“Do you ever remember there being such unrest and turmoil when you were a kid?” my youngest son asked as he and his brother and I began our Scripture study together. My heart broke. To be honest, I can’t remember the groaning of the world being brought as close to me as it is for this generation that bravely battles for hope. I don’t remember such a preponderance of 24-hour news channels: the hour’s news in my day was at 6am, 6pm and 11pm. Our internet was the morning paper that spoke of events of days before with a smattering of heartwarming stories. Today we have newsfeeds that incessantly scream of the ugly side of humanity in its every facet. It would appear that hope is a preciously rare commodity these days! We need to dig deep to find good news and glad tidings that we insist must far outweigh the less-so! Save for a 30-second sound byte at the end of the broadcast, these rarely seem to see the light of day in the feverishly frenzied goal of garnering more views. We are doused and inundated with 24/7 communication that for now seems to seed hopelessness and continue to paint a very grim picture of the world, and human-far-from-kind within it.
And yet. As the boys and I continued to ponder this together; as we considered how thousands open up their homes in the midst of devastation, how many courageously step into the fray to watch over and care for the wounded in body and spirit, how even one supports and encourages and tends to another affected by an act of hate, it became clearer to us that hope is still out there even though we may see shadows.
And that made us think.
Have you ever taken a good look at packed flowerbeds, or even a bouquet of flowers? Do you remember the kaleidoscope tubes of childhood? Have you ever looked at a painting on the wall, or studied a photograph? Have you ever noticed that there are always shadows, thin strips or spots of black between petal and background, between bed and distant landscape? Smudges of shadow behind mountain, or scattered around a still-life? Do you remember how each jewel of rich color in those kaleidoscope tubes was framed by a very thin line of black?
Shadows. Darkness serving to bring color into sharper focus and greater intensity, to lift the subject matter up and out and give it dimension.
In photography, as much as in painting and other art forms, we are told that shadows add contrast and drama, and they help us to draw clearer focus on the content and composition. Each streak of color, each shape has more pop, and each pop reveals its form with greater clarity. Your eye is drawn to detail you wouldn’t otherwise see, texture that would be otherwise hidden. Shadows help to define an object. According to the Swiss painter Johannes Itten, “the contrast between light and dark is one of the most expressive and important means of composition.” (http://bit.ly/29SGanZ). Isn’t that interesting!
Yes, there is purpose to the shadows, to the smudges of charcoal and ink, and our Master
Artist, our Gardener uses our experiences within these cloudy places for good: to add to our definition, to add texture and highlighting dimension to our hearts and minds and souls. So, when we step out of the shadow to open up our hearts and homes, our time and resources with he or she who is affected by an act of hate or indifference – our jewel glistens and glows that much brighter. When someone extends a helping hand to us in the midst of our own troubles, an encouraging word or warm comforting hug of support – our jewel tones warm and shimmer that much more. When we renounce further seeping-in of the poison of hate, when we turn our backs on retaliation, when we move instead toward the Gardener to ask for His guidance and perspective – our jewel’s hue deepens in rich blaze.
The light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not overcome the light.
(John 1: 5, New International Reader’s Version)
You know, if we consider whatever the form of kaleidoscope, be it the flowerbed or bloom, the vista or the portrait, the expansive measure and extent of color always far outweighs in intensity, magnitude and vastness than that of the darkness. We can thank our loving Gardener, our victorious Lord for that! And as we wait for His return, we can remain renewed, emboldened and triumphant in the obscurity. So then perhaps, just perhaps, shadow and various degrees of darkness are used for and are subservient to the good of our glow and undertones, for our texture, our shape and form, our composition. They are used in service of the ultimate shout of glory that explodes in the sparkling prism that is us, that radiates with the awe of His glory!
“Remember that I commanded you to be strong and brave. So don’t be afraid. The Lord your God will be with you everywhere you go.”
