So often, we walk through life vainly thinking we understand what is going on around us, and what our lives are about. And then, the One Who truly has understanding and Who directs the affairs of our lives shows up and gives us a true glimpse of reality. He pulls back the veil a little, and reveals to us the power and majesty of His Authority over all, and the terrible beauty of His Presence. In such times it becomes painfully clear how small, how weak, how broken we are— and in the same moment, how powerfully tender is His great Love for us.
In a recent series of such moments, God again poured His humbling Grace upon me. Sometime ago I had taken a photograph of the ceiling in the sanctuary of Mission San Jose. These San Antonio Missions are frequently used by Him to remind me of His temporal omnipresence— how He stands entirely outside of time and yet communes with us who are fully immersed in the river of time and are hopelessly caught in its raging current.
As I photographed the ceiling I was deeply impressed by the simple and elegant beauty, comprised of sweeping arcs and endless circles that kept my gaze in motion across the ceiling's white plaster field. The interior of the chamber was lit only by the diffuse natural light of an overcast sky. The light entered the space by way of several clerestory windows in the dome over the space and along the sides. The light did not pour into the room as direct, brilliant beams of sunlight would, but, rather, it seemed to seep in— slowly filling the volume from top to bottom.
Outside, the day was heavily overcast and somewhat dim, and the interior of the sanctuary was even dimmer. But as my eyes adapted to this fairly low level of illumination, the view through the upper windows of the cloudy sky became almost radiant. These rectangular apertures of light became almost too bright to view. I was struck by how this "LIGHT FROM ABOVE" was so powerfully, and yet so peacefully, illuminating the sacred space around me. As my eyes continued to be swept along the curves and arcs, I set up my equipment with the hope of capturing a fragment of their lyrical beauty. As I moved my location from place to place— a few feet this way, an inch or two that way— and changed the axis of the camera's view, I found there was only a single composition of the elements that seemed "right." I took the series of frames to complete the panoramic sequence, and that was that.
Days later I melded the separate shots into a single flowing image of the ceiling and its windows. I was rather surprised to see this complete wide angle view and be reminded again of the experience of my eyes playing along the curving features of the ceiling. And the soft glare of the light in the windows was reminiscent of the unusual atmospheric conditions of the sky that day. It was a pleasing picture to me and I was glad I had taken it. The outcome of a panoramic photograph is always up in the air until you see the final result, as there is no way to adequately view the composition in real time, on location.
|LIGHT FROM ABOVE, ceiling of Mission San Jose, © Bill Brockmeier, all rights reserved|
available in a strictly limited edition of 20– reserve your copy before it is sold out.
I would eventually mount and frame the canvas, and even entered it in a regional art exhibition, where it won a minor award. After the show, I brought it home, where it found a place on one of our walls, off and on for the next few months. When it was up, I passed it often, but rarely really looked closely at it. On occasion I stopped in front of it, leisurely looked it over, admiring again the sweeping curves of the ceiling and the white light seeping through the windows. My admiration was more of the actual architecture than the photograph. But I was thankful for the opportunity to record it, and "my" composition of it still seemed "right."
One morning as I got up and prepared to commute to my engineering job, I paused before the photograph of the ceiling. I had turned on the overhead lighting that spotlights the art on the wall, and the photograph was brilliantly lit in the mostly darkened room. As I viewed the photo I traced again the curving arcs and almost blinked at the glaring white light from the windows. As I meditated on the scene before me something else began to take shape inside me. I suddenly realized that there was much more to this image than what I had intended or even imagined. God began to reveal to my spirit that this image was, in fact, much more about Him than about the simple and elegant beauty of the San Jose architecture.
This new understanding began with the realization that there were exactly three great "lights" in the photograph. I was amazed that I had not previously connected these with the triune nature of God, Who, according to John "...is LIGHT." The window, the aperture of light in the middle of the composition is the Father. Although most important because of its centrality to the composition, it does not appear as large as the others and seems to transmit less light. But this is simply a matter of appearance due to the observer's point of perspective, as the window is actually the same size as the one next to it, and has the same clear view of the sky above. In a similar way, at this point in the flow of time/history, the Father seems less conspicuous and accessible to us than the other two Persons, Who both seem closer to us in time. But "...Father of heavenly lights" He is. (James 1.17)
The Light to the right is the Son. This window pours forth light abundantly, and reminds me that He literally and physically walked among us, pouring forth the revelation of Who the Father is. This light/window is equal in size and shape to the central one. John remarked that "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world," and "the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it." At the last supper Jesus patiently explained to Philip— "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."
This Light is also located up high, with the dome, as is the central Light, which speaks of the fact that the Father raised Him to the highest place. As Paul declared to the Ephesian church— "...His incomparably great power for us who believe...is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come." (Ephesians 1.19-21)
The Light to the left is the Spirit. As the Son prepared to die and ultimately ascend to the Father, He promised us that the Father would send us "another" Light like the Son. John remembers the Son's words at the last supper— "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth...He lives with you and will be in you." (John 17.16-18) And— "Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." Luke records the Son's last instructions to His followers as He ascended the final time to His heavenly home— "...wait for the Gift my Father promised...you will be immersed in the Holy Spirit."
