Sunday, March 29, 2009

In mercy and in truth

I was a little late to church this morning. It's a sunny day, our first in a while (and particularly welcome after a long stormy night) and there was so much beauty along the road that I kept stopping to take pictures.

If you've been to the Northwest, you know that our trees are WAY taller than the trees out east. And what that means on a day like today is that the shadows stay dark that much longer, and the rising sun is slow to touch the ground, only occasionally brushing the tips of the smaller trees with light and color when there's a break in the cedars. So this morning, even though the sun had been up for an hour or two, everywhere I looked there were wonderful patches of light framed in darkness.

Though the artist in me revels in stark contrasts, I'm not actually comfortable in that sort of life -- one with lots of bright highs and dark lows. And though I do spend time on the stage occasionally, I'm not fond of my inner drama queen and prefer a steadier emotional diet of gray to stark blacks and whites -- which is probably why I love the Northwest so, with its temperate climate and gray skies. It's also part of why I'm so fond of my husband: he's a very steady eddy; far less susceptible to mood swings than I am. And yet he (though we've lived out here for 20 years) is the one who still misses New England, the bright sun, hot summers, cold winters, starkly changing seasons.

This morning in church the priest mentioned a favorite psalm of his, Psalm 85, in which it says "In God's person and in God's perfect revelation, mercy and truth meet; righteousness and peace kiss." At first I thought that was an odd verse to pick to illustrate a sermon on the passion of Christ, but as he spoke I realized that, in fact, in certain situations a passion for mercy and a passion for truth can feel seriously at odds with each other, and so can a passion for righteousness and a passion for peace.

For example: I feel called to mercy and compassion, but it can sometimes be very hard to feel that for someone when you know the truth about what they have done, or said, or are capable of. But in fact, the more unpleasant the truth, the more difficult -- and necessary -- mercy becomes. That really difficult section of the Lord's Prayer -- forgive us AS we forgive others -- is really all about pairing mercy and truth; expressing and feeling compassion despite what you know to be true. I'd never really seen that before, but from this perspective this psalm then is very reassuring, saying that God can always pull off that particular reconciliation of opposites that I find so difficult to master. The good news is that God can always hold those two things in creative tension; can step in and forgive through us.

It's the same with righteousness and peace: when we're battling with someone, or something, or some system of thought, it is often because we are caught up in righteousness, in the absolute certainty that we are right. The more certain we become that we are right, the less peace there tends to be in our lives. Somehow God's wholeness can reconcile those opposites as well; balancing them both in a tender and all-encompassing love.

So perhaps each of us -- my steady husband with his longing for a more dramatic environment, and me with my inner drama queen and my love of the subtleties of Northwest weather -- are embodying in our own ways that godly striving for balance, seeking our own particular blend of dark and light. And when I think about how curious it is that when my heart is reveling in the quiet foggy grays my eyes rejoice so in the intensity of dark and light, I find myself wondering if this isn't another way of seeing what O'Donohue talks about in that passage I quoted yesterday:

The faces of the calling change; what at the beginning seemed simple and clear can become ambivalent and complex as it unfolds. To develop a heart that is generous and equal to this complexity is the continual challenge of growth.

Perhaps what it means to be an artist, and human, and present, and called, is to be flexible enough to keep seeking balance in new ways: to understand that because my inner landscape is always shifting, on some days I will want to photograph light and contrast, and on other days what calls to me is the soft layers of gray in the morning fog. Maybe one of the greatest gifts of being a creative person, in whatever ways we are called to creativity, is that we can use our creativity to provide a balance for those inner fluctuations, rather than expecting spouses, friends or family to provide the sole antidote to our internal weather patterns.

NOTE: All John O'Donohue quotations are from his wonderful book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us (© John O’Donohue. All rights reserved). To learn more about John O'Donohue, be sure to visit his website: www.johnodonohue.com

3 comments:

altar ego said...

Beautifully written post. You touched a current sensitivity in my life which opened a door to reflect upon the situation a little differently. And little did you know (God words in mysterious ways) that your last paragraph would offer this struggling creative person some insight into her own inner landscape, an insight that brings with it hope and peace. Thank you.

And PS--I am a newcomer to your blog, and LOVE the alphabet!

Contemplative Photographer said...

Thank you! I'm so glad God continues to work in such mysterious ways...

Anonymous said...

I'm playing catch up today...

I'm especially fond of Psalm 85, but I have never looked at it in quite that light before. I love it. Reminds me of the dreaded Dr. Philism "would you rather be right or happy?" But so very true.