I am 22 in this picture I paint of myself for you, looping the words over us like so much leftover Christmas ribbon. I am achingly frustrated and desperately unsure of myself. I am sitting, as I usually do, on my bed with the blankets still unmade from when I woke up. I am living in the in-between, in a place I know so well – so much better, really, than I wish I knew it. I wanted to be somewhere new, I say to myself as the New Year’s night lingers on. I wanted to be in DC, I wanted to be in France, I wanted to have done something or gone somewhere, and yet I feel as I type that the word of the year must be light.
It is meant to be a year of light.
I expect this will mean the utter brilliance of day. I expect that God will hear this prayer of a word and turn my shadows into sunlight. I expect that when I wake up in the newness of the year, I will be different. I go to bed in that messy pile of blankets and I am ready to be transformed. Perhaps I even smile a little as I sleep.
God turns out all the lights.
The months pass and there is less clarity than ever before. I do not know where to find God even in all the usual places I go looking for him. I am still in the same place and I walk into the same building at work and feel as though I must have prayed it wrong, said it wrong, chosen the wrong word. Because in the wintering of the year I am wandering through nothing but shadows and all that I think I know of me is gone. I sit in Tenebrae, the service of the lengthening shadows at the end of Lent, and even there, though I hear Jesus say to me “You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you,” I cannot find a window to open for the light to come into my heart. I must be praying some angry prayers in this year, too, prayers that tell God just what I think of this silence, this darkness, this apparent failing of my hope for light.
But it is the wonder of the world that the shadows reveal the light more brilliantly. It is the wonder of knowing God that we are given a glimpse of how God loves us through praying a word like light and walking through shadows. It is the wonder of a year where I moved from thinking there was an easy way towards the light to despairing about shadows to meeting God again and new for the first time –
it is the wonder that to be still before God with a trembling self one year ago is to pray a wild prayer. It is the wonder that God hears such prayers, that God is close to such prayers. That God so tenderly answers them.