(Joshua 1:9, International Children’s Bible)
God saw that the light was good. He separated the light from the darkness
(Genesis 1:4 , New International Reader’s Version)
Soil and Seed
I enjoy every time of day.
I enjoy an early morning sunrise as the garden seems to stir and rouse from a rest, yawning and stretching as it awakens, branches straining their tips way out, buds slowly opening up to the warmth of the rising sun, dew bidding its farewell until another day as it evaporates like sparkling pixie dust. Mummy birds fly from ground to nest with a fresh breakfast of wriggly worms to the delighted tweets and twitters of their broods. Bugs seem to venture out, travelling stem and leaf for a quick bite before they head off on a busy day of scavenging and gathering. Scarlet cardinals and cobalt bluejays engage in a duel of song. Heat bugs quicken to attention and begin their mournful song. Captivating!
To be honest though, I’ve never really taken the time to sit back and observe what happens in the garden at night. I’d often think that the explosion of a colorful sunset was signal to garden life to head to bed until it circled around to wake and warm it up once again, to please my eyes and comfort my soul and spirit … 😉 Does the nighttime shimmer with as much activity as day? Is it just as magical?
To the backdrop of the crickets’ squeaky sing-song, I quietly sauntered past a patch of bumblebee-yellow blooms as the neighbor’s calico zipped past me. Not only were these blooms open, but their glorious citrus fragrance seemed far more intense and rounded. Up ahead, a couple of moths flit and flew to perch and rest on the single bloom of milky porcelain-white clematis which seemed to have taken on an almost fluorescent glow as the moon began to shine. What was that little creature in the far corner of the garden? He froze in place, hoping I suppose that I didn’t see him huddled beneath the hosta leaves, the quivering of his nose tremoring through his fuzzy weeness like the aftershocks of an earthquake. I closed my eyes to the symphony of gently rustling leaves, the odd chirping, and the squish of stealthy padded paw-steps. The sky soon became an inky sapphire, stars fading in and blinking silently as I quietly tiptoed toward the door. I startled a pair of raccoons who seemed to be strategizing the physics of overturning our garbage can, conspiring the distribution of the feast within. The beginnings of nighttime in the garden. What else happens in the darkness whilst I slumber, I wondered. Creepers must still creep; burrowers must still burrow. Life and activity surely continues, even in the dark hours! A snippet of research revealed that some varieties of flowers only release their nectar during the darker hours, attracting a whole new breed of pollinators! These bugs are stronger it seems than their daytime cousins, and can handle cooler temperatures. But, I wondered, do plants actually need darkness to grow? Read on, courtesy of user aazainal of Yahoo Answers (http://yhoo.it/1OdanYj):
“Yes, plants do need darkness to grow. First, in the photosynthesis process itself, there is a reaction known as ‘dark reaction’ pathway or lately known as ‘carbon reaction’ pathway where the free energy of ATP and reducing power of NADPH, are used to fix and reduce CO2 to form carbohydrate. This is very important process to release Oxygen into the air. This happened in the dark or at night. Secondly, for inducing the plant to initiate flowering process. This phenomena is known as photoperiod, ie based on the ratio of the daylength to night length over 24 hours. Plants reaction to photoperiod can be divided into 4 groups.
- Day-neutral plants – the plant has no effect on photoperiod. They will flower when the plant reach physiological maturity.
- Short day plants – plants will only flower when daylength is shorter than nightlength. This group of plants will only flower in late summer or fall or very early spring, when day length is shorter than the night period. e.g. strawberries, potatoes, chrysanthemums etc.
- Long day plants – plants that flower in spring or early summer. eg lettuce, spinach, radish etc. Flower initiation will begin when the daylength is getting longer than the dark period.
- Intermediate day plants – These group of plants will grow vegetatively when daylength is either too long or too short. They will only flower when the day length is about 12hrs of daylight and 12 hrs of darkness.”
