This is a semi-fictional account of two events: a spiritual quest I went on in Schuylkill County yesterday, and a session with my spiritual director this morning. There’s no need to try to discern how much of it is “true.” In a way, it all is.
I walk the streets of this town, looking for signs of life. There is a main street, with shops that advertise haircuts and guns, comic books and groceries. All are shuttered. The windows aren’t broken; there is no graffiti to speak of. I see no sign of crime or vandalism. But the stores are closed. It isn’t fear that’s closed these shops. It’s loss, the lack of money. The lack of people. The lack of life. The stores are there, but the people aren’t. I continue to walk, through streets of standalone houses and rowhomes. They are dirty. Dingy. Old. Every house has a porch, and here and there someone is sitting on one. But mostly the porches are covered with rubbish. A broken chair. A rolled up carpet. A few bags of trash. I walk past postage stamp yards, and they are unkempt. Broken cinder blocks and cement fragments. A tire swing that’s torn and worn. This town is depressing and depressed. Coal dust and despair stick to everything. A high-rise rises high above the other buildings, a place for the old and dying to look out over their old and dying town.
And there, in the middle of town, is the church. The old brick structure that I know is holy. I walk to the door. Locked. I peek in. The lights are out. Nobody is there. Pews sit empty. I sit on the sidewalk in front of the church, and I look around the town again, mentally exploring once more all the gritty nooks and crannies. I judge the people here and find them lacking. I say to myself, “these are not my people,” but a voice inside me says, “But you are theirs.”
I put my head in my hands as I realize that this is a dream, and that in this dream, the town is me. This town is the core of my being. I belong here. This is who I am. I am depressed and I am depressing. I am dirty, unwashed, empty, frightened of myself. Frightened and self-absorbed, broken and cracked, dry and unworthy of love. This is me, the me I try to ignore, the me I try to tell myself I’ve grown out of, the me I try to forget. But it all becomes clear in this moment. This is who I am.
I hear the sound of water off to my right and behind me. It must be the creek that flows past town. They call it Darkwater. Probably because of the dirt and dust it picks up as it meanders past. I turn to look at it, and I am shocked. I rise up from the sidewalk, rise up above the streets, and I can see the river, for it is indeed not a meandering creek, but a rushing river. It is strong and mighty. It is clear and pure, and waves crest as it roars past. It is indeed dark, not because of dirt, but because of its depth. It is deeper than the world. Its bank is right at the edge of town. As the water splashes, it cleanses whatever it touches. All the dirt, all the dust is immediately washed away, leaving clean sidewalks and green grass. This water is clean, pure, vital. I feel a tug, and I realize that I have been keeping it back. I have been holding the Darkwater at the edge of town. I have been preventing it from coming in, for fear that it would wash me away. I loosen my grasp just a bit, and I watch as water flows into a few of the streets, cleansing them with hope and life. Nothing is washed away but the dirt. Life is returning. Life is growing. I notice that my hands are clenched, and I gently let them fall open. The water flows. Flows. Flows. Filling and renewing. Splashing and dripping. Pouring and laughing. The streets are clean. The porches are alive. At the high-rise, people lean out of their windows and cheer.
I turn to the church. The door is still locked, but there is a light inside. I peek in, and there are people there. I reach into my pocket, because I know that there is now a key there. It fits the lock, and I walk in. The church is filled with people, dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe more. The pews in which they stand face away from me, but the people have turned, smiling, to look at me as I walk in. They are all dressed in white, and I look down and see that I am as well. I look up and continue to walk in, and find that they are not in pews, but are standing in concentric circles, with an aisle of sorts splitting the circles in half. There is a place for me in the innermost circle, and I take it. I turn to the person next to me and say something. Perhaps it is, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing.” Or perhaps it’s, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.” He smiles tenderly and says, “It’s okay. Just be here.” He takes my hand in both of his. These are my friends, my peers, my family. To them, I am not a child in need of wisdom. I am not an elder providing wisdom. I am not broken or cracked. And I am worthy of love. Simply because I am here. These are my people, and I am theirs. We all look up, toward the center of the ceiling of the church, and we smile in bliss. Before long, I find myself exiting the building again. The people wave to me as I go.
I am floating over the town now, and I see that it is dirty again. It is messy and awkward and hurting again. I look back at the church now, and see that it is glowing. A golden light shines from within. The bricks are an amber brown now, pulsing subtly with life. And from the roof a light issues forth, heading straight to the heavens. It is a beacon. A beacon of hope and light.
The river is gone. It has done its work. Its rushing waves have filled the town and activated the light at its center. The town is still me. And I am still broken and cracked, depressed and depressing. That is real, and it is a part of who I am. But it is not all I am. I bear inside me now a thing that shines. A beacon that glows with light and life. The Darkwater has created the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There is a Lighthouse in the heart of my soul. I am baptized.