I had a day of rest a couple of days ago – the absent half of the family is home, we were all spent beyond words (and I was flat on my back with a bad head cold) and decided to shoo away all pretense of responsibility for one loop of the sun through our skies. We started it with the lighting of many candles, and the brewing of fat pots of tea. We read through favorite magazines, watched a movie, lunched out and brought chocolate home, and for some of the time, just sat and watched the drip of fretting sky as it mourned summer’s passing to the lilt of a violin.
Next day, with the sun looping up over a new morning, I found myself forlorn. The leisure of soul that had re-molded all the rigid hours of my yesterday into one big bowl to catch each drop of beauty I could find- was gone. Small, brittle, morning minutes clipped by me in the starched command of self-conscious hours whose disdainful stare was a pain in my head as I lingered in my chair, longing for yesterday. I could not bring myself to leave the faint, consoling dance of my candles and I sat, staring at them as a sailor might stare at a lighthouse from the midst of cruel, grey-souled storm.
I had felt so at home, yes, that was it. At home in my skin and in the hours of my day when I had that ease of beauty and rest. After the good but ravaging summer, that day was like stepping out of a spiteful, spitting storm into an unexpected shelter with a set and waiting feast and a grey-eyed woman of rest to coax the warmth back into my face and the life back into my inmost thought. To be back amidst the storm of normalcy, the screaming gale of busyness, the downpour of requirements, was to be somehow orphaned. Abandoned.
And so I was praying and telling God that I was out in some cold, grassless, rainy terrain of soul where I couldn’t see him on any visible horizons and that it was because I’d left the shelter of yesterday’s rest and I wished I’d never had to. I found myself thinking of David’s prayer in Psalm 27 where he begs that he may “dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of his life, to behold his beauty and meditate in his temple,” and it was my own desire. I realized that at heart, what I was feeling was a need to never, ever feel out in the cold again. Somehow, when I was at rest, I felt close to God, in his house, comforted by his beauty, but outside of that special day, I felt homeless, alone. I had to wonder, where was the compromise? I have to be here, I have to live in the dazing, dulling, dizzying world of toil and daily need (I’m not against work, just modern soul exhaustion) but how I am supposed to live so that my soul never leaves the house of God, even in the midst of busyness? Surely, somehow, there must be a way to keep my spirit in the circle of God’s grace.
And then my eyes came back to my candle. Refocused on its frail, saving flame. An echo of yesterday’s beauty. The fragrant heat of my cup of coffee flushed my face as I sipped and cupped my hands round thin china. I bent my head in an impulsive want to escape the wearisome rounds of my thought and immerse myself instead in the flow of the sudden calm that the quiet and light and fragrance brought. I hushed. I breathed. And do you know, for an instant, a lingering second, I found that sheltered space again.
Opened my eyes. Opened my thought. Opened my heart to accept that the shelter is always there but I have to choose it. Sometimes, I stumble upon it, have it heaped on my head as on my day of rest. Most of the time, I must choose it. Choose to believe in it. I began to think about David- his dwelling in God’s house, I think, had little to do with his circumstances. Surely he didn’t live all his days resting and contemplating in the temple. But he did in his heart and crafted his songs and his life to bear witness to that temple in his own soul. And that is where I found myself reviving. I realized that I hadn’t left God’s house in my heart. I hadn’t walked out of his presence when I walked out of my rest day.
But what had happened was that with beauty around me, with laughter and long hours and rain and music, God’s grace was more obvious. And I realized that the beauty I create around me enfleshed the faith I have in my heart that God is present, good, sustaining. To dwell in the house of the Lord means to walk into that space within your own heart where God’s presence waits; to behold his beauty is to bring God’s presence to bear in the creation of your own hands. I create beauty because it enfleshes the soul sense I have of God’s goodness, shelter. My storm glass candle, the new print on my wall of a young, hope-eyed girl, the brilliant pieces of fabric, the jars of flowers, the rich storybooks all incarnate the faith I have in a shelter of soul, a refuge that is real and present. Beauty simply makes it tangible.
And so, I understand now. Beauty sheltered me on my rest day. But the next busy day didn’t have to be any less sheltered. I simply had to walk into the shelter, claim it, let its grace console me, and then drive me to craft a picture of my shelter and peace in the beauty I wove around me. I’m learning to never be left in the cold again.