Purpose to the light. Purpose to the darkness. There is splendour in its every facet, and splendour growing within each facet it to bring about loveliness in the day. The Gardener has use of it to bring about His glory. Hmmm… Interesting! What about our periods of what seem like dark nights? It can be hard to imagine that He has purpose while we’re in the gloom of their midst, especially in what may appear to be a string of them. But could it be that He does have purpose in, and can use, these moments? While we wonder where God is in all of that apparent murkiness, when our eyes see only dimly, are our prayers truly absorbed or bounced off a glass ceiling?
“The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
I wonder. I wonder if darkness is only so if it is all that I focus on; is only so when I forget His promises. Is only so when I forget Who He is? And Whose I am? Perhaps darkness does have purpose, even for us. Perhaps it too can be a magical place of secret growth, of developing vitality! Perhaps we are brought to such places for a Greater purpose; a place far from distraction and beguilement where a private audience with the loving Gardener is all we have left. A place of sifting. A place where we search and find God not as we imagine Him to be from wild imaginations and rumour, but as Who He really is. Love. Vigilant Love. What would happen if, in the midst of our goop, we re-considered our Gardener’s character, His eye on our full restoration?
How would I then regard Him, my “all I have left”? There is really nothing like realizing that there is nothing like God! The All, who is all-ready, and already there! Eager to draw me to brush up against His iridescence, to be engulfed in the cheerful fragrance of His gladdening! And there is no place that He is not. So then, if He is here, if He stands as our Shield between us and whatever threatens, if He is Light and Love, what does that say of darkness? Of it ever truly overcoming us?
“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”
2 Samuel 22: 29 (New International Version)
Remember and recognize there is always Light that darkness cannot and will not ever overcome. Hope will always hum in the flame. Take it. Focus on me, and rejoice! Look! I bathe you entirely in my Light, for the Light is my Love that cannot ever be snuffed out. Yes, allow this joy to rise up from your deepest parts and envelope your heart, and sing as all flickers of light melt together to absorb the darkness in your mind in a flood of brilliant radiance! This juncture is occasion for profound intimacy with me; an opportunity for you to behold my love, my glory, and to allow my love and glory to shine through you. Do not worry. Worry is addictive and draws your attention away from Me and from the freedom I offer out to you and enslaves you in fear, shrinking, deflation, and withdrawal. This is not where I want or have designed for you to be. Trust in me. Trust that even this will be used for my Good in you, and in this circumstance, and that it pollinates future growth in splendour. I am here. Always. I am I AM. Acknowledge that I am present at all times, in all ways, and use all things for a good purpose. Allow me to help you to grow in it and from it, and up out of it. You will see its purpose when I know it is best! I will choose when. In the meantime trust me, and only me, and not your own understanding.
Seeds and plants in the garden of our spirits and souls need – and still yet grow in – darkness. I wonder… I wonder if we can seize the faith that Light is bathing us, no matter how we feel? I wonder if I can rest in Who God is, and not what I want Him to do or to be? I wonder if I could focus on the Son’s closeness to me, even though I may feel far from the sun? I wonder if I can settle my heart and mind on the assurance that He who ensured the hope of glittering stars in the night’s navy sky is in absolute control of all things in all situations – and that I just might not need to know every reason why things happen the way they do? Perhaps I could even consider .. perhaps even .. dare? .. to find darkness is alive with His good purpose? I wonder where such thinking would lead Father?
Jesus, help me to choose to consider dark nights and overcast days as places where just you and I meet privately; places where you shine your Light on the pathway out of my worry and self-absorption; places where you trim me down and muscle me up to take the better path illumined by your Light; places where I yield to and trust in you, in your greater purpose, and ask you what you want to accomplish! And when and where you will it, allow me to be the warmth of your Light to peak through the darkness for others!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
(John 1: 5, New Living Translation)
“He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.”
(Job 12:22, New International Version)
Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
(Matthew 26: 36-39, The Message)
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33, New Living Translation)
Soil and Seed