Shadows are often thought of as dark places where evil looms. Yet they can also be rich, colorful patches that anchor us, and other objects, to the ground. C.S. Lewis said that our life here is living in the Shadowlands. My lenten pilgrimage is deepening my understanding of this truth.
This morning my feet stopped their pace in the direct line of a magnificent tree shadow. From where I stood I could see the shadowy branches and trunk on the ground as well as the actual living tree, and then, beautifully behind it, the sun in all its blinding glory.
Yet in this life, we are not always able to see the Son and that very substantial heaven which casts its shadow in this world. As pilgrims, we must always be looking for the real thing behind the shadow that so enchants us here.
Artists are taught to peer into shadows. They are not just gray or black. When you spend time really looking into them, they are many-hued wonders of warm and cool colors, depending on where the light is coming from and what kind of light it is.
We would do well to take good long looks at the shadows in which we live and move and have our being. Most of the sin that so easily besets us is something good, appearing light-filled and colorful. It is precisely our preoccupation with and exoneration of the shadow, without regard for the Light which illuminates all and exists behind every shadow, that trips us up and causes us to stumble. We then find ourselves far off the path, lost in a dark wood.
Reading Rod Dreher’s book How Dante Can Save Your Life has opened my eyes to this deceptive reality more than ever before. The lovely colors and hues of family, provision, and creativity in my life are mere shadows (icons) of the beautiful One. I often fail to see the Light behind them, and they can slip into being my gods (idols). I must work to look beyond them and worship only Him who emanates through them. The good shadows in our path are only a kind of photocopy of the real thing. From where we stand, the shadows are distorted, flat versions of the actual object. Peering into the shadows will only serve us if we train ourselves to see beyond them to the Real Thing and the Light behind it.
If you come across a shadow today, stop and take time to study it. Look for the colors in it, whether warm or cool. Then follow it to the object that casts the shadow and on to the Light Source behind it all.
At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world, and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources.” C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain)
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory)
Note on today’s painting: When I turned the page to create today’s drawing, There were too many bleed-throughs from the sharpie I had used on the previous drawing. So I decided to draw and paint on a separate piece of paper and glue it on top of the offending marks. One could also collage over it, or gesso over it and then paint or draw.