Monday, June 20, 2011

Dark is the way, Light is a face (the personal confession of an orthodox rebel)

I'm single (for those who didn't know). There are plenty of advantages to being single. Your time is more or less your own, and your focus and energies are much freer for your family, friends, career, hobbies, and God. There is, in truth, a certain levity to not being tied down. Perhaps then the only real drawback to being single is that you're...we'll, you're single. Relatively speaking, you're alone. And that is not fun.

This was brought home to me recently.

I had a dream. In the part of it that I actually remember, I was with my friends. At least, I believed that they were my friends. I didn't recognize anybody, and their voices seemed just vaguely familiar. But somehow I knew (as you can only know in dreams) that these were my friends. They acted cordial and goofy and free-spirited, just like my real friends. We were all hanging out somewhere enjoying ourselves.

There was someone else there, too. Apparently, she was my wife. Or fiance. Or girlfriend. Whatever our relationship, it was obvious that we were "together". I didn't recognize her at all. Her face seemed to be an amalgam of every girl I've ever known, at yet she was none of them. In short, she was everyone and no one. And, as I said, we were together.

Now at some point, we got really close. Face to face, actually. I don't remember the face exactly (again, it was both everyone and no one), but I do remember two things: the eyes and the smile. The eyes were hard to describe literally, and only true lovers could understand what I am about to express. Those eyes knew me. Not in some vague factual sense, but in a closer than close, intimate sense. The best way I could think to describe it was that I knew (beyond a shadow of any doubt, accepting it with the simplicity of a child) that I was hers and she was mine. That's really all I can say.

The smile was easy to describe. It was just a smile. Not a goofy grin or slight smirk. Just a good, solid smile, like you give to someone you truly, deeply love. That smile and those eyes converged into a single understanding that was dual-edged like a sword: "I know you, and I love you." Nothing to hide and nothing to fear. I cannot describe the feeling that this knowledge awakened. For one moment, I was just plain happy, immersed in joy unspeakable. I was known and loved. It was so simple and so powerful, and it was all wrapped up in a face.

Then I woke up.

After taking a moment or two to assess the situation, the only thing I felt after that was sadness, and it stuck with me all day. It wasn't some angst-ridden melancholy. I wasn't mopey or depressed. Anyone who saw me that day would have thought that I was fine, and in truth I was fine. It was just that the sadness was there, like an aftertaste in the back of my brain. In moments of silence or deliberation, it was very strong. I got to thinking long and hard about it: what did it mean and why did it linger? It wasn't until the late evening, while driving home from work, that I arrived at a question that spun the whole thing in a different way: "Father, is that face what Heaven is like?"

I remembered how in I John the apostle talked about how "when we see Him we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is," and how the apostle Paul gave the Galatians this strange admonition: "now that ye know God, or rather, are know of God". I remembered how somewhere in one of the gospels, God is casting out those who will not enter the kingdom, and He put their rejection in rather peculiar terms: "Depart from me. I never knew thee." He didn't say, "Depart because you're a sinner," nor, "Depart because you never met the standard," but simply, "I never knew you." Somehow, someway, being with or without God involves a kind of knowledge (or lack thereof), intimate in its nature and startling in its consequences.

After all this consideration, I began to wonder: when our faith at last becomes sight, will it be like my dream? I say that it seems so. When the gray rain curtain of this world rolls away, and all turns to silver glass, we will not simply see white shores and a green countryside rolling on into a swift sunrise. We will also see the face, the face of God, with knowing eyes and a loving smile. "I know you, and I love you. There is nothing more to hide, and nothing more to fear." Only this time we will not awake from it. Instead, we will awake to it.

On my Facebook page, I have listed for my "Religious Views" the oddly invigorating phrase "Dark is the way, Light is a face". It's the title of a CD by a band called Anberlin. The only difference is that I changed the word "place" to "face" because I think it is more theologically true. The way is dark indeed, filled with sorrow and toil, "troubles and trials". The light, however, is not merely a different location, the point "B" to the dark's point "A". It is a face, a person. Capable of knowing and being known in the most intimate of senses. It is the ultimate Other by which our identity is at long last restored and made manifest. It is a face. Not an abstraction or location, but a face. A face.

What really is astounding about all of this is that this moment of being known is not a future event. Not really. We are known of God right now. That face with those knowing eyes and loving lips is turned towards us even now, right here in this very room where you sit and pass the moments in bliss or fear or indifference. Whether you are single or married or widowed, you are always betrothed. You always belong. You always are known and loved, and you are never truly alone.

The dream made me sad because it was a dream. But the dream speaks to a reality that is, and that has made me glad. I hope it makes you glad, too.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

1 comment:

  1. Makes me SUPER glad! And speaking from a old married person's stand is wonderful to have someone to point you to that "face" when you feel worthless and alone.