This was written during winter two years ago, when my church was getting a new roof. The roof is completed and lovely, but it's winter again, so this feels appropriate.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139: 11, 12
One of the architectural joys of the building in which I worship is the small, aptly named Chapel of Heavenly Rest, where our columbarium (multiple compartments for cremains) is located. A sense of peace fills me when I look at the stained glass triptych of Jesus, flanked on either side by a man and woman kneeling in prayer. In the two top corners of the window are scenes from everyday life of two hundred years ago, illustrating Matthew 28:20, which is written across the top: Lo I am with you alway.
Yesterday the window was almost completely dark. It was a gloomy day, but the covering protecting the panes while our new slate roof is being applied darkened it almost completely. What was most visible was the golden soldering between the tiny panes of colored glass, showing all the brokenness.
“I hope this is temporary,” I growled as I entered the chapel for morning prayer.
I sat in my usual seat and tried not to pout; I rely on my routines to a ridiculous extent, and my routine of coming in and gazing at the faces of Jesus and his companions had been disrupted. During the service, though, I noted the way that the darkness of the stained glass pointed up the contrast of the priest’s white cassock and her white, festival stole. Perhaps the darkness had its own beauty. We were celebrating the Transfiguration, when Jesus’ garments and face shone, terrifying the three disciples who were with him on the mountain. The event marked the beginning of the end; Jesus would go on to Jerusalem, suffer, and be killed—dark days indeed. And then, the resurrection.
Unbidden, the words of a hymn I used to sing came to mind: “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.” The darkness—of winter, of being covered for protection, of my fears of a cancer recurrence—had nearly covered Jesus.
Anyone coping with chronic, serious illness can think of several kinds of darkness. Our fears for our own well being mingle with concerns for those we will leave behind, for work undone, for finances in disarray, for a sense of unfinished business and sorrow at needing to leave the party early.
When I looked up again, I noticed that the wind had pried loose one corner of the blue plastic. One sunny corner of the stained glass was illuminated; I could make out one golden word: alway.