I was afraid
that with their blocks of concrete
the skyscrapers might wound the dawn.
But you ought to see
how sensitive they are
to the morning light,
how they disarm
and lose their cutting edge
and steely soul!
They too are caught
in the irresistible spell
of the holy hour
when the whole natural world
in rapture chants
creation’s hymn of praise.
Dom Helder Camara
I want to stand for joy. I want to be a signpost pointing to the Light that is Dark and the Dark that is Light and declare both are aspects of the God who invites me into an encounter with Joy today: a beholding beyond my wildest imagination.
One of my favourite observations that I find myself returning to every Advent was made by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that great noter of the art of dying, and the five stages of grief. She insists:
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.
I want to show my colours in my darkness, but I also want to be alert to seek the tones that are unique to those I might meet today, wherever and whatever their situation. I need the curiosity of being a JoyPilgrim most especially at these moments, so I can pause and pay attention to where God is being revealed in this time, in this place. As A.L.Rowse noted (quoted on Day 5) an encounter with colour left him ‘moon-struck’. It ‘meant’ something that was beyond his articulation, it gave him ‘some sense of the transcendence of things, of the fragility of our hold upon life’. It was a ‘reaching out to perfection’. But an encounter with this transcendent sublime gave him ‘an unease of heart’ `(A.L. Rowse, found in John Pridmore, Playing with Icons: The Spirituality of Recalled Childhood).
I too, recognise that often – underlying the fleeting pure moments of connection with The Great Artist which bring such a sense of rightness, of knowing, of being held, of exhilaration and delight – there is also this sense of unease. An encounter with the Mystery always reminds me of Moses in the wilderness standing before a burning bush and being told to take off his shoes “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3.5 (NRSV)). A visionary encounter with the Holy will always produce trepidation in my heart, and such a ‘Fear of the Lord’ links directly with the morass of my internal fears. But these fears can burn up and shrivel, if I practice what I call ‘mining for gold’. Seeking the places where joy and colour might hide in my past, gives me deep hope for the future. This JoyPilgrim is alert for gold light wherever it might appear: a ’core of concentrated splendour’ as Anne Treener describes it (below).
In his epic poem The River in the Sky, Clive James made an extended study of his own experience of dying from leukaemia, and was surprised to be alive long enough to complete it. It seems to me that he too must have had his own practice of ‘mining for gold’, a lyrical form of observing the resilience of the human spirit, in order to be able to write the following:
After Rembrandt lost his wealth
He could still paint the frothed and combed
Delicacy of light on gold,
The texture of the gathering darkness
Made manifest by the gleam
That it contains and somehow seems to flaunt
While dialling down. An understated festival,
His energy came back to him through memory
As mine does here and now, as if lent power
By the force of its own fading.
Clive James, The River in the Sky (6)
The idea that ‘gold light’ can be ‘an understated festival’ which produces new sources of energy is a tantalising idea for someone like me, whose illness drains so much of my life-force, vitality and energy. Yet all the poets seem to agree, this light-driven energy just awaits me within. Even on the days when my stained-glass luminosity might be very dim, God’s festival of gold remains within, ready to be mined for my healing:
… Though we reject the deepest sources,
though mountain ore has gold for working
and none the will to fetch it out,
rivers will bring it to the day,
reaching there it tranquilly gathers
in filling rock.
Desire him or not,
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours/ The Book of Monkish Life
(trans. Susan Ranson)
Wherever, whenever, there is an encounter with gold light, there is the possibility of an encounter with Grace.
I suppose the sun was trying to come out and the rays were in some way refracted by the mist. We saw a golden light, not brilliant but mellow and suffused, yet with a core of concentrated splendour – a sheaf of gilding. It was the dull but glowing gold of gilded missals … On Dodman Point that day of my childhood, I thought the splendour was God.
Anne Treener, found in John Pridmore, Playing with Icons: The Spirituality of Recalled Childhood
uneasy luminosity. iPhone image.