The hour was early; far before the rising of the sun. The whole house was drenched in a heavy slumbering silence. Only the methodical breath of my brother asleep on the other side of the room edged its way into the field of stillness in which I found myself. I laid awake, trying with all the strength of my eight-year-old mind not to feel fear at the persistent darkness, not yet relinquishing its grasp on the early morning hours.
In the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs which led up to our room—the “boy’s” room—I heard footsteps. This would have added to my fear if not for the fact that I knew who was quietly passing by below. I slipped out of bed and walked down the stairs. Sure enough, my mother was there, dressed and on the cusp of escaping out of our sliding glass door and into the humid Texas air.
My mother has always cherished early morning hours. It is her time to gather the world onto herself, fill the four corners of her spirit with the peace and joy of God. Throughout my life, whenever I have been home with my family, my morning liturgy has always included walking into the main living spaces of our home to find my mother with a cup of tea in one hand, a Bible in the other, a candle lit on a nearby table, and some sort of instrumental music playing in the background. Her rhythms of grace have always exuded a particular radiance in those hours near dawn, as if daring the sun, upon its arrival, to meet the vitality of her spirited love for her God and the life she has been given. Those moments of aloneness in the presence of silence are sacred for her and have been for as long as I can remember.
Perhaps they were even more so then, with four rambunctious children aged ten and under, ranging with limitless energy throughout her home from dawn until long after dusk. Perhaps the chance to pound pavement and feel the cool of morning air fill her lungs before the thickness of both the summer heat and joyful chaos of her family descended on her day was as sacred an act as sitting quietly reading Scripture. In any case, it came as no surprise to me to find my mother slipping out the door for a walk.
“Can I go with you?”
My own words sounded louder than I was expecting in the silence. My mother looked back from the door, regarding me for only a moment, and then gently shushed me with a finger to her mouth and pointed to my sneakers. I smiled excitedly. Two minutes later, I walked out behind her and into the early morning air.
We trudged along in silence at first. While I was simply enjoying the world around me in my introverted, quiet way, I’m certain my mother was reorienting her expectations for the moment. Little could I have known at the time what a gift she was giving me by allowing me to share in what she intentionally set apart as her own moment of solitude. I held her hand and strained to feel the stagnant air broken by the wayward drift of a cool breeze. The dirt of the hilly road under our feet scrunched in a lopsided rhythm, my legs taking nearly two strides to each of my mother’s one. In the distance, between the thick oaks that gathered on either side of the road, I could see a sliver of where the land ended and skyline began. The horizon was pregnant with the impending dawn, a warm arc of crimson and amber bubbling up into the dark expanse above. I followed the gradient colors into the fading sky, where, directly in our line of sight, a single star still stubbornly held on to its spot in the heavens, refusing to surrender to the impending light. My child imagination was caught in a dazzled wonder, and without knowing it, my finger sought out the lonely star. “Look!”
My mother, cast in the throes of her own inner world, regarded me, and then the awaiting sight. She smiled and stopped for a moment. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Do you know what star that is?”
I shook my head, curiosity rising up within, knowing from my mother’s words that this star was a known star, a star which meant something.
She looked back to the sky thoughtfully. “That’s the morning star. You wouldn’t know it from looking at it, but it’s actually a planet, Venus. It’s so bright because it’s reflecting the light of the sun, and it will stay like that until right before the sun comes up.”
We began walking again. The dawn was growing, on the edge of bursting out over the landscape like gold plating, and yet that stubborn orb above was holding on, burning its brightness with all its might, refusing to relinquish its place in the sky. I heard my mother’s voice again.
“Did you know that Jesus is the morning star too? It says in the Bible that He’ll rise in our hearts when the morning comes.” I looked up at her, and she returned my gaze with a smile, as she squeezed my hand. “Don’t ever forget that. When Jesus comes into your heart, you can always know that He brings the light of goodness and beauty with Him.”
We continued to trudge down the road in silence. No more than a few seconds later, as if on cue from a conductor, a sudden symphony of color exploded over the Texas landscape. Burnished bronze reflected off rippling leaves, and an abrupt rush of wind caused the thick grass on either side to shudder in a golden shimmer of shocked brilliance. Everything in sight, from pond water to the pebbles on the road, glowed, as if filled and animated with the potency of life.
I looked up; the morning star had disappeared, allowing itself to be fused into the light of the real and present dawn all around us. Morning had come.
By inviting me to participate in her engagement with the beauty of creation, and by connecting that encounter with the person who is the source of that beauty—Christ—my mother planted a sacramental bond in my heart, a touchpoint with the presence of the divine. It was not that we created it through our actions; surely the hidden presence of Jesus was already at work in countless sunrises stretching back to the dawn of time. She simply opened my eyes to recognize it in my space and time and respond to it in worship.