Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Contemplative Vision of Light

Last week, I posted my grandmother's beautiful "prayer in color" and mentioned that it came to her during one of the darkest times in her life. I know this to be true because of the papers it was found with.

My Uncle Marvin was killed during World War II. He was in the navy, on a tanker in the Atlantic which was torpedoed in 1942. According to the best evidence recovered, he jumped off the ship after the explosion and drowned. In the family papers, you can see a spiritual and emotional progression - a worried letter asking him why he is not writing more often, a notification that his ship had been lost at sea, continued communication leaving the family hanging, desperate letters asking for information or belongings, the consoling letter of a survivor about what had happened, and finally an announcement one year later that Marvin had been declared dead.

My grandmother had some contemplative and mystical experiences during this time that are part of the fabric of my own spirituality. As I read through these bits of lingering grief, I can feel the agony a mother must have felt over her lost son. But I am struck by her faith. She writes of her spiritual exploration during this time of darkness.

She writes in her journal "This is the record of the peculiar and supernatural things, and impulses connected with our sorrow, and the disaster of the Fall of "42." She recalls a burning impulse to lay hands on his head and pray blessings on him the last time she saw him and her regret at not following the impulse. She relayed the experience of taking him to the bus station, and her husband saying "that may be the last time we'll ever see him," and her resistance to feeling that way. She talked of her husband's depressing resistance to going to Annual Conference in October of 1942, when Marvin had died but they didn't know it yet. She ended with the experience of peace and the sense that "God is so good" even while they awaited confirmation for many months. As she wrote these things in her journal, she still had hope that somehow he might be all right.

The one that caught my attention the most was a dream she had soon after they saw Marvin last. She saw a convoy wrecked and felt all the shock and horror that she felt when later she "received the fatal telegram Nov. 19." In the dream, she felt a peaceful calm, and saw a light or halo which settled, framing the face of one of her boys. She awoke and called her husband, feeling the dream was some sort of warning or message.

Granny was not the first person in history to have a mystical experience of light shining in the darkness. I have often wondered why this image has always been so powerful for me in my prayer time. I think now I've discovered why.