hours of dappled shadow

by bam

we sat stretched out in the window, my firstborn and i, our stockinged feet just barely touching, our hearts clearly entwined.

we sat stretched out in the window in the hours of darkness on the afternoon of the day we call good friday. but really it is shadowed friday. friday of dappled afternoon, dark and light, playing as it did on the pages of the words he allowed me to read aloud.

i invited him in, my jewish-souled child, invited him into my room, where always on this very deep friday, i grow quiet, honor the story with my silence and prayer. insist, in a very old way, that the whole house be shrouded, be deep, be filled with silent prayer.

i’ve never been one to push what i believe. rather i offer it out, a wisp, a seed, at a time. gauge the winds, see if it catches.

this friday though, as the hand of the clock swept past twelve, ticked toward three, the hours when the nuns and my mother taught me, so deeply they did, to keep watch on the skies, to watch the darkness roll in, eclipse the sun, remember the sorrow, i started to read.

these words did i read, as i made my way through the way of the cross, the trail of so many tears from the moment jesus is condemned to his death, to his crucifixion, at last to the laying of his body into the tomb:

the first station: jesus is condemned to death

“lord, that i may see!”
give me faith to recognize You in those under my own roof;
in those who are with me, day after day, on the way of the cross,
let me recognize You, not only in saints and martyrs,
in the innocence of children,
in the patience of old people waiting quietly for death,
in the splendor of those who die for others;
but let me also discern Your beauty
through the ugliness of suffering for sin that You have taken upon yourself,
let us know You in those who are outcast, humiliated, ridiculed, shamed;
in the sinner who weeps for sins committed.
let me see You, jesus, condemned to death,
in myself, and in all who are condemned to die.*

it was then, after reading those words, that i realized i wanted to invite him, my firstborn, into my chamber of prayer.

it was then, realizing the whole of my life view was held up in these stanzas and lines–the notion that the Divine dwells within every last one of us, if only we take the time and heart to see, truly to see–that i thought i might cast one of my seeds, see if it caught, if it mattered.

for two nights now we’ve told and re-told the exodus story. i listened, asked questions, paid attention when one wise friend spoke of the power of myth. how verifiable fact isn’t the point, but truth is.

and how myth in the end is all about truth, all about passing on kernels and seeds and endosperm truths. and praying, somehow, maybe it takes, sends out its own tender shoot.

i thought as she spoke of my own dappled years, years of shadow and light, of doubt and belief, of knowing and not.

i thought as i read through these words, warm in the light of the sun pouring in, soft against the pillows and blankets, that these words truly feed me.

and that’s when i thought: let me give him a taste, my child who once asked who tucked in God at the end of the day, when it was time for sleep to come to all who’d toiled all day?

i called to him, invited him in. can i read you the stations, i asked? can i read you the way of the cross, unspooled in modern-day terms?

“oh, sure, i’d love that,” he answered quite quickly.

i admit to a skip in my heart.

and then we sat, he and i, warm under blankets, our toes just barely touching, as page after page, i read this modern and moving interpretation of the way of the cross.

considered how jesus fell three times under the weight of the cross-thatched timbers, considered him stopping to talk to the women along the side of the road, considered veronica wiping his face, read these words from the text:

“drive me by the strength of your tenderness to come close to human pain. give me your hands to tend to the wounds of the body and the wounds of the mind. give me your eyes to discern the beauty of your face, hidden under the world’s sorrow. give me the grace to be a veronica: to wipe away the ugliness of sin from the human face….”

my firstborn listened as i read, and then, when i started to cry, reading the words of jesus’ third fall, considering all the falls of my own, the stumblings, he looked quietly up, compassionate, touching my face with his gaze.

he sighed as i sighed.

and then, after i’d read of the dying on the cross, and the laying in the tomb, we both sat in the dappled light, the shadows crossing the sky, the sky ever-so-faintly turning to gray.

he fell asleep, my firstborn.

and i lay there, praying and wondering, wondering and praying.

that is how i spent the hours of dappled shadow, the hours of knowing that in light and in darkness, i’d found a truth and scattered the seed.

and maybe, just maybe, it took.

* text for prayers by caryll houselander, the way of the cross, st. nicholas church, evanston, illinois

God bless you this holy friday. more overtly religious than usual, this meandering up above, but sometimes it feels like the right thing to do. you’ll understand, i’m sure of that. this is my holy day of days. and these are the holy days for so much of the world, as we wait and watch the laborings of winter’s deep sleep give birth to the soft green newness of a planet bursting to breathe life again.
i wait as i type for that baby who, miles and miles away, is beginning to stir in her mama’s womb, who any day now will fill the arms of my brother and becca, whose sounds will travel the wires, across the miles, and who i will know for the very first time.
i think of these things this good friday.
and what about you?