Hiking through the intense Arizona desert a couple weeks ago, my eye was drawn to the long-faced shadows cast by sun without even a wisp of filtering cloud. I noticed how shadows created depth and accentuated beauty of the agave, the prickly pear, the saguaro.
I thought about years past when I taught middle school students art history. How in drawing and painting, masterpieces are made from a brilliant use of chiaroscuro—light and dark— (“chiaro” from the Latin “clarus” meaning clear/bright + “oscuro” from the Latin “obscurus” meaning dark/obscure).
I went about in search of light and dark, in hopes of making some art with contrasts, capturing with camera lens all different angles. Light. Dark. In the values of each, seeing both together as a whole, I felt joy, completeness.
I brought my desert experience of contrasts home in my mind, pondering the meaning, here in Wisconsin, where March and April are unpredictable, an erratic mix of warm and sunny, cold and overcast. On our seemingly never-ending days where a gray-canvassed sky stretches far and wide, it’s hard to keep believing the sun hasn’t finally given up and left us for good. Abandoned as orphans.
And then there are the drizzling, bone-chilling days like Saturday when I followed the trickling path of the raindrops as they meandered down a fogged bedroom windowpane, obscuring my view like tear-filled eyes, like life itself just cries and there’s no one and nothing that will hold.
But through the blur, I could see my horses in the pasture, welcoming this overcast side of the sky. Broken clouds sprinkled their muddy backs clean. This gloomy spring greens their grass, making sweet meals for them after months of eating nothing but hay dried from last summer’s fields. They like the drizzly days not so much for the gray and the rain and the cold but for what they weather creates for them, in them.
I kept pondering . . .
Would I want to live in a place where every day was the same? Where there was never a cloud? Where there was nothing but clouds?
Would I want to live in a world broken by sin that has no pain, always seeking pleasure, always trying to embrace the bright side and stuff down the dark? How do you live with the dark of the world, your own dark, and not fall into an abyss of despond, swallowed?
Do I want to refuse the hand of God who blesses by using pain to restore his masterpiece—his whole creation—and all his strokes of genius on his canvas—you and me and every other soul?
Do I believe God is able enough? Do I believe his hand is steady enough, precise enough, timely enough with the contrasts of life—in the lives of those I love, in my life, in the lives of all in this world? Am I so myopic that I focus only on the dark or only on the light, failing to see that God uses both in the making of me, of others? Will I believe that one day, pain will have served God’s purpose and we will see the Lover of our souls face-to-face—body, mind, and soul—in the full brightness of glory and hear the voice of our Master Artist say, with sweetness we’ve never heard . . .
You are finished, my love!
And in you, my dear, I am well-pleased!
For this joy of this moment set before me, for the vision of that veil lifting surely, I will endure all pain, believing my God’s hand in tender and this purpose is holy. And for the joy set before me, I will live in JOY today, seeing his hand of beauty TODAY—in me, in all—knowing that even the most painful pieces of life are held in God’s holy, masterful hand.
Because this I learned in the deserts of contrast . . .
The bolder the shadow, the more brilliant the Light.
Always and forever.
So it is.
The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. Psalm 104:2
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 63:7
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5