Monday, November 8, 2010

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

Last week, it was a few hours past sunset on one of the coldest night of the Fall thus far. I was working on homework after a long day at school when I got a text from my 15-year-old brother, informing me of a great photography opportunity that I could see from my University’s campus. I am usually hesitant to head back onto campus after I’ve left for the day, and it was raining and cold outside. Despite these hindrances, eventually my artistic curiosity won, and I pulled on my hoodie and set out.

My brother had informed me that the nearby chemical plant had its torch lit, which resulted in lighting up the entire south eastern corner of the sky. I walked all the way across campus to the pond near the soccer fields to get a good view. My brother had been correct in his assessment of the sight. The torch’s light was catching the ragged bits of storm clouds, kindling them orange and yellow and red. It looked like a brilliant sunrise at 10:00 at night.

I stood by the pond in the wind, trying to shield my lens from the rain in order to get some decent pictures. After a while I just stood and watched it with the stillness of awe.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As I turned away from the glow and headed home under the chill glare of streetlights, I started processing some thoughts about what I’d seen. I stood there like a traveler wondering at a marvel, taking pictures of the light in the sky. And yet the sun rises every morning and produces much the same effect. More than that, I was marveling at one corner of the sky being lit up, and yet during the day the sky is lit up all over constantly. So what made the light amazing enough to trek across campus in the rain to bask in its glow? It was the fact that the sky was lit up at night.

I am not very wise-- I am in fact an antisocial college kid who has an unhealthy obsession with coffee and converse and hoodies. I am not a theologian or a philosopher, and most of the time I’m not even a good friend. But occasionally I have moments where I hear an echo of an idea or concept that seems beautiful to me.

I think that sometimes light is like that-- the light that is hope, love, grace, God. We’re surrounded by it so often. It presses against our skin at every moment, all around us, inescapable. We have to shut ourselves away in dark corners to hide from it, and still it slides through the cracks in our closet doors. And yet we take it for granted. We accept that the light is supposed to be there. It’s not until the darkness falls that the appearance of light is marvelous, indeed almost miraculous.

And it shouldn’t be this way. I think that if I was wise, then I would delight in hope and I would praise my God simply because He is. His light is around me so often, and yet I rarely run to it except when the darkness falls and I realize how desperately I need it. And sometimes I do praise God when life is “good,” because it can be easy to understand the brightness of the sunlight when it is full on your face. But the way I praise God in the light is different than the way I praise Him in the dark. In the light I am more willing to thank God, and less willing to surrender. In the dark I am more willing to surrender (because it becomes a last resort and a final necessity), and less willing to thank Him. But I would argue that the character of light isn’t different depending on the time of day or its surroundings.

Here I go into territory that I cover often, and yet still often need to repeat to myself. Sometimes I think we have to step into the night and watch God light up the sky to really understand how powerful light is. Contrast can show us so much about the character of both light and shadow. Sometimes the contrast is required, because we can’t see at all otherwise.

The past three months have been the best three months of my life. That is not something I would say lightly. It is also not a conclusion that many people would draw. The interesting thing about growing stronger is that it sometimes means being given heavier burdens to carry than before. I don’t say that the past three months have been beautiful due to an absence of pain. That would be absolutely absurd. I have known some of the deepest heartache of my life in the past three months-- enough at times to make me sick and weak and weary, awake at 4:00 a.m., surrounded and afraid. Enough to prompt me to spend hours praying through the piano keys because all my words ran dry. The first night I got my guitar, we stayed up through dark and bitter hours together, finding songs to make sense of a world eternally caving in. And yet I have come to understand that “easier” does not always mean better, and for that matter “happy” does not always mean better. In the midst of the chaos in the shadows I have fixed my eyes on a light bright enough to set the night sky on fire. And that has changed everything. Even as the battles I tried so hard to win and the human standards I tried so hard to achieve crumble to dust under my weary hands, there is something in me that shines brighter and brighter as all the rubble and obstructions fall out of the way. There is a joy and a peace in that reality that has the power to completely redefine who we are... and so it has.

There is a Switchfoot song that I have listened to nearly every day for the past month. It has become the undercurrent of this semester for me.

Sunshine, come and be my mother, sunshine, come and help me sing. My heart is darker than these oceans, my heart is frozen underneath. We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight, dry eyes in the pouring rain when the shadow proves the sunshine, the shadow proves the sunshine. Two scared little runaways, hold fast ‘til the break of daylight when the shadow proves the sunshine, the shadow proves the sunshine.

And this is all is a part of a concept that began to be real to me a few months ago... praising God because of who He is, regardless of whether it’s day or night. Seeing that there is in fact a light bright enough to burn through our skies, even when they are darkest (behind all clouds there are stars at night). In fact I might argue that the light’s strength is proved best in the midst of the darkest and most clinging shadows.

Maybe an important closing note is that I think we need the day as well as the night, and that’s not something I’m trying to deny. I’ve seen some beautiful daylight over the past few months, brighter than what I had imagined possible before. But I think sometimes we as humans desperately need the reminder that the shadow has a purpose. I think we need the reminder that the light is still bright enough to break up our storm-torn night skies. I think we need the reminder to look up and see it when it does so.

In the words of a friend... “the darkness should only be there to show the brightness of the light.”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Let my shadows prove the sunshine.

- Elraen -