“. . . and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by . . .” Exodus 33:22
My twin boys travel the steep wooden stairs, short legs stretching with a two-year-old’s unique combination of purpose-filled distraction. They run through the house on winged feet, blinded with joy and speed. They climb – oh how they climb – improvising foot-holds as little arms reach and stubby fingers grab for that which is too hot, too fragile, too dangerous for them to have.
To be two is to live life perpetually on the edge – the fall is nearly inevitable.
Sometimes it’s an accident of their own making – the lean that goes too far, the stumble – but other times the world gives way beneath them, that which they trusted is not what it seems and at this their eyes widen, betrayed by unforeseen pain.
The worst falls are followed by a long, slow intake of air. Alerted by the sound of their impact, it’s my turn to fly, up or down the stairs, across the long pine floor boards in search of the injured one.
The first wail erupts, twisting his little face, causing his eyes to half-shut as all of that breath drawn-in now comes rushing out. Screaming, he rises and staggers toward me, reaching, half-blind, for comfort.
Looking for wounds – for blood, for bruises or the tell-tale red, puffy skin of a cheek or forehead – I gather him in like a hen with her chicks. My long arms twine tight knowing by instinct that the press of flesh on flesh will bring consolation.
Then I rise because there’s comfort for them still in being lifted, in being held. Perched on my left arm, short legs wrap around my waist and I reach up instinctively with my right hand, cupping the back of a silken-haired head.
The wailing continues in my ear now as he leans back time and again to fill his lungs and all of the pain comes pouring out dressed in a vivid cloak of sound. Finally, when the sound has been let, I gently press his face into the intersection of my neck and shoulder, that dark corner of mother-scented skin. Holding him there, his face buried, he gentles, calming as the tension eases and he melts into me.
Standing there, swaying, with my head crooked to the side to close him in, my hand still covering the back of his head, I hear the words of an old familiar hymn in a new light,
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
Then it dawns on me, maybe the darkness I so often feel is not a sign of God’s absence, but rather a sign of God’s intimate presence.
Maybe when the eye of my spirit grows dim and darkness descends all around, it is simply because I am being held, steadied, in the cleft of the Rock, covered by a soft and sturdy hand. Breathing in with my eyes shut I can almost feel the press of God-scented skin, the presence of the One who holds, who hides, who covers us all.
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