Light and Shadows

Sunday, July 15 2012:¬†Teaching from Colossians 2:15-17, our pastor spoke on what he calls “God’s shadow activity.” For over 25 years, as a professor and expert in theology, he has tried to make sense of the God we see on the Cross -who abhors wars and violence, taught us to turn the other cheek and sacrifice ourselves in love for even our enemies, and expressed that core truth in the most inconceivable way when He suffered a God-forsaken death by crucifixion – and the God of the Old Testament who seems, at times, to have been a genocidal, ethno-centric maniac who commanded Israel time and again to slaugher hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, infants. Our pastor’s theory – which makes sense to me and finally articulats both the tension I’ve always sensed in the contradiction and a reasonable reconciliation – is that these were God’s “shadow activites.” That just as a shadow acts as a negative contrast to what is real, and in so doing points to reality, so these situations show God not as He is, but as He is not.¬†They show Him bearing their sin as His own, and thereby showing who He really is: the selfless Savior. Rather than denying and rebuking their behavior altogether from the get-go, as His true character does (which we see fully in the person, teachings, and life of Jesus), He becomes one of them (in Christ, but also as “The God of Israel”), takes on their sin as His own (even though He himself knows no sin and abhors the sin), and shows Himself to be quite the opposite of them: utterly selfless in His love for them and for all mankind….so selfless as to take on their sin to show how far He’s willing to go to win them. I can’t explain it as succinctly or adequately, and I know a lot of people will label him (and probably me also) a heretic (again) for even voicing the idea. But it makes sense to me. And it brought back to my mind a lyric I wrote who-knows-how-long-ago, “Love is not the shadow but the light that casts it on less important things.” [For a fuller understanding, listen to the sermon here (it’s worth it).]

Monday, July 16 2012: I took a pretty big risk yesterday, threw myself way out on a limb, and after being personally “sought out” by a talent producer and allowed to skip the cattle call and move straight to “call backs,” I auditioned for one of those televised karaoke contests. And I failed. Miserably. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever sung so off-key, or tried so painfully – and obviously – hard to impress people, or just been NOT myself. I don’t know what I was trying to be, other than hopefully something the judges liked. And it was stupid, because the whole reason I was invited to audition in the first place was because they DID like me already. I put way too much pressure on myself, on the audition, on the opportunity, and I seriously effed it up. They may have even laughed as I left. And so for the rest of the day, I was reliving the horror. Going, “Wow, this is what I do, and yet I can’t actually do it.” Thinking, “This is the story of my recent life: When the time comes, I am utterly incapable of doing what ought to be so basic and natural. I couldn’t have a baby without screwing up so badly that I almost died even though this is what women do. I couldn’t successfully audition for a singing contest when singing is what I do. I felt like a colossal failure. Utterly inadequate.

Today: Yesterday’s crap audition and Sunday’s sermon gelled a bit in my mind. I’ve wanted, for ages, to finish that lyric…to see it bloom into a song. But the rest of the song just wasn’t there. And truthfully, I’ve been in every place other than the Songwriting Place lately. So it slipped to the recesses of my mind. But I took it with me into yesterday’s audition, thinking “maybe this is the love…”. And as I went over and over the whole situation, I was reminded: God, HE is Love, and He doesn’t withhold any good thing. He doesn’t cast shadows over good things in order to tease us. He is the Light, and He shines the light to cast shadows on lesser things, to draw our faces to Him. To reality. To what He actually desires for us, rather than what we want Him to desire for us. He turns us from our shadowy selfish will to His glorious, inconceivable design.

I’ve been reminded over and over and over this year that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9) I’ve been reminded to turn my eyes to Him, to seek Him in the promise that He will be found, and to dream inconceivable things.

I think the dreams I’ve had for myself, though lofty, have been far too stereotypical and, I confess, entirely selfish. I want a massive audience to enjoy and be moved by my songs, so I can sell CDs and make a living doing not only what I love to do, but what I’m meant to do…what I can’t not do.

Every time I’ve “almost” gotten there…or developed some momentum…or had an opportunity that could or should rocket me forward…it’s gone awry, and – as time always tells – in the most beautiful ways. I’ve been given little tastes of That, and then been reminded there are better, sweeter, richer, more eternal things to be done.

There are songs to be written for and with broken people…forgotten people…people here and there and everywhere who actually own my heart even if we’ve never met. People who deserve a voice, even if it’s only mine.

I’ve been reminded that when a shadow falls over the plans I’ve drawn up for myself, it’s not the meanness of God, but His great goodness and love that cast that shadow to draw my eyes to Him.

And today…I caught a glimpse.
Today, I turned my face to the Light rather than dwelling on the shadow.
Today the words came.

“Love is Not the Shadow”

dark are the days
i am seeking your face
i am finding you are ever near
branches below
they announce where i go
as i step and stumble around here

and there are times when i feel
hopelessly alone
when i am begging to belong
and to be loved
and to be known

and you say

hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith grows not in what you want, but i need need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things

with each new sunrise
new questions arise
and i strain to hear what you will say
as often as not
you are silent, i’m caught
by the need to trust you anyway

these are the times when i feel hopeless and alone
and i am begging to be heard
and to believe
and to behold…
when you say

hope is hiding where i least expect to find it
faith is growing not in what i want but need and
love is not the shadow but the light that casts it
on less important things