Even in the Valley the Stars Still Shine
Deep red light streaked across my kitchen panes yesterday morning. In the fog of sleepiness I thought of the line, “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning,” then rolled over for a little more precious slumber.
When evening came, I honestly have no idea what colour the sky was… I only knew that the red dawn was followed by an evening call. “She’s gone.” Words I had been anticipating for a week. Words I have been dreading to hear. Words one never quite knows how they will receive until they have to.
Blindly I walked out into the night, feeling the cool Spring air revive my tumbled thoughts. Revive: breathe new life into. How could I have so much life in my lungs when her lungs were empty now? I walked harder, feet pelting toward the mountain. I needed space. Stillness. Steadiness.
Clambering up the washed out path, I reached a flat place, panting. Stopping in the darkness, my eyes adjusted enough to look up at the stunning beams of light above me. Mighty, yet so distant as to appear but pinpricks in Heaven’s canopy. My eyes traced the trio of beacons in Orion’s belt. There sat Betelgeuse, a splendid red orb in the hunter’s shoulder. Red. Like the morning’s sky.
I reeled, seeking for an anchor in the midst of my anguish. Next to me the rush of snow-melt in the stream sang its joyful, gushing tune. Above me the wind swept through the pines and over my sorrow-streaked face. Overhead the constellations solemnly trod their seasonal steps. How many times has the earth revolved around the sun? And there are the Pleiades every autumn—in this hemisphere—peeking above the low ridge, beginning their trek across the sky. My eyes will only see them only a little longer before they visit the other half of the world. Then we will see the Summer Crown rising in the next season.
Even in the change of seasons there is a constancy, like the river and mountains, trees and stars, and the continual rising and falling of the sun and moon. Even as the wind brings a change in the weather, it is still the same familiar wind we know from every playful summer caress, or wild winter dervish. Even as the snow season melts into golden and royal purple crocuses, there is a familiarity in the pattern of the year.
New hope springs up in me. The ebb and flow of life remind me of the Creator’s hand holding all things together, ordering the strides of the universe from day to day and night to night. How much more incredible is it that he orders my daily and nightly steps, small as I am? He Who is acquainted with our grief walks with us through the dark valley of the shadow.
One day, death will stand on its head and everything sad will come untrue. Because he danced the reel of this earth, and died our death for us, and is so full of life that not even death could hold him. It had to let him go into abundant life. This is a grappling hook for my soul. The fullness of Life found in Christ does not mean I am cheerful in the face of death. Oh, the face of my own death, maybe—I am not afraid of what is to come, though perhaps that is because I don’t know how truly grave and mysterious and real and joyful it will be.
But in this shadow before the real, this dream before the waking, I feel the rending claws of death. I see it filling its voracious appetite with unborn children and frail grandmothers, with soldiers and civilians, rich and poor. I shudder at its touch on my shoulder, upon my family. “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion!”1 cries my soul. I seek refuge under the shadow of the wings of my Father in Heaven. Here I will hide my shredded soul, as the Healer continues his work to remake this fragmented me into something Beautiful. Here I will hide, until a flame rises out of the cold ashes. Here I will mourn, and he will weep with me, even though he knows the end of the story and has told me that all shall be made well.
In memory of Helen Byrkett: December 27, 1919 – March 17, 2014
1. Tolkien, J.R.R. Return of the King. (New York: Bellantine Books), 114