25 August 2012

Swallowing the Sun in the Dark


I said yes to a date on Sunday that I was sure I wouldn't want by Friday; just because moving is emotional and I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of a guy. I knew I'd be all nerves.

But turns out it was exactly what I needed to emerge from my first-day (or week)-wallowing.

He picked me up and gave me a hug and asked how I was in a deep, mellow voice. I needed that. He bought me a pita and a water. I needed that too (what with hiking campus all afternoon in 85+-degree weather, not having eaten anything because of said nerves).

He told me about his week and all its misfortunes, and I realized as bad as my day had been, it didn't compare in the least to his. I felt my nerves begin to calm.

We drove to the Castle Ampitheatre (ah...what a setting), sat on large stone seats, and watched Swallow the Sun, a play about CS Lewis's conversion to Christianity. Lewis is one of my weaknesses, and I watched with complete attention as the story unfolded with detail, with humor, with personality, and even with the British accent. I felt my stomach muscles loosen and found myself smiling, laughing even, at the wit of the script and the brilliance of the Oxford intellectual. My date and I sat and watched the play as the sun sank behind the mountains in front of us, the sky darkened and fireflies flitted all around the audience. 

At intermission, my date took my hand to help me down the steps. I needed that (because the steps are huge). We passed the man who plays CS Lewis, his performance a delightful cross between Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands and Alan Alda in M*A*S*H. I almost extended my hand to him.

My date and I sat on a stone wall underneath some trees and talked about theology, about what it feels like to doubt God, about our own Lewisian journeys to truth. About how though we didn't want to doubt, the experiences strengthened our faith rather than destroying it. 

We talked about pampered faith, the yearning and search for joy and true Home, and the fact that God is merciful to not strike us when we doubt but to help us along, to let us learn to think for ourselves and find Him again and see Him more clearly. I relished the conversation. I put the thought aside of an empty, lonely apartment and a likewise empty, recently deserted bedroom at home, and found it much easier to do than I had a few hours ago.

My date and I sat and watched again, and thought, and laughed not as much as we had in the first half, because there was more of the profound now. I wondered at how the writers could craft a story so, with humor in the beginning and a smooth transition to sober yet exhilarating truth. 

A member of the cast had an asthma attack offstage, and we waited while a substitute was found.

The play neared its end, and Lewis found his way; he listened to Tolkien defend his faith, surmised himself that if God were an animal, He'd have to be a lion—large and magnificent, and not quite tame. 

As I witnessed the transformation, I felt a soft touch from another sphere, a touch of Home and familiarity and the assurance of companionship, real though unseen, betokened by the orchestration of a date and a play that turned out, on the most unlikely of nights, to be exactly what I needed. And I all but forgot about my nerves.

The play ended; the breaker flipped, and the lights went out during applause. We shook hands with actors (or rather my date did), and we traversed the stone-laid, tree-ceilinged path back to the car.

The conversation turned for a moment to living in college housing, and my date made me promise to stay off the streets at night. Sincere, he would not let up until I did. Something else I needed.

My date and I conversed again as we drove away. I told him about Shadowlands, and he told me about Norse mythology. We talked about how myth echoes the Great Truth, about archetypes, about Tolkien and Lewis's stories, about how God is with us even in our doubts, how He still finds the ones who seek Him, no matter their station or location, regardless of whether they are aware they seek him or not, just as he found an Oxford atheist and gave the world an advocate for true Christianity.

We drove up to the empty apartment. He walked me up to my door, waited for me to unlock it, then gave me another hug and disappeared back into the late night. The sound of him singing on his way back down to the car at 11:00 pm left me smiling.

I stood in the "new" bedroom and put down my purse and key. Nothing in the room had changed. Stark and claustrophobic and away-from-home as it was when I'd left it. But I felt no nerves in the pit of my stomach now. Just pleasurable weariness.

I thanked God for the play and for the date and for the message sent. I'd needed that. Draped a blanket over the window blinds to actually keep out the parking lot lights. And slept. Taken care of.





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