In a Dark Time, by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — it is a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondence!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man does far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing in unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddening summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

There is comfort in familiarity, the adage goes, and in the last several months, as the world has turned “upside down” (my daughter says, quoting Hamilton), I have been reaching for familiar things: hand-knit socks in the back of a drawer; a dog-eared book of poetry; my grandmother’s stained lasagna recipe.

Last month, I reached for a James Avery Alpha and Omega pendant my Mom gave me years ago. I am wearing it now as I write this. It feels cool on my chest and the letters familiar in my fingers. It reminds me of looking up at my Mom’s face as a child during church, playing with her jewelry while I laid in her lap.

The idea of God as the Alpha and the Omega first appears in Revelation. 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 1:8

Like many Episcoplians, I am more likely to find comfort in the Book of Psalms (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 23:1; Be still and know that I am God! 46:10) than in Revelation (He has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants 19:2-3). The first two are among the verses I know best, that I learned as a child and repeat now–often in song–with my own children. It can be easier to conceive of God as the rainbow than the storm that preceded it. And yet it is in Revelation, among the horsemen and the plagues, where we find the promise of God’s infiniteness. It is here where we can lay in Her lap and feel how small we are.

On the coast of Maine, about halfway between Portland and Acadia, there is a quiet harbor lined with stretches of glacier-carved rocks. They are broad and smooth, punctuated by tidepools and rocky beaches. I spent summers there as a child. Our family of six would drive four hours from Massachusetts, and later ten hours from Maryland, to visit my paternal grandparents, whose white clapboard house was perched on a pine-covered hillside overlooking the water. From their cedar deck, if you squinted both eyes and let your imagination do the rest, you could make out their boat in the harbor below. Arete was 28 feet long and 40 years old; ageless, if you asked Grampy, and “time for a new boat,” if you asked Grammy. 

I agreed with Grammy. When Arete carried our family into open water, I could feel every grain of her wood frame. It groaned under my bare feet as the water undulated underneath, barely separating me from the dark green water where I watched schools of stinging jellyfish and imagined swarms of sharks. She surrendered to every wave and took us with her, tossing us from port side to starboard and back again.

I remember clutching my brother, his canvas jacket wet under my cheek, and counting the hours until we were back on land. Back on those gentle granite giants, where my body was my own. It was there that I loved the ocean, “the drift and the dream of it, the weave and wave of it, the fume and foam of it.” (Mahy). But I no sooner wanted to be on the ocean in a boat than I wanted to be stranded at the top of a ferris wheel. 

Then, like now, it was not an anchor I hoped for, nor would a rock be my salvation. It was not Jesus I sought, who joins us in our human finiteness. It was God in Her infiniteness; where Her peace surpasses all understanding. I yearned to be in a place where I could experience the tangible and appreciate the intangible; the blistered seaweed that popped between my fingers and the promises held in the horizon.

When I surrender myself to this idea of God, the Alpha and the Omega, as when I sit on those glacier-carved rocks where I return now with my own children, some of the weight of this upside-down world leaves my shoulders (which, in their humanity, are determined to carry more than their share). The fear, the anger, the loneliness: they find shelter in God’s expansiveness. The edge is what I have and here, in Her lap, that is enough for me.

Written by Eliza Nuxoll.
Inspired by the writings of Dr. Michael Battle on Revelation, I [Eliza] will be taking his Advent seminar, “The Book of Revelation: The End of the World or Heaven on Earth?” It can be found here:
Photo credit: Nathanael Sprague (Eliza’s brother)