The second intimation of deep, cosmic joy. . . is really a variation of the first: the sensation of shelter, of being out of the rain, but just out. I would lean close to the chill windowpane to hear the raindrops tickling on the other side; I would huddle under bushes until the rain penetrated; I loved doorways in a shower. On our side porch, it was my humble job, when it rained, to turn the wicker furniture with its seats to the wall, and in these porous caves I would crouch, happy almost to tears, as the rain drummed on the porch rail and rattled the grape leaves of the arbor and touched my wicker shelter with a mist like the vain assault of an atomic army.
(John Updike, in Of the Farm)
Lean close to the chill windowpane to hear the raindrops tickling on the other side. . . . How appropriate to read this today, as a steady rain falls, as I lean in, prompted by Updike's words, to hear the rain but, not only that, to be reminded of the thin membrane that divides the interior of my warm and dry home from the elements without. Shelter.
I am not alone, Updike says, and I say the experience is not singular even to me. Many times as a child I lay curled on the floor of my parents' station wagon savoring the shelter and heat at my mother's feet. Many was the fort my sister and I built from a card table covered by a blanket, a light within, darkness without. Many was the tent I lay in at night, reaching my hand out to touch the almost paper thin canvas that kept out the night.
In restaurants, I seek out corners, booths, places out of the open, hemmed in, protected. I gravitate to corners, relish a window from which I can see without but be within. An automobile seems impregnable, a mobile extension of home; a good book, order out of chaos; a lamp, a divider of night and day, of good from evil; a friend's face, assurance among strangers.
Shelter from the storm. A temporal assurance. A fallible yet real metaphor for the only true shelter, that "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High/ will abide in the shadow of the/ Almighty" (Ps. 91:1).
Press your fingers to the inside of the old tent canvas, and rain may seep through. SUVs crinkle in pileups. Houses sometimes leak, and windows crack. Like Updike, you can catch the deep, cosmic joy of being out in the elements, out in the world, and yet not of the world, of being sheltered. You sense the deep shelter of the God in whose shadow you dwell, in whose house you live. Outside that, it's cold and wet and dark. Why would anyone want to live out there?
My sister said there were goblins out there, monsters that eat children. I lifted the blanket corner, saw the spooky silhouettes of them, heard the groanings of the furnace, spied the flicker of the pilot light. I dropped the blanket, felt something like joy from the fragile refuge we enjoyed, happy almost to tears. Even now that room in the darkness testifies to me of the shelter to come, becomes a prayer I summon every day: Shelter me, I say. Draw the flaps around me. Make me happy --- beyond tears.
[Do not think me so literate as to read John Updike. The quote is from an essay on Updike by Larry Woiwode, collected in Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture (Crossway, 2011). You can be impressed by my reading that book, at least a little, though my comprehension of it is like that of seeing through a glass dimly. Woiwode's book is the source of many a rumination, some which may find their way here, others of which may be inarticulable.]