“On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.” Ezekiel 17:23
The prophet ends this chapter, a chapter which issued a warning to a wayward people, with a perplexing promise – and at the end of that a promise a very unusual, and even surprising picture. Ezekiel says that, “…in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.” Why are they going to live in the “shadow of its branches”? Why won’t they rest on the branches themselves? Wouldn’t living amidst those branches, and under their protection, provide a safe and secure place in which to dwell? Sure, perhaps too much safety and security. We must not enjoy the blessings and benefits, the pleasures and pursuits of life, to the point that we forget, or overlook, the memory of the shadow.
How many times have we been told to “be thankful for all that you have”? What does that mean? Simply that it is impossible to be thankful for the light without thinking about the shadows. You see, to ponder our privileges, to be thankful for what we have, forces us to consider the possibility of not having them. Sadly, not every prosperous person appreciates his prosperity. Therefore, to appreciate it, he must see the shadow of his poverty.
There is an old Scottish colloquialism that goes something like this, “You don’t even know you are born.” It was a statement often made by the poor, the struggling, the down-and-out to those who were supposedly none of these things. Well, if there is anybody who doesn’t know that they are born, I believe that they are “of all men most miserable.” They are like guests at a gourmet chef’s free, five-star reception without the ability to taste. They are like those standing before a beautiful sunrise over the Smoky Mountains or the beach without the ability to see. You see, in order to truly appreciate the light, you must have a sense of the shadow.
Being the parents of four children under the age of eight, my wife and I often take things for granted that others have not. I was asked recently about my children, “What would you do without them?” I had never thought about that. I didn’t want to. It was an invitation to imagine a shadow. But it was in that moment that I realized, perhaps for the first and fullest time, the pricelessness of my possessions. There was glory in an imaginary gloom. I realized my riches by make-believing I had gone bankrupt. It truly was a blessing – this sunshine filled day delivered by a sudden shadow.
Never forget the power of the shadow in the presence of the light. Always carry the shadow next to the glory – not too dim the glory, but to make it ever more brilliant. When you are warm, well-fed, enjoying the care and comfort of your family, remember that there are those who aren’t, won’t be, or can’t. When you lie down on your soft bed and pull your plush pillow up under you, remember that there are many Jacobs out there who will lie on bare ground with nothing but a rock to lay their head on. When you enjoy the presence of more food at one meal that you could consume in a day, remember that there are Lazarus’s begging at your gate that would be willing to live off of the leftovers. When you gather with your loved-ones in security and safety, remember the Abraham’s who are told “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1) And, be careful not to think that the shadow will obscure the shining for, in reality, the shining is obscured without the shadow.
We can only truly enjoy the day if we have walked with our brother in the night. We can’t truly hear the music around us except through our sister’s silence. The prophet Zechariah put it this way, “It shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.” (Zech. 14:7) When you find that you have become accustomed to walking in your blessings, take time to walk in your brother’s burden. Daydream under someone’s sky where dreams no longer dance. Walk in a garden of withered flowers and realize that the flowers you take for granted every day never bloom here. Move yourself from your familiar mountain and walk through another’s valley. Allow his fires to purify your gold; his clouds to lighten your chain, for his darkness will allow you to see your light. Praise will proceed from your pity; comfort will come from your compassion and sunbeams will shoot from your sympathy. For it is often through the seeing of the shadow that we finally come to grips with our true joy.