This Light to the left, while looking much like the Light to the right ("...another Counselor"), appears to be far larger, and far brighter than the others. This apparent dominance in our view is due, however, to its much nearer proximity, as it is nearly on the same plane as the observer, and not lifted up into the lofty reaches of the dome. This Light, sent by the Son and the Father, "...lives with you, and will be in you." Such an intimacy as this should make this Light appear all the larger and brighter. And the very revelatory nature of this One is defined by light/illumination. This is the Light which we can reach out and touch, and Who, likewise, reaches out to touch us and immerse us in the love of the Father and the Son.
These three Lights of God, seemingly separate and distinct in the photograph, are, of course, all the same light, the same substance, beyond the ceiling. Beyond the those window frames and in the lofty heights of the sky, all the light seems to blend into one. We have no way to separate the light that will go through the right hand window from that destined for the central window, or that which will flow through the one on the left. Some things can only ever be known by God Himself. We can only marvel at His Majesty and humbly bow before His awesome beauty.
This indwelling nature of the Spirit of Light brings me finally to the last light. After meditating over a period of a few days on the three great Lights, I noticed (by the Spirit's prompting) that there was yet one more, nearly unseen, light in the image. In the lower right corner of the photograph a hanging chandelier can barely be seen— it is almost entirely missed by the composition. It has no place of prominence and does not even appear to be lit. It is nothing like the beauty and glory of the natural light streaming through the windows. It is a contrivance of man, crudely formed from iron and glass. There is no wonder or majesty to be seen in it.
I remember that as I was composing the photograph, I even tried my best to avoid placing it in the image at all, as it did not seem to belong in such a company of great Lights. But I simply could not find a location or an angle which would allow me to form the "necessary" composition while avoiding the chandelier. The best I could do was to relegate it to a low corner, hoping to hide it there. Even now, viewing this final framed canvas, the one regret I have— the single flaw in the image— is that damned chandelier. What a wart on an otherwise beautiful face!
But the Spirit graciously opened my mind and caused me to see that this clumsy and apparently useless structure was actually the central focus of the other three great Lights. This chandelier was, in fact, the Church, the Redeemed Ones, those rescued from depravity, certain destruction, and a desperately low estate. This Church is described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians in an extremely remarkable— no, shocking— way. He wrote: "And God placed all things under His (the Son's) feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills everything in every way." the Church, this structure so seemingly a rough construct and contrivance of man, is, in truth, the very Body of the Son— the very physical manifestation of the the Second Light on this earth.
While the three Great Lights are from above— ineffable, untouchable, ungraspable— and are absolutely unaffected by the force of gravity, this last light is a physical creation— born of the dust of the earth— and is pulled downward by the inescapable law of gravity. If not for the chain pulling it upward, it would crash to the floor; the glass shattering on the clay tiles below. But the chain does pull it towards the heavens— and there it hangs— suspended halfway between heaven and earth, for all to gawk at. And looking up along the tensioned chain, it can be seen to be in perfect alignment with the edge of the Second Light.
This chandelier cannot simply produce light of its own, as do the other three Great Lights. It must be powered from above, drawing its only source of light through the chain which connects it to the heavenly realms. As the bonds of matrimony bind a husband and wife together, so this chain binds this Body to the Son as His Bride. Matthew records Jesus' view of this bond: "...for this reason a man will...be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
At some future date, God will draw the chain upward, drawing His Bride to Himself, to the celebration of the "great marriage supper of the Lamb" and to the intimacy of the Bridal chamber He has been preparing since His departure. And John tells us that when the marriage has been fully consummated, He will again lower the chain, with "...the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." John further describes this Bride, this New Jerusalem, saying— "It shone with the glory of God..." and again, he says "The City does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it Light, and the Lamb is its lamp...for there will be no night there."
What I have written here is a tiny fragment of all that God flooded my awareness with as He caused me to reflect on this image of the San Jose ceiling. The wonder of what He has done, let alone Who He is, can never be successfully captured in words. Even His written Holy Word, though sufficient for all we need to know in this life, is still merely prologue to the Truth of His existence. As he closed his writings on the earthly life of the Son, John expressed that "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."
I encourage you to remember that our visible lives are so superficial compared to the depth of what is really transpiring within them. God is constantly at work, revealing Himself to each one of us, in amazing ways. Sometimes the revelation comes immediately, powerfully, and palpably. Many other times the revelation of His Grace and Majesty come, as it did to Ezekiel, in a whisper. Listen for that quiet whisper...look for that tiny glimmer of His glory. Wait for Him...for He surely waits for you.
by Bill Brockmeier
The stone vault arches overhead,
curving, stretching, upward,
to capture a volume of space,
laying claim to a piece of Heaven.
Space enclosed but not yet Sacred,
merely empty— cold, silent, dark,
its stones weighed down to earth below,
rock pulled to rock, gravity relentless.
And then it comes:
the Sun's limb contends with
and wins gloriously!
Overpowering the windows' feeble attempts
to keep external from internal,
brilliant rays break through apertures,
shattering space, shredding volume,
invading the chamber.
Light paints Space with Sacred,
outrageously destroying all efforts
of propriety, and piety,
filling Space with Heaven itself,
God With Us,