grave, or trying to. My apartment door was located halfway between darkness and silver-blue light, and I stood outside it for a moment with my hand on the lock feeling inexplicably nervous and little sick. Dead quiet in the building, no light, aware of the snow insulating the walls around me, and me soaking wet and confused about time. There was something existential in it, a sense of urgent anxiety welling up within me and pushing me to escape the beasts lurking on the stairs. Disoriented, I wrenched the key in the lock and fought my way into my four walls, flipped the light switch and stood with my back to the door, taking in the familiar details of my rooms, the little proofs that I had indeed been there before. That I was home.

Maybe you’ve never had moments like this. I personally hadn’t had one in a very long time. This one didn’t last too long. But they used to take me more frequently. In high school, angst visited me regularly on Sunday evenings. I don’t know what it was about Sunday evenings specifically, but back then they felt black and empty to me, especially in the winter months. It felt to me like there was suddenly no God, or if there was, He had up and forsaken me. Perhaps it had to do with the shorter days and the depth of cold we tend to experience here; or perhaps it had to do with my having up and forsaken Him. And maybe the angst back then had less to do with Him not being there as it did with the fact of His imminent presence, always frighteningly close, hot on my heels in pursuit of my train-wreck heart. I’d say He caught up with me in college, but that would imply that I actually had a lead on Him. I ran from place to place, seeking clean, well-lighted places filled with strangers as lost as myself, people who were, however, blissfully unaware of the True Light, and who therefore did not have the pain of recognizing the utter blackness around them. I could take comfort in their ignorance, but only ever for a time. He let me run headlong into blackness, making me ready to desire that clean, well-lighted place to be within me, not without. And then He turned me around and flooded me with His light. So that I could see the familiar details. And recall having been at home there before.

Existentialism as I was taught it always struck me as one of the more rational an honest philosophical systems based on the conclusion it drew from its basic supposition, namely that if indeed there is no God, then life is not just mere vanity, it is diabolically absurd; the bravest, the sanest man will embrace his cursed freedom to choose and end it. Other systems seem to want to find a way around this eventuality (and even existentialism with its ideas of ‘authenticity’ try to evade it to some extent). Judeo-Christian belief embraces the vanity of man’s life and work, but because His basic supposition is different – that there is indeed a sovereign God above, who is the Order and Giver and Joy we seek through our otherwise vain existence – he has hope. He has permission to enjoy whatever work and decent pleasures God gives him on this earth, though he recognizes the vanity and suffering around him and desires the ultimate clean, well-lighted Place:

From Revelation 21 and 22 (NKJV) – “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal… But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.”

What darkness are you clawing your way out of today? What blackness is edging its way into your soul? If you know Christ, these “faithful and true” sayings our yours. We know the end of the story. We may not fully comprehend or have revealed to us all of the particulars, but God saw fit to give us these promises, these sure, bright words to light our darkest stairwells. Take them, walk in them, for they are spirit and they are life.

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