Faith Works 11-16-13
A vision to be thankful for
It's a peculiar thing to recall, but some years ago, I was helping get ready for a community Thanksgiving service, and though I entered St. Edward's in early evening, it was already dark.
Some of us were arriving well before the stated time for the program, in order to sing in the scratch choir put together for the evening. We all had some choral experience, but we needed to learn the sound of our voices together, get used to a new director's style, that sort of thing.
In Granville's St. Ed's, you come in across a well-lit compact plaza off the parking lot, pass through a beautiful narthex into the sanctuary, and then turn right to go up a flight of stairs to the choir loft.
It seemed as if we arrived with a bit of light still in the western sky, but once we'd gone up and started singing, the world got dark fast.
What has stuck with me was, at first, a feeling like an "island in the sky" with a pool of light around the organ console, the director before us, and everything else in the surrounding nave was dark. Even the large clear windows shone little light within.
While our group rehearsed the Thanksgiving numbers that we were there to sing, you could see flickers of candlelight on ahead, into what I knew was the chancel. There were lights, there was a presence down there, but it was quite a ways away, and the few shadowy movements on the church floor below were scattered and hard to read.
As we practiced the pieces appointed for this day, some late-comers came through the door and made their way up. Our numbers grew, but over time, others had to leave to tend to other tasks, so the gathered group subtly changed over time, new faces coming, familiar faces leaving. A tread on the stairs and an expectant glance to see who would be joining us; quiet apologies shared with section mates as some left to make their exit.
In my mind, I had a pretty good picture of what the view ahead, on down the nave looked like, but in that hour, I had a few diagonal shafts of exterior light to confuse the view, and a handful of reddish yellow flickering points off in the distance. Otherwise, darkness. It was a darkness I could imagine, and soon I'd be walking down to find my place, but for now, it was quite comfortable to sit in this pool of light and to sing what we shortly would for worship.
Then suddenly someone, somewhere, flipped a switch. We were still illuminated in our choir loft, but the entire space within the church building was, if anything, brighter, and now the prospect of going down the staircase and heading up the aisle was entirely something to look forward to.
And those dancing points of light in the distance resolved into a candle-rack for private devotions, set in part of the church where the reserve communion waited in the tabernacle. A part of the worship space that moments ago had seemed so distant as to be an alien land was now, even from the choir loft, a connected part of the whole.
Is this life in the world like a seat in the choir loft, new singers joining and some leaving in due time? Is God's future like the apse beyond the chancel in a dimly lit church, where the outlines are known but the details await a brighter moment? And is the last trump, the final apocalypse or "unveiling" as you'd translate that word from Greek, similar to an unseen hand turning on all the lights?
The metaphor may hold for you, or leave you cold. But I am truly thankful for every experience of the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar, where I catch glimpses of what it means to understand our place in creation and our role in redemption, just from realizing that there is always something strange around every corner – and just as often, something familiar built into the fabric of the new.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you catch your glimpses of the Kingdom of God at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.