School is done and so is our post-planning workweek. I don’t think I genuinely believed the last day of school had happened until about three or four days after it had. I am mind-weary. Teaching fills you up to overflowing, but it also makes you forget almost everything you ever learned. (This is ironic, but, happily, so are most things.)
The other day, going through papers at home, I came across something I wrote when I was seventeen. In it I had quoted a line from T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: “Darkness declares the glory of light.”
I used to love that line when I was a teenager. I would quote it aloud and in my writing. I may even have transcribed it onto various whiteboards around school, because that’s the sort of kid I was: obsessed with words and more starry-eyed than was necessary. Reading it again startled me. Though I used to be so fixated on those words, somehow I hadn’t thought of them for years, and I was arrested by their truth. How had I forgotten? What superfluous worries had edged them out of my consciousness for so many years?
A couple nights later I took a short walk by myself. It was not really dark yet, only fading into gray, but there were fireflies coming out anyway. I thought of the line again: Darkness declares the glory of light. All sin and evil is just good that has been twisted and marred. Nothing bad is original material. So the existence of any wrong means that there once existed, and if you believe the promises of the God I serve, still exists, an opposite and more powerful right. So all darkness, in this or any world, inevitably, though unwillingly, testifies to the existence and the power of righteousness. We identify a shadow only by perceiving the light around its edges. That’s what Eliot meant.
As I continued to walk, alone in the June evening, a small voice asked politely if I still believed it to be true. The darkness you understood when you were in high school was tiny compared to the darkness you know of now, it said. Has the light really grown in proportion?
Hesitantly, I tested it. I summoned the creeping, long-fingered spectre of my anxious fear, which did not exist at all when I was a seventeen, or certainly not with the size and power it does now, and asked what particular light it declared. What was the opposite of fear? I resisted the immediate urge to shout “Boldness!” which can sometimes be foolishness, or even “Courage!” for which fear is actually a prerequisite. I wanted more than that. I stared into the deep trees leading down to the arboretum, lit by the shy lightning bugs, and realized: peace. The existence of fear declares the glory of peace.
Peace never seemed to me to be a very important virtue. It is, as some of my students would say, vague, and usually brings up visions of Miss America contestants expressing their hopes for the world at large, or automatic signatures on emails from hipster Christian college students. But maybe it is hard to express, because, like humility, it cannot be showy. You can impress others with your love and joy and kindness and courage and perseverance and patience, but peace is simply not an outward action. In fact, I think peace may be invisible. The only two people who will ever really truly know if you are at peace are you and the God who made you.
Peace is the state of being right with God. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus. To be at peace is to be able to unreservedly worship, to enter the state for which we were made.
So though teaching makes me forget and heavy shadows loom larger with each passing year, I am learning and learning still. I am learning that peace is the virtue for which I have long been thirsty without knowing it, and I am learning, like Lucy Pevensie does, that Aslan grows larger with each passing second. Not only has the light I can see grown in proportion to the darkness around me, but it will eventually obliterate that darkness and surpass it, far into eternity.
All things exist only in Thy light, and Thy glory is declared even in that which denies Thee; the darkness declares the glory of light.