…was the Word.
When I hear “In the beginning,” unbidden, my mind completes the first verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is without a doubt my favorite of the four Gospels. The Jesus of this gospel paints life in light and darkness, vine and branches, mysterious birth and rebirth, water and wine. As a poet I am most at home in these chapters, especially this first one.
Here Jesus is the logos, the Word, spoken beneath and through all creation. And the Word is Light, and the Light is Life. It simmers in the darkness, neither understood, nor overcome.
I’d known the first words of John’s gospel for a few years when I sat in a darkened theater in 1992 with the man who would become my husband. In the closing scenes of A River Runs Through It, a father and pastor speaks wisdom through his own grief:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.” Norman Maclean A River Runs Through It
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.” Norman Maclean A River Runs Through It
I wept as I left the theater, for my father who was three years dead, who I had never understood, who I had struggled to love. I cried as well for the beauty of words, married so gorgeously that to translate them into bald factual prose would be to kill them. And I think even then that I knew on some level that part of the calling, the work of my life, would be to work out this faith, that beneath all I know, is the force of a strange, creative love expressed in grace. And that my way in to this mystery would be through words, through the truth of metaphor, so much more generous than mere facts.
A gift of my thirties was finding that, despite my own visual limitations, a camera lens was another way, capturing the light that hovers at the leading and closing edges of day. It is the grace to see more fully than the flat scene in a glance, the loft of a quilt, steam from a cup. What I want to do with my camera is to look on my world with a loving and kindly eye.
All this was swirling in my mind today as we took our traditional New Year’s hike. Sassafras Mountain is the highest point in South Carolina, and the wind was cold at the overlook as we gazed at blue upon blue. In the pristine chill of a January vacation day, I can believe easily that grace and love whisper beneath rivers and stones.
But I also know the good, the true and the beautiful can often wear disguises, can rest hidden in plain sight. This year, I want to pursue them, in the shadows and long nights as well as the golden hours. Much to my chagrin, I love to be right. This year I want to travel, by word and lens, into the mystery farther than before, and love that journey more than my precious rightness.
In the beginning of this year is an empty frame, a blank page. What do they whisper?
Gratefully writing along with other lovely folks