Posted October 04, 2011 in New Millennium:
Who Turned Out the Lights?

by Fr. David May.

October. The woods around this part of Ontario usually reach the peak of their color in the first week of this month, around the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4).

I won’t try to describe the many shades of gold, orange, scarlet, wine, russet, chartreuse, plain red, exotic red, intense red, faded red, yellow, and brown, that light up our forests at this time of year. Suffice it to say that all this color magnifies for a time our receding and diminishing sunlight.

On some days the whole world seems lit up with the glory of God’s touch, every leaf capturing and intensifying the light of day, yet with a glow that is gentle, peaceful, and restful to eyes and soul.

Even cloudy days do not seem to diminish by much, the light inherent in the leaves, as if the trees, fueled by summer’s bounty, themselves generate light.

And then, it all ends. Our pines and other evergreens retain their dark, rich color, but virtually all the deciduous trees are bare, save for forlorn leafy stragglers on oak and beech.

Now we can see far into the thick woods through the empty spaces. Now what sun there may be casts its glancing rays into places kept dark and secret in summer by the green canopy.

Yet the forest largely loses its brief grace of translucence. There is a kind of barren beauty, yes, but also a certain flatness. Except for the bright white birches, browns and greys predominate.

The mysterious magic of October is finished before the month itself ends. Or to put it more succinctly, by All Saints Eve, the lights go out.

Such rapid change from light to darkness, from transparency to opaqueness, speaks lessons to the soul.

For a relatively brief time, even if that brief period consists of a few years, we can sense the light of God shining through us, inspiring, guiding, consoling. We don’t notice at first that in the very midst of such sure brilliance there are signs of life giving way, green turning to some passing brilliant color that soon gives way to dull brown.

One day life abruptly turns monotonous, how, we do not know. We lose enthusiasm for our work, our vocation, our life. God does not seem near at all, even if the skeleton of our prayer life remains intact.

We are left in the poverty of our humanity, with both its tendency to apathy and to rebellion against God. Where is the brilliance of St. Francis and his canticle to all creation? Where is the steady flame that burned with compassion for one’s brothers and sisters?

Where did the joy that I used to find in doing simple tasks of service for my family disappear to? When did the wellsprings of creativity run dry?

At such times one can feel abandoned by God, family, and friends. Not that anyone has gone anywhere. God is in his heaven, and on earth ensconced in Word and Sacrament, faithful as always. It’s just that he seems to be hiding.

In the meantime, family is family, friends remain friends. No one has necessarily reneged on obligations, failed to say "good morning," or been any less kind than usual.

Of course, tragedies and betrayals can and do occur, but even if, by God’s merciful grace they do not, it’s as if everyone is living at the other end of a tunnel.

You can shout to the person at the other end, and he or she can shout back, but you can’t quite make out what is being said. And you can’t communicate what you want to say in any case because you’re not able to articulate it as you once did.

Clear articulation has gone the way of leaves in autumn, and there is no recapturing one’s former lofty position in the heights.

To counteract such experiences, some folks resort to photos or to other forms of retaining memories from the past. Thank God for digital cameras! You pull out yours and look at the 997 pictures you took of autumn’s splendor (or this event or that), as if trying to capture forever what once was.

One at a time. You enlarge them; you diminish them. Here and there you touch them up.

There you are, smiling under a brilliantly lit sugar maple tree at Carmel Hill, where Madonna House makes maple syrup in spring. This is but a symbol of your once brilliant spiritual life.

997 pictures later, you feel no better. In fact, you feel worse! What does it all mean? Where did it all go? Who turned out the lights?!

In the darkness of the night, an answer slowly forms. Jesus did it. Jesus set the seasons one after another, and so they run their course. Jesus set me high. Now Jesus lays me low, leaves me poor, prone on the earth, so to speak.

Jesus turned out the lights. Jesus led me into this dull, gray darkness. There is no moon; there are no stars. The wind is calm. He does not speak. And yet, life goes on.

I read the news each morning, and sure enough, life goes on. In tragedy and travail, in agonies and joys, the story continues, and I am part of it, it is part of me. But inside, all seems dead, or at least motionless, moribund, still.

If I could write a poem about it, I would, but something inside doesn’t want to do that either. So, I try to write an article for Restoration.

How puzzling it all seems! I am looking for my Lord, whom I cannot see, and I know I cannot "see" him because he has turned out the lights. He has brought the grand show, which is the first part of autumn, to an end.

Now we enter part two. Where do you take us, Lord, at such a time?

I no longer trust much in answers that come too quickly, especially in brief articles like the kind we write for this newspaper. I am more content to wait on the Lord than I used to be.

And in the meantime, I have to deal with the fact that I prefer lights on and don’t know what to do, exactly, when they’re not. Sit around? Look for matches? Stir up old enthusiasms?

But no, for sure that won’t work, because I can’t even find the old enthusiasms to stir up.

The one thing I can do? Cry out to Jesus. And cry out, and cry out, and cry out some more. And turn to Our Lady, and turn again, again, and again, for which the rosary is a tremendous help.

There is a peace in crying out to him. There is a comfort in turning to her. Especially if I don’t expect the lights to come on any time soon.

Do you know what? The strangest thing has started to happen. Something inside is beginning to shift.

I don’t want the lights to come on, at least not the ones I can turn on. I don’t want to go back to October 4, much as I love it.

I want to stay here, in his darkness. There is something that it is trying to teach me. Something about living from a Life not my own. Something about trusting that Life. I have this sense that it can only be found here, lying on the earth, in this obscure and quiet place. Everything is reduced to the simplicity of leaves on the ground.

I wait in peace to see what Jesus will do.


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