Sunday, December 21, 2008

Light and Longing

"The sky had here and there a star;/The earth had a single light afar,/
A flickering, human pathetic light,/That was maintained against the night”
– Robert Frost, "On the Heart's Beginning to Cloud the Mind"

Over Thanksgiving, I found myself sitting where I'd sat a thousand times before. I was at the kitchen table of my childhood home, looking out the window to the small, rolling hills just a little over two miles away. As a kid I'd sit there and look at the lights in the distance and imagine the homes from which they came. I was too far away to see any specifics, but I'd fill in the details: families sitting down together for dinner, siblings playing the piano, children doing homework, loved ones conversing. I’d imagine all these activities taking place within that warm, welcoming glow, an element of their evening in which I was allowed to be a part. Maybe these were just street lights or porch lights, but to me these were lights that lit up human activity – appealing, warm human activity. You'd think that my imaginings would imply that those activities weren't occurring in my own home, but they were. In fact, if someone up on one of those hills were imagining the light from my house illuminating these things they'd be correct. I don't know why I was so fascinated by these lights or what I was longing to see, but they would continue to entrance me for years. I can’t explain it. There’s a German word, “Sehnsucht,” that means "a longing for who knows what." Sehnsucht is the closest I’ve been able to come to placing a term to this unreachable imagining.

This year we're settling into a different house, an unknown town, and an unfamiliar state. It's been nice. We arrived in Mount Vernon, Ohio in June. Brett, having completed his Ph.D., started his new job at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in August. Olivia quickly adjusted and dove right into her new adventures including preschool and dance class. And sweet Mae joined our family at the end of October. I'm not working for the first time in a long time and have enjoyed soaking everything in. At night, if someone were to drive by, they'd notice a glow coming from our house, lighting up our pastimes: talking, cooking, eating, feeding, playing (lots of playing), a little reading, very little sitting, and even less sleeping.

On the first Christmas, some shepherds noticed the glow of a faraway light, also illuminating some new human activity. They followed the glow and found Christ. From an even greater distance we now imagine that scene, and it's usually lit up. I'm guessing the stable was probably a lot darker than we think and not very warm or cozy. I don't think the little Lord Jesus exuded some super human glow or warmth. His lower lip probably quivered when he cried, he probably drew up his legs into the fetal position with the feet folding one on top of each other, longing for the warmth and peace of the womb. Without an angel's proclamation, anyone passing by that dark stable on that night would never have imagined the significance of the perfect light within. Whether from a distance of yards or years, things often are not as they appear. O Holy Night.

This Christmas if you find yourself in a warm-lit place, a recipient of a welcoming glow, may you recognize Christ bearing light to the moment. And if you find yourself grasping for that warm-lit scenario, looking for hints of it in the distance, longing for who knows what, remember where there is no apparent light, where very little warmth can be detected, Christ is born. And where He appears, the soul feels its worth.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

southernjoy said...

Elizabeth, this is just beautiful. What a wonderful thing to read on this Christmas Eve's Eve.

Merry Christmas to you, and your beautiful family!