Saturday, July 8, 2017


Okay, so I’m not saying that my mom intended to teach us theology when I was five years old; but listen to this story and make up your own mind.

My brother and sister and I would  ask her to draw something. She’d sit down and we’d gather at the kitchen table and stand close, craning our necks, waiting for the magic to start. Suddenly, countless quick lines would began to pour from her pencil onto the paper, looking at first like threads for a spider web; then they would quickly arrange themselves as if by magic, into a nose, a pair of eyes, a mouth. We would stand mute, entranced. We never tired of watching this almost divine trick: she could create people out of nothing. But that’s not the theology part -- that came next.

After the outline of the sketch was completed, she would go back to fill in the shadows. Her trained artist’s hand would swiftly darken the right areas until, one after another, the parts of the flat, two-dimensional figure would start to come to life: the head became round, the eyes sank into their sockets (I used to stare at them, willing them to blink), the lips became full, the nose stood out from the rounded cheeks. A powerful, warm sense of satisfaction would always flood my soul as I watched how the dark parts made the sketch complete.

Mind you, I was a pretty normal kid. I liked playing catch and riding on swings and playing in dirt and rummaging through my oldest brother’s private stuff, and at the time I didn’t know much about pain and suffering and evil. Yet I knew instinctively that there was something mysterious and beautiful in the way the shadows caused the rest of the drawing to come to life. And each time I watched my mother draw, the lesson sank in a little deeper: the dark parts are the important secret ingredient of reality, they give it a quality if wouldn't otherwise have.

That was decades ago. Sorrows and sins and suffering have drawn plenty of dark lines into my life, and the agony of grief has etched deep shadows against the joy, the love, and the satisfaction that have characterized my life. Part of me is still standing at the kitchen table, marveling at the way the Artist uses mysterious black shadows to shape me into the person He wants me to be.

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