I stand at the top of the steps – a hundred steps, perhaps – and look out upon the morning. The sun has not yet come up, but the sky has begun to turn a lighter gray and the silhouettes of buildings and trees have sharpened, just a bit. It is quiet here, and still. No one else is stirring.
I turn and look at the large oak doors, heavy and metal-bound, that guard the entrance to the building that stands, imposing, at the top of oh, so many stairs. No one comes here, no one enters, by accident.
Yet, here I am. I don’t remember the climb, but somehow I know that I have been climbing for years, and now my hand is upon the door. I lean into it and find that it moves quietly, slowly, smoothly upon its hinges, opening just enough for me to slip through. So, I do, but I keep my hand upon the edge of the door, just to keep my bearings.
Inside is dark. The air is thick. There is a presence here that catches my breath and rides it to my very center. I lean back upon the great door and it closes with a small, audible click. My heart is beating hard, but I know that I must be here, that I was called here from across years of days and miles of footsteps.
It is strange to be so certain, and yet so unaware of why I am here, or even where I am. I wait, leaning back upon the door, catching my breath, slowing my heart, holding on to that sense of assurance with both hands. At last I dare to announce to myself, to the darkness, ‘I am here. I am ready.’ My voice trembles at the second sentence.
Suddenly a wind hits me with great force. It pulls me out into the darkness a few steps as I stumble to keep my balance. I grip my heart and say again, into the darkness, ‘I am here. I am ready.’ I find that I have clenched my fists and screwed up my eyes in an effort to mean what I say. As my words fade into the open space, I carefully relax my grip and open my eyes to find the room is lit with a million candles, warm and glowing. There are tables set around a great hall, filled with the people of all nations, feasting on each other’s presence, as much as the meal that is spread before them.
I feel immediately foolish, to announce my coming to this throng, to proclaim that I am ready, seems both presumptuous and silly. Ready to join the feast? Hardly a great thing. And yet someone at the nearest table sees me there and smiles and pulls out an empty chair. I slip in beside them and begin to fill my plate with food that is, I know, full of just the sustenance that I need. This is not empty food; it is food as it should be.
To my left sits a dryad and across the table is a kindly badger. I have been invited to a Narnian table of grace. They look at me with kindly nods. They understand. My eyes speak my question to the dwarf who pulled out the chair to invite me here.
“All are welcome here,” he says. “For some the journey to this room, to this table, is long. Some endure much pain and suffering along the way. For some, it takes hundreds of steps; thousands of days. But each, as they arrive, know that the path was exactly what it took to bring them here. Otherwise, they would not be themselves. And that gift – the gift of themselves – is precious. It is precious to them; it is precious to us; it is precious to the Holy One. And this feast is the celebration of that truth. This is the kingdom of God – the gathering of all true selves in grateful communion.”
I take the first delicious bite and know that what he says is true. I am grateful. I am glad to find myself in this place; glad to be invited to this table. I am, I must admit, grateful to be myself. That realization spreads over me like a warm blanket because I know that those around the table are grateful, too – to be themselves, to be with each other, to be welcomed by the Holy One to this great feast.
Thank you, O Holy One. I raise my glass: a toast to you, this morning; a toast to you, this life!
[Happy All Saints Day.]
[photo by Christopher Rose per cc 2.0]