Living in twilight

I recently carved out an “office” for myself below a window in a corner of our unfinished basement. My desktop is one of those hollow-core doors like we had in our house when I was a kid. You know, the kind of door that’s impossible to slam. Even when you hold onto the doorknob and close it as forcefully as you can, the best sound you can get is a kind of muffled thud, more of a semi-loud pfft than a bang. The kind of door that’s much better as an expansive desk than as a futile expression of juvenile pique.

For my “wallpaper” to cover up the dreary concrete, I’ve unfurled a 6′ x 6′ painting by an old friend of mine that’s been rolled up since I moved into the first house I ever owned, back in 1992. It’s been that long since I had enough wall space to display it. I took a photo of the top third of the painting, which doesn’t do justice to the layers of greens, blues, oranges, and reds, but gives you a tiny hint of the painting’s sprawl.

My "office" "wallpaper"

This morning I came down to here to do some reading, writing, and looking at my newly freed painting. I set Pandora to my “Weepies Radio” station and what song started playing? “Twilight.” That spurred me to go looking for a photo of twilight. Do you know how hard it is to find a vampire-free photo of twilight? After scrolling through countless images of bloodsucking heart-throbs from the “Twilight” movies, I finally found a stunning photo that now graces the header of this website.

Only after finding the photo did I see the painting as a depiction of living in twilight. Up until this morning, I always saw the painting as an image of what it’s like to move through the world with ideas and colors filling one’s head to the point of bursting. Now I look at it and see both twilight and the volcano of the creative mind. I love that about art, how it can be different without changing, how it can be Both/And.

I’ve been working on a committee that’s planning celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Emmanuel Church. In one of our meetings, PW read a quotation she found by a former rector, the Rev. Al Kershaw:

“Art and love alone are capable of opening up to us the eternal that stands behind them.”

Of course, we finite, volcano-headed humans have lots of different understandings of or names for whatever “the eternal” is. As I continue to reflect on what I mean by calling myself a pantheist, I find myself returning repeatedly to this infinite and ineffable mystery of “the eternal.”

In my reading this morning, I came across an essay written in 1953 by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled “The Moment at Sinai.” The essay concludes with this expansive last line that is another way of describing “the eternal”:

“Time is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is nowhere.”

I think my friend’s painting is a nod to that, with its spatters of paint that go right off all four edges of the canvas. When The Weepies sing, “We are always living in twilight,” I hear them illuminating, rather than nailing down, the unbounded mystery of “the eternal.”

Living in twilight, constantly exploring that space between sunset and sunrise, and between sunrise and sunset, can be exhausting. It can also be exhilarating, provided you’ve brought along enough of the right kinds of companions and snacks. The light is luscious and tricky in twilight, and both characteristics are fleeting. No sooner have you glimpsed the “Oh my!” of a given gloaming, than it is overcome by either limiting darkness or boasty Mister Sun.

For me, it’s precisely this fleetingness of twilight that hints at the mysterious and ineffable eternal that Kershaw and Heschel were writing about. Iris DeMent‘s broad Midwestern vowels illuminate the ineffable eternal that she sings about in “Let the Mystery Be.”

So maybe I’m not a pantheist after all. Maybe I’m a twilight-ist. A mystery-ist. An eternal-ist. Whatever my theological orientation is, I have yet to find a word for it. Maybe I’m better off living in the delicious, difficult, fleeting, and eternal twilight of letting the mystery be.

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7 responses to “Living in twilight

  1. Here is my favorite quote of all time. It’s from ON THE MYSTERY by Catherine Keller (and this may be my best book ever):
    Is there a last resolution to offer to the resolute?
    If there were, it might sound something like this: the way still bends into the unknown. And yet we may knowingly, in a trusty wisdom, take that next step. If we have ears to hear what the spirit is saying–the alpha of beginnings is always now, the omega of our ends is always just before us. It has been imagined long before we were born. It lures us toward a future long past our deaths. Possibility dances like flame along the edges of our finitude. We make true what we can. We become something more than we had been. Yet our vulnerability is heightened by our spirited stretch beyond ourselves. We unfold into that which enfolds us. It–You, YWHW, Ha Shem, Sophia, library womb, even plain old God–escapes our knowing and our names. And yet it accepts all the names–volumes of them–we offer in love. The creative process in which we take part does not end, though each of us doubtless does. In another sense–the sense we call eschatological, and leave on the mystery–it seems that we may always be part of it.
    “Becoming what you never dared
    for the first time and forever.”

    This is the last paragraph of this most magnificent book. She is theologian, mystic, poet and my new hero. Catherine Keller makes it possible for me to celebrate the mystery, to grow old (older, really) with faith and delight. Of course, with Joy, also, since this wonderful quality finds expression in my only biological daughter who amazes me, challenges me, and makes life more exciting and mysterious. Thank you, Joy.

  2. Simply beautiful, that’s all I can say. I do not know why we could not see the wonder in things when we were young. Your mother always had wise things to say when I was younger and I see that has not changed since I have aged. No one else ages but me in my little world. You are following in her footsteps. I love everything you write!

  3. Recently, I blogged about doing tashlich at the end of dusk. What’s the difference between dusk and twilight?

    • Sarah, your blog post was stunningly beautiful to me, which I finally got around to acknowledging with a comment. As for the difference between dusk and twilight, someone called the “Word Detective” summarizes it this way: “So the bottom line is that ‘evening’ begins with ‘sunset.’ ‘Twilight’ comes after the sun actually sets, and progresses to ‘dusk’ just before things go completely dark.”

      http://www.word-detective.com/072999.html

      Who knew nature was so complicated? (:

  4. Joy, thank you again for another great essay. I can often get bogged down with trying to understand the that which cannot be understood, Mystery. I study and some things make sense to me and so become part of what I think I believe. But I realize no one “knows” anything with complete certainty and so we go by faith. I love the Elton John song “Believe”. Most of the time it expresses my simple theology.

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