Friday, February 5, 2010

order (or what kindergarteners already know)

as i sat in the unlighted, empty, quiet (so quiet!) sanctuary, i was struck by--comforted by, symmetry-obsessed as i am--a sense of order.

the chairs, in orderly rows, perfectly parallel and straight and predictable. the fibers in the carpet with their understated tan on tan pattern, mechanically orderly. the ceiling tiles, squares bordered by perfectly aligned, perfectly fitted metal borders, perfectly square themselves individually and square to each other, too. the service, which was not being held that day but nonetheless echoes from those so quiet walls, defined by order, liturgy (noun: a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship; a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances, says merriam webster). the predictability of the robes, the candles, the elements. yes, i am comforted by order.

it is man-made order, this. God didn't line up those chairs or carpet fibers or ceiling tiles. God didn't make the machines that wove the carpet or punched the holes in the tiles or cut the wood for the legs of those chairs. nor did He invent the orderly liturgical worship that we do here, when the sanctuary is lighted and inhabited and ordered. it's man-made, artificial. but i can't forget Who made the men that make all this order as i look around this room.

because the light that filters in through the windows creates orderly shadows. the light flows through and around and between all these orderly man-made things, silently unimpeded by their presence, persistent despite their solid orderliness. the shadows, even, betray less an absence of light than its presence despite obstacles; without the light, there would be no orderly shadows, after all. i would not know the contrast between the soldier-like order of the chairs and the slanted, gentle order of the shadows cast by those chairs on those orderly carpet fibers and ceiling tiles but for that light.

there's something to this, i think. order. and light. and order created, defined by light. there's something to the liturgy--that is, the customary orderly repertoire, be it of ideas or worship or chairs--that is not of man. we are created for order, and in fact, scripture is full of order God has defined for His people, from creation and the food and clothing laws of the old testament to paul's instructions for worship and prophecy in the new testament. there is no question that men function better with a prescribed order: ask any kindergarten teacher for her opinion on the matter, and you'll be reminded how like children we order-craving grown-ups really are.

but order defined--surrounded by, encompassed by, overcome by--light, like those chairs in the sanctuary, standing in the light, casting shadows with the light. in all of my symmetry-obsessed, schedule-loving, woman-with-a-plan life, the order i crave is not order itself, but order defined by light, light silently unimpeded by the presence of the orderly obstacles men create.

which is how, when i think about it, i can be grateful for shadows. dark and light-less though they may be, it is in the very existence of the shadows that i am reminded that beyond the solid, soldierly, orderly obstacles remains the light that is the reason for the shadows. without the light, there would be no shadows. ask any kindergarten teacher--or kindergartener, for that matter--about his shadow: what it is, why it exists. he'll tell you.


Patricia Berman said...

And those endless cloudy days....endless...endless... and then sun! And the joy, only because (in my opinion) there were so many sunless days, that those with sun create so much joy.

Rebecca said...

The Tale of Despereaux talks about light. Have you read it?