The Light in the Coop

Tara and I cleaned out the chicken coop this week – and by “cleaned out,” I mean deep-cleaned, the kind of cleaning you do once a year with brushes that scour and lots of bleach.  In this case, we didn’t use bleach because a batch of fifteen new baby chicks is on its way and set to arrive early next week. (We didn’t want to take any chances with the sensitive newborns so we just stuck to good old dish soap).

But we did scrub. We used “elbow grease” as my grandmother would say, attacking that chicken coop with brooms and scrub-brushes and dust masks made out of old white t-shirts tied beneath the eyes. With that kind of get-up, we looked like bandits from some B-rated Western – bandits that had gotten caught in a dust storm… just miles south of an industrial chicken farm.

Ridiculous attire aside, I liked the work: the repetition and the rhythm of it, the pace and the fact that it was purposeful. I liked the fact that my mind could relax – that I didn’t need to think. All I had to do was sweep the next board clean.

And then Tara called out to me, motioning for me to come over to the corner by the window.

Despite the fact that it was morning – and a sunny morning, at that – it was dark inside the coop, but as I turned my gaze in the direction of her pointed finger I saw it: the light, streaming into the coop in shimmering panels, parallel lines that were tenuous yet thick. The dust she’d kicked up with the broom had created a cloud in which the light could shine – be seen, as if it were tangible, as if it had form, as if you could have reached out and held it in your hand.

It was light incarnate in dust.

I don’t know how long we stood there, brooms at our sides, staring at the slanting panels. There was something sacred and lovely – something best left unspoken – about these beams suspended in the midst of filth. The light was unexpected and beautiful: a gift. And when the thick panels thinned to flickering ribbons, we went back to our corners, quiet and filled.

I returned to the window later that morning with camera in-hand, eager to capture the light. I brushed at the boards, hoping to conjure up a dust storm sufficient to recreate it but the dust was gone …  and so, too, the light. With no cloud to incarnate it – no filth to filter through –  there was no light.

As I’ve thought about that moment of disappointment and the particles in the dust, I’ve been reminded of the phrase, “felix culpa” – “happy fault – or “fortunate Fall,” as singer-songwriter, Audrey Assad, renders it. It comes from a longer Latin phrase in the Easter Vigil: “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” Now I won’t pretend to understand the theology behind this phrase, but there in the coop, I think I tasted the paradox: in the same way that dust created the context for those panels of light, our sin created the context for redemption through Christ.

Thanks be to God for Christ, the Light, incarnate in dust and for the “happy fault” that paved the way for our salvation.

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