To the right of my desk is a large window that looks out over our deck on which are the four bird feeders I care for daily. In front of me are two identical, large windows overlooking the woods against which our house is perched on the top of a steep ravine that drops down to the Credit River. My office, and Margie’s just below on the first floor, jut out from the back of our house as if designed to place us among the branches of oak, ash, and linden trees. Between the windows in front and to the right of me is a small space of wall above a small end table on which my printer sits. On this wall are three objects—that are pictured in the photo that accompanies this piece, above. They have helped ground me over the past year, a year disrupted so rudely by a pandemic that needlessly extends its lethal reach because we cannot—will not—as a community of people reach a level of immunity sufficient to thwart the blind replication of an entity spawned by the fall and is far too small to be seen.
On the wall, to the left is a painting I bought years ago in Slovakia, a gentle watercolor meditation on a wooded expanse, with tree branches reaching down from above and bushes and vegetation along the ground. I find sustenance in nature, renewal, and refreshment when I am weary, and I have been much wearied over the past year. This painting is an artistic echo of the view of actual woods I see in front of me, an exposition of beauty and color and form that reminds me that the two views capture the reality of divine and human creativity. I need both—the actual woods in front of me and the watercolor impression. Together they remind me that hope is not hopeless because God loves his world and, in that world, so horribly broken and torn, are reminders of loving attention that point beyond themselves to something deeper and beyond. Together they remind me I live at the very edge of the Interface, the unseen but very real dividing line between the visible and invisible realms of creation. And it is there, at the edge, that I find hope.
On top and behind that painting, wedged between the painting frame and the wall, is a palm from a service of worship on Palm Sunday at our church at some point in the past. I forget which year. It was green and fresh that week but has now grown dry and brittle, but it remains a potent reminder that a lord—No, The Lord has arrived, and so I must live my life accordingly. It reminds me that a kingdom is coming—No, The Kingdom has come, and will soon be fulfilled and that I am a witness to that living reality. It is a reminder that this is all I am, a witness to the kingdom, that I cannot bring it into existence and should not try, a fact that is so liberating that words fail me. I am not the Messiah and should not try to act as if I am, but instead I can be content to be faithful in the ordinary and routine of my life day by day, leaving the result of my faithfulness to the King that is able to multiply a simple lunch of bread and fish to satisfy a hungry crowd when he so desires. I am capable of only that much, of making a simple lunch, and that is all that is asked of me, so all is well.
And on the right is a painting, “Window,” by Jodi Hays (see image below). Margie and I had the honor of meeting Jodi several years ago when we spoke at a weekend conference in Nashville. We talked together about art and faith and culture and life, and about her work as an artist. Later I visited her website and was impressed by her creativity and then stunned when I scrolled through examples of her work until I came to this piece. Only 9 x 6 inches, it captures my view of reality. We see through a glass darkly but there are windows that grant a brief and incomplete glimpse of something more and beyond and more real than we can possibly imagine. And so, I saved up some money and bought it, and now it graces my office wall, a reminder that there is more to knowing than my knowing can ever know or even imagine. Never have I been so glad to have made a purchase. Every day it reminds me that the shadow that darkens our path is the forecast of a light that resides on the other side, if only our pilgrimage will take us there.
And in the meantime, as we walk through a land of shadows and darkened glass, we catch, by grace, brief glimpses of the realm that lies just beyond the Interface. Jodi Hays painted a rectangle within a larger rectangle, the smaller one bright and clear as if there the impediment to seeing reality is lifted. It reminds me of the image painted in prose by C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. The busload from Hell has arrived in Heaven for a visit and one thing they notice is that the grass is different, sharper, with more vitality and resilience, so much so that it hurts their feet to walk on it. They ask to return from whence they came. Hints of transcendence are not always comfortable.
The birds that flock to our feeders provide such a hint, as do phrases of poetry, a slice of homemade bread toasted and spread with homemade strawberry jam, the reminder from history of an empty tomb, a quiet word from my lover. Not all the time or every time, of course, since these are glimpses, hints, not garish parades led by trumpets. But they are there, are real, and when so much seems impossible to get my mind around, they comfort my soul, reminding me that all my easily perceived reality is only a small part of the full sweep of the reality called into existence and sustained by God. And he is there, the source of all love and beauty and truth and life, inviting me into a relationship as Father through Christ, as testified to by prophets, apostles, and mystics over long millennia. Someday I will step through the window onto grass so real, so substantial that it will take my breath away, and I’ll know I am home.
A day never passes in my office when I do not at least glance at the wall with its three objects, two paintings and one dried palm frond. It reminds me how I see life and reality.
I can see no other way. Nor do I wish to.
Photo credit: top photo by the author with his trusty iPhone; bottom image taken from the artist’s website.