Charlotte Friends Meeting
This is where we go to Quaker Meeting for Worship, when we go. Which is almost never these days, but I digress. It’s a craftsman-like building nestled in the hilly woods of Northern Charlotte. The worship room is octagonal, the better for sitting in a circle to look at each other while we listen for the voice of God. It is surrounded on three sides with ceiling-to-floor windows, and the center of the octagon at the top is glass as well. So you can look up and outside and around and into the eyes of the others and see God everywhere you look.
One day in 2006, I was having a really hard morning. A lot of stuff had happened that year. We lost some grandparents, Carey lost his job, and we lost a baby. Well, it was a second-trimester miscarriage. Maybe not even a real baby, we don’t even know. Then I got really sick with an abscess and thought I had breast cancer, and also I spent two nights on a train with a toddler and a younger toddler and also got kicked out of my grandma’s house for letting my son wet the bed on the waterproof mattress cover. Whatever. It was rough.
So I’m sitting there that morning in Meeting for Worship and I’m looking out at God and everything and listening, and wondering why everything is so crappy. It’s a grey day, full of clouds and dreary. I’m looking out the window at a branch outlined against the sky and there’s this faint gleam in the distance, almost like the sun is trying to peek through. And I keep hoping, hoping for that glimpse of sunshine.
And I tell that to God. I tell him that I’ve had enough and won’t he please just let us have a little sunshine. Something to lighten up the gloom. The sun does not peek through the clouds. The gleam remains distant, far off.
I close my eyes and I lean back in my chair. I stop begging and I start listening. And when I open my eyes, I’m looking up at that octagon of glass in the ceiling, up at the grey sky. And that’s when I see it. There is no ray of sunshine poking through the clouds. The bright spot is still far in the distance. And in a flash I realize: The light is already all around me. I look around and we’re all bathed in it, all those familiar and beloved faces, bright with the diffuse light of that particular day, every one of us luminous with it. There is no one ray of sunshine singling out a section of the room and making the rest dim—the whole room is one warm, even tone of light.
The light is diffuse and it’s spread out and it’s beautiful and it’s RIGHT HERE, all around me, right now. All I have to do is stop straining to see some distant bright spot and notice what’s right here.
I strive to live inside that epiphany every day, remembering to notice all the light around me RIGHT NOW, this minute, instead of always looking for some distant beam in the distance. And most of the time I fail. If only my youngest son were a little older, I think to myself, we could go out on dates without hiring a babysitter. If only this particular client would pay faster, money wouldn’t be so tight. If only I had already lost all the weight I’m carrying around unnecessarily. If only this or that thing had happened differently, everything would be so much better.
Fortunately, I’m reminded pretty often to stop and notice the light. Carey recently wrote about Plato’s idea that we are all just prisoners in a cave, watching the shadows of reality dance on the walls, and occasionally one of us has the gumption to climb out and look for the real light of day, which is somewhere up above us. The climb is arduous and everybody keeps calling you back down, and you’re never sure how long it will take, but eventually, you’ll get there—and suddenly you’ll be flooded with dazzling light beyond your imagining.
Maybe we *are* all just prisoners in a cave, watching shadows of reality dancing on walls. Maybe some of us are climbing. Maybe a very few select of us are glorying in a world of sunbeams far above. Maybe. But here’s the thing: Firelight is beautiful too. So are cold stone walls. So is climbing. So is lying down. Maybe the whole point isn’t to get to the top, or to get ANYWHERE in particular. Maybe the point is just to be HERE, wherever HERE is, and learn to love the particular type of light that we already have. And if we want to climb, then to enjoy the climb, because you don’t really know WHAT’s going to be at the top of that climb, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because you’re NOT THERE YET. Where you are, is HERE.
So. Where are you? I’m in a small room with my bottom pressed uncomfortably against a hardwood floor and my back slumped against a bookcase. My laptop sits at an angle in my lap. Beside me is a pair of slippers, a backpack, a white plastic basket full of clean laundry. It’s unusually quiet, due to the fact that the children are still asleep. Also there’s a pile of dirty laundry in the corner. This is the laundry room and office. This is a place of Mundane…
Transformed by the beauty of paying attention. In the corner, the washing machine is making clothes clean and fresh with contented little swishing sounds. Two large windows reveal the sky’s gradual turn to pale blue, the trees shading into green as the sun rises somewhere unseen. I hear my rooster crowing, over and over, “My yard! My yard! My girr-rl! My yard! My yard! My girr-rl!” The room is still dim and the dimness covers everything with softness and accentuates the light gleaming off the mirror.
My hands are small and quick and they look smooth and pretty in the dusky light. They’re incredible little pieces, and I’m grateful that they were included in the package when the sacred garment of my body was being assembled. My lips are chapped and my toes are moving as they always are. And it’s one minute before seven when everything will change, when I will plunge into the busy-ness of the day and the quiet morning beauty will change into another type of beauty. And so now I hit publish.
Where are you?