Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Looking back, looking forward

Moments ago as I sat at my computer trying to decide whether I wanted to post this image or not, the sun broke through the morning clouds and illuminated the trees out the window (some of the same trees as in the painting). They were  brilliantly yet fleetingly ablaze with what I call "Irish light"--the particular quality and intensity of sunlight born of overshadowing clouds' breaking up, and clear air, often after a rainstorm has washed things clean and left surfaces ready to glisten. 

(A digression: Maine light and Irish light have a lot in common. But Ireland gets lots more rainbows, probably because the rainstorms are more frequent, and more often mingled with sunshine, and (if you're lucky) they are more fleeting.)

The trees this morning were briefly illuminated as in the painting, but of course from the right rather than from the left, that would be from the east rather than from the west. It was enough to prod me to include the painting in this post.

My hesitation? I think there's a little touch of sadness for me in this painting, although I don't believe I was feeling sad when I painted it. I think it's something about that dark, somewhat brooding background, and also the knowledge that it was painted in September (its title is "Afternoon light, September"). There's always something poignant about the beauty of autumn, at least for me, due to our knowing that the earth is entering its dying season, and that winter's hunkering down is not far off. (And here we are, back in real time, and it's the last day of March, and the snow piles still linger, though they are dwindling daily!) And the beauty of afternoon shares that same rhythm on a smaller scale; we know it is the prelude to the dying of the day (which of course allows for the very different, mysterious beauties of the night).

Somehow this painting, with that hint of sadness (do others see and feel it? or is it just me?), feels appropriate to the present moment for me. Last year at this time, I was just days away from formally renouncing my ordination vows, and the enormity of that step, however much I felt it to be right and good, was very much with me. Those last few days were kind of an autumn/winter time of allowing myself to let go of something that had been part of me for almost half my life (twenty-six of fifty-four years, if you count the years I spent in seminary). I felt very vulnerable and quite sad through those days, and I tried to give myself room to grieve in anticipation of the big day. I sense that I'm revisiting those days right now as I approach the first anniversary of my renunciation on April 3. 

"Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry" is, by the way, the official, canonical name in the Episcopal Church for what I chose to do. It's a somber, serious name for a somber, serious step, one not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, if I may borrow some language from another, more familiar, liturgy. I consider my renunciation to have been more truly a break for freedom, a coming out party, the laying down of a very heavy burden--you get the idea. 

But however lighthearted that sounds, don't be fooled. There was death, there was grief, there was fear. There were no guarantees. There were also some surprising gifts in those days (and not exactly the kinds of gifts one normally associates with dying and grief). Which is to say: more stories are on the way.