‘Remember in the dark what you learned in the light’
Darkness folds in and smothers hope:
perspectives perversely shift,
The fish limp in poacher’s bag,
gagged hostage, foetal-folded,
bundled in the boot;
the scanned patient stripped and still,
torn between truth and mercy;
the unsleeping sleeper staring
at the unfriendly ceiling.
When nothing can be seen,
but fears dance like shadows at the stairs’ turn,
when action melts into gearless stare
and plans dissolve into passivity.
Now is the time:
when there is no looking forward
and the present is ominously stalled.
Now is the time to look back:
to remember daylight,
shafts of light casting clear shadows,
sparkles of sun lighting dark textures,
the search of memory bringing echoes of faithfulness,
of wisdom explored,
To remember the light
and wait for the light;
when pathos becomes patience,
when terror becomes trust,
when darkness dazzles with wonder and grace.
Photograph: Sunset in West Bridgford 15.1.12
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries…
from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines have often been quoted by writers on spirituality.They are an invitation to see in the world signs of God’s presence and glory.
Yet they carry a caution about eating blackberries which could be misunderstood. Such sentiments could be seen as a form of elitism. ‘I can see what you can’t see!’ We might even call it a form of aesthetic gnosticism if we wanted to coin some fancy language, suggesting that you have to be in the know, or part of a special group, in order to see the glory. The teaching of Jesus goes in quite a different direction:
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ (Luke 10.23f.)
This business of seeing is elusive – it is about having eyes open – about not being distracted by accumulating things – about seeing the world as gift – about a readiness to appreciate what we see (or hear) without immediately assuming it is for our gain – remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and the bees!
It’s not straightforward – but, then, simplicity often isn’t , because the labyrinthine workings of our hearts are not straightforward. But I hope my musings on this blog will be an invitation to see the glory – or be wanting to see the glory (which is a good start). I’ll muse on other themes as well, but I hope we can develop a conversation which encourages us to see better and see more consistently the glory of God.
One closing thought: it isn’t only in beauty that we see the glory of God (see Isaiah 53.2f.) but that’s a theme for another day…