Tattered seraphim flash their diminishing edges, like the chiaroscuro God who, if we believe Michelangelo, touched Adam into being with one finger, whose footprints crease the blackness of Gennesaret, whose wing feathers brush our vaulted heaven, purple with storm, whose moon is smudged – a round, glass window, an eye moving between clouds.
An excerpt from Luci Shaw’s Poem, St. Frideswide’s Chapel
I can count on one hand how many times I have seen the sun rise. But after three weeks away on a quiet lake with my family, I discovered rest and expectancy are companions. I saw the sun rise four times in the same week. The first time made me an addict of beauty.
Before drifting off to sleep, I check the forecast from an app on my phone and learn sunrise is scheduled for 6:19am. I set an alarm for 6:00.
Minutes later, I awaken. At least that is the way it seems.
Temperatures drop drastically through the night turning a stuffy garage suite of damp swim suits into a cold cavern of concrete. From my warm spot in bed, under layers of quilts and blankets, I evaluate my idealism. Do I really want to brave the cold just to witness a giant orange orb break through the darkness?
Hues of pink stream through slats in the blinds giving hints to what I may miss.
I zip a hooded sweatshirt over my night gown, slip toes into flip flops and pad sleepily through dewy grass. And witness a bleeding sky of pastels outlining hills across the lake in the distance. But the fog hovering over the surface of still lake and the haunting quiet — my imagination hadn’t fully considered that mystery.
Tiptoeing through the family cottage, I retrieve my camera from the kitchen table, return to the shoreline and find the sky continues to lighten and color fade. Where is the cameleon sky and land I envisioned when I set that early alarm? From a flat spot on a cold slab of stone, I sit and look through the viewfinder, frame an anticipated capture, and wait.
I think about how much of life is like this moment. We long to be awakened by beauty only to find ourselves impatient and wondering if this is all there is. Is hope based on idealism or reality? Where do I end and God begin?
We long for His face to shine upon us, rush in and rescue by wowing us with the miraculous. But mystery as the answer for unfulfilled longing causes us to doubt. The forecast He declares from the Truth isn’t what we expected. Assume God’s hiddenness in our situation translates that we are young, misguided, and foolish. Sometimes we give up, inattentive to beauty we stop listening altogether.
The word chiaroscuro is itself an oxymoron – chiaro (clear, or light) combined with oscuro (dark), suggesting ambiguity and paradox, a fitting term for a deity who has revealed himself in the flesh yet walks in mystery; who scatters clues and hints to his being throughout creation, Holy Scripture, and the human mind, leaving his burning footprints on the lake, but then withdrawing. Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones
All at once, the sun raises her golden head and the shutter fires in quick succession.
Water gently laps and a loon calls across the lake as I watch light illuminate what was once hidden.
Two years ago, I sat in this same place on the lake yearning for answers during a long waiting period – depleted, at the end of myself, starving emotionally and living in what seemed like a continual fog. Where was God? Why was He insisting on mystery?
Now I know this: In our poverty God cultivates deep desire from within in order to extract the true self from roles and images.
Without mystery we are made in our own image. Darkness causes us to question and hiddenness impresses us to seek.
In the shadows and contrasts we find beauty that speaks of God’s nearness.
We need the darkness in order to perceive the value of light.
Beauty is a sacred sign from God that we are known and deeply loved. Our waiting is not in vain because He is real, He is near, and He is active. The mystery is why I wake up in the morning expectant.
All mystery feels like fog. It presents hiddenness. It demands strong faith to walk into it believing that one day it will be demystified. ~Luci Shaw