(written June, 2015)
Kaleidoscope -an optical instrument in which pieces of glass held loosely at the end of a rotating tube are shown in continually changing symmetrical forms by reflection in two or more mirrors set at angles to each other.
A kaleidoscope is one of those old-fashioned toys that bring joy just by being held and turned. The inside is filled with colorful glass pieces that make designs by turning the base. There is a definite sequence to use a kaleidoscope - holding, turning, shifting glass and beautiful design.
A kaleidoscope can be a metaphor for life. Most of the time we are holding steady in our daily routine. Sometimes we even classify our lives as mundane or use an expression I've heard recently, "same old, same old." In an instant though, like the turn of a kaleidoscope our lives can tumble and shift like the glass as we absorb our pain or the pain of others for whom we love and care.
Since mid-March eleven friends have experienced serious illness, challenging circumstances or the loss of a spouse or relative. Interspersed with these difficulties of health, impaired relationships and death, my family celebrated our youngest daughter, Anna's, thirtieth birthday; rejoiced with our oldest daughter, Sarah's engagement. I put together with four other mothers a quilt for one of Anna's friends who is having a baby in July; picked strawberries twice; baked numerous batches of biscuits; swam at least twenty miles cumulative; celebrated a friend's daughter's First Communion; and appreciated several months of thoughtful sermons and communion.
When I turn the base of the kaleidoscope the glass pieces hang in an incomplete design between patterns. Pieces of hanging glass are indecisive; we don't know what new pattern will appear until the direction becomes known. That's how life is when our worlds are turned upside down. We are left dangling and hanging, wondering where "normal" is, wondering when life will resume familiar ways.
Light Always Seeps Through
Then I turn the base again - the dangling glass has found another spot in a new and colorful design. No matter how complex the pattern or how deep the glass hue, I've noticed light seeping through. Light reminds me that when we feel like we are dangling and out of sync, light is always present, .just like glass waiting for a new form. When the pattern falls into place, there is seemingly less light. Is that how life is - when we are broken and in many pieces there is more space for light to come through?
In John chapter eight verse twelve we read, "Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. 'I am the light of the world,' he said. 'Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.'" Jesus' words remind us that no matter what darkness is happening, the light of God brings love, hope, strength, and encouragement.
Seeing Light in Darkness
I am reminded of one of my favorite articles from the May/June, 1997, issue of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life called "Baking Bread in the Dark and Other Acts of Courage," by Gerrit Scott Dawson. Three stories of courageous individuals are shared.
The one I like describes a woman who was widowed early in marriage leaving her to raise two little girls on her own. She worked in a furniture factory during the day, but baked sourdough bread at night to use as gifts to family and friends as well as to sell for extra income.
As she aged, she developed macular degeneration leaving her with only peripheral vision. Despite these limitations, she continued to bake bread as a symbol of her life. It communicated her resolve to take care of herself no matter what the circumstances as well as her desire to give a tangible sign of her love to others.
She mixes now from memory and touch. Raised bumps on the stove help her feel when the stove is on. In effect, she is baking in the dark, but she refuses to give up. Her courage to live despite extreme visual limitations comes from the light of God's presence that has sustained her through the years. The stars still shine at night outside her window and in the darkness she sees them in her mind.
Lifting the kaleidoscope that rests on my desk, I look through the narrow opening, admiring the colorful design, illuminated by light. I recall how baking and sharing biscuits for decades has helped me through my own stretches of darkness and enabled me to share compassion to those whose pain weighs heavy on my heart.
Prayer; God, there are so many ways you come to us and ways we come to you. Metaphor of our lives abound. You are in all. Let the light in us, join your light filling our hearts so we can care for others. Amen.