Once upon a time there was darkness. And somewhere, hidden in the darkness, was a voice. And the voice whispered, “Light.” And there was light. And in the light, there was Jimmy.
Jimmy was the youngest of nine children. Playing the second youngest of twelve was not a challenge. He was basically reenacting his typical day – full of God and music and brothers. He just had to add some dancing. And a coat. A colorful one.
As Jimmy sang and danced his way through a world flooded in light, there was a girl watching from the darkness. And although the girl dreamed of one day being in the light, being a part of the creation of worlds day after day and night after night, the darkness did not scare her. It was familiar. She had spent quite a bit of time in the darkness. Sought it out, in fact. In the darkness of night, galaxies opened to her. In the darkness of theaters, worlds upon worlds were gifted to her. In the darkness of her closet, God met her.
She was in middle school – not yet a teenager but no longer a kid. The word “tween” hadn’t been invented yet, but if it had she probably would have rejected the designation. Categorization of people was not her thing. They were too complex for that. As soon as you started labeling and organizing and segregating them, the wondrous aura of mystery that surrounded them and gave them their personhood was dulled. The thing that made them more than things. That made them shine.
Middle school is a time of transition. It is no longer elementary school, but not yet high school. Charts with gold stars are replaced with assignment books. Gently spoken Don’t forgets are replaced with accusatory Why didn’t yous. Playmates you like make way for crushes you like-like. Even the body that has successfully gotten you through a dozen years of walking from A to B and communicating with the world at large is starting to betray you. You’re ganglier, clutzier, squeakier, fuzzier, and bumpier.
The girl felt all these things. And right in the midst of this confusion of not knowing who she is, who she is becoming, or who she wants to be, the adults in her life presented her with a selection of doors leading to a variety of eternities and said, “Choose.”
On Sunday mornings, the girl went with her family to services. On some Sundays, they went to a large building surrounded by grass and trees and with an interior what was simple but shone with glorious sunlight that entered through the large windows and bounced off the brilliant white walls. On other Sundays, they went to a small, stone building in the center of their one-horse town with a small cemetery just outside and the large stained-glass windows muting the sunlight so the candlelight could dance across the polished, wooden pews and deep, maroon carpeting inside. At the one building there was kite flying and bunnies and acoustic guitars. At the other there was grape juice and bread and organ music. Inside both buildings they talked about The Book. But inside the first building they talked about other things, too. They talked about poems and rebirth and the earth and inclusiveness. Not in the way the second one did – as psalms and resurrection and a footstool and peoples of many nations – but as distinct sources of knowledge.
Because the second building was close to her school and easy for kids from her school to get to, she spent most of her Sunday nights at the stone building playing games and eating marshmallows and pizza with kids from her class. Some of them were her age. Some of them were older. Some she liked. Some she like-liked. She chose the second building. The second community. The community of her mother’s choosing. She turned her back on the building of her father.
The girl liked books. Books of poetry, books of fiction, books of facts, books of pictures, books of words, books for children, books for adults – she loved them all. But The Book? The Book stood out. It captured her imagination. There were other books about families, disasters, betrayals, romances, friendships, spies, miracles, and dragons. But most of these books were about only families or spies or dragons. The Book? The Book had all the stories. Its author didn’t seem to think it odd to place the telling of a nation’s history next to a collection of poems. Or a letter to a town next to a story about angels and multi-headed beasts. Or four stories about one man all together but all different. Or a story about the creation of all things inside the story of the creation of all things. It was an odd book, indeed, but she loved it. The more she read The Book the more she felt The Book had to tell her. It was as if it created and recreated itself as she read.
She did not talk about The Book with anyone. Not her mother. Not her father. Not her friends. Yes, they all knew that she read The Book in her weekday class at the second building; the class that would allow her to fully become a part of the community there. In the class, the girl and the other students read The Book part-by-part then answered questions about it in the big, brown binder the leader of the second building had given them. Just like doing science homework, or a book report.
If there was a lot of reading to do before one of these classes (some of the stories in The Book were long and detailed), the girl would read The Book while curled up on the sofa in the living room or splayed out on her bedroom floor next to her stereo. The same places where she read the other books in her life – the ones from the library in town or the library at school or the big pile of paperbacks in the corner of her parents’ bedroom where her father’s nightstand and dresser created a nook the girl could crawl into to explore the piles upon piles of books her parents stacked there.
But sometimes… sometimes the girl felt The Book beckoning to her. Whispering.
- After a rain storm, a dove would begin to coo outside her window. Did the cooing of a dove comfort Noah every time he heard it after the flood?
- Up many and many a marvelous shrine/ Whose wreathed friezes intertwine/ The viol, the violet, and the vine wrote Edgar Allen Poe in his poem The City In The Sea. Does this gravestone’s frieze purposefully invoke a trinity?
- The girl’s history teacher said that Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were falsely accused of being witches. We know the accusations were false because witches aren’t real. But witches and sorcerers and necromancers are mentioned in The Book. Why?
- Was the place high on a desert plane/ where the streets have no name the city that was as wide and high as it was long and made of gold “as pure as glass”?
- The girl saw a model of a DNA molecule. Learned about coding and RNA and mutations and cell replication. So much complexity. So much intricacy and delicacy. How could that come from a bang? Or a breath?
At these times, the girl needed to read The Book. To find what new mystery The Book was ready to reveal to her. What new question it would challenge her with. What new character she would meet that would shout from the pages, “Me, too!” But there was the problem of The Choice.
When the girl chose, she hadn’t simply chosen between two buildings. She had also chosen her mother’s beliefs over her father’s. Her mother over her father. Yes, her father’s building read The Book; talked about it. So did her father. But it was different. Not the same. To him, it was a book. Not The Book. It would have been at home in the nook in the corner of their bedroom. One among many, to choose or pass over for another equally fine.
So the girl went to the one place where she knew galaxies revealed themselves and worlds upon worlds had gifted themselves to her. She went into the darkness.
She was not the first to discover God in a closet. Others had entered that world before her. That world where lions are not tame but are good. The girl did not meet the Lion-God while curled up in a blanket on the floor of her closet, The Book spread on her lap, flashlight in hand (she met him on the living room sofa in the brightness of a summer afternoon). She did meet the Breath-God, the Fire-God, the Word-God, the Man-God there. In the dark. She read in the dark and met shepherd kings and prostitute saviors, dancing bones and prophesying donkeys, fires that burn but don’t consume and angels that hold the winds of the earth in their hands.
She read in the dark because she loved deeply in the light.
Not the love the girl felt watching Jimmy sing and dance across the stage, giving a story from The Book flesh, movement, and song. That love was exciting and burned bright, but that was a passing, immature love. The love that forced her into the darkness was a deep-rooted love. One she felt with every glance, every hug, every grand gesture, every quiet grace. It was a father’s love for his child. Like in The Book. But with flesh on. And the house lights up.
Out of curiosity, I looked online to try and figure out when I saw this performance of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Jimmy Osmond (I have long misplaced the picture of Jimmy I had cut out of the newspaper and carried in my wallet for years after that performance) and not only was I able to find the date of the performance but I was able to find a review for the specific performance I attended! My inner teenager’s heart went pitter-pat! Here’s the review.
*This post was inspired by questions from the Reading Guide for the book Inspired: Slaying Dragons, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans