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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gift of Darkness

"Someone I loved
Once gave me a box
Full of darkness.

It took me years
to understand
That this, too,
Was a gift."

--Mary Oliver

How are gifts honed and matured? How is precious metal purified?

There is the trial by fire. There is the trial by market. I would not say one is more painful than the other.

Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal has been published, posthumously. It records her youthful prayers--prayers that God would make her gifts mature.

She died at the age of 39. That's a short life. She was stricken with lupus. It left her crippled, and rejected by lovers. She remained single. But she begat two novels and 32 short stories, and garnered the National Book Award. She held a slot in my freshman literature anthology. Very few female authors can say the same.

When in the fire, we can't see what the smelting is doing. We can't know what the result will really look like.

I was observing my friend Phillip the other day. As I listened to him, I thought to myself, "Everything about him is tempered." I meant it in the way of being softened, well-managed, controlled. And then I thought to wonder, "What hell has he endured to come to this?" Tempered by fire? There must have been dross consumed. I don't see it now, but I believe we all have such corruption woven in among the mitochondria.

Would Flannery have traded her crutches for legs that leapt and danced with suitors, if with them she also lost the craft and wordsmithery she craved? What might Phillip be, without the woes he most certainly must have experienced? And what of you? And of me?

When my young friend H confessed her heart-felt agony about her own idolatry, I begged our God to hear her prayer but handle her gently. Do I know what I am asking? Of course not.

Someone I loved once gave me a box of darkness. I will never be the same again. But who was I then? And even if the wounds never heal, can I be sure I am not actually better for it now?

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