In the early days of 2018, I made the acquaintance of a book called Victoria Bedrooms: Private Worlds & Places to Dream.
I hesitated when I later jotted the title down on the first line of my yearly “Books Read” list. With section headings like “Seasons and Signatures” and advice on layering bed linens, the book seemed a bit of a featherweight compared to the literary and theological giants further down my queue. Still, I reasoned, I did read it, and as I was learning at the time, beauty has her place in the Kingdom. Even the beauty of small things.
I made myself go slowly as I turned the pages, taking in the welcoming textures and cream-and-honey palettes of the rooms as well as their descriptions. Quite frequently the adjectives — like the decor — were more sumptuous than ones I would choose, but certain phrases charmed me to attention; “sun-washed cottons,” “mood of crisp innocence,” and “dawn’s first tinting of the still lake” wove together to create an appealing atmosphere of rest.
The text also began to make some surprisingly compelling prompts. “Whether we mean it to happen or not, the bedroom tells our personal story. Special interests and beloved objects keep traipsing in after us like so many tag-along puppies.” What personal story would my own room tell from week to week? I wondered, amused; the answer would doubtless vary. This is the room of a home-educating mother — the hideaway of an Inklings enthusiast — the last known site of a backlogged laundress.
But one question made me pause altogether: “If, one winter morning, you were offered a bowl of light for breakfast, what would it hold?”
The little column of words ran on in a tone as blithe and whimsical as the off-handed question it had posed, but that introductory line enabled me to pinpoint my main attraction to the book. What I loved was its photographs of natural light. And on every third or fourth page appeared the feature that drew me in most of all: sunlit windows.
The brightest ones, which were usually covered in gauzy sheers or overexposed so that the outside vistas were totally obscured, captivated me most of all.
Why? The subject was odd enough to give rise to questions of my own. What did I imagine lay outside those brilliant panes? Somehow I knew I didn’t want it to be familiar territory. I wanted it to be a landscape of unexplored loveliness, possibly, or a setting so dear to someone else that I could spend years searching out the treasured details hidden within it.
A few weeks later the sensation struck again, this time as I was falling asleep in my own bedroom. A dream from the early, half-awake stages of sleep brought the simple image of berries in a bowl to mind. I was washing them at the sink of a kitchen unfamiliar to me, under a window with the light cascading in, and the golden slant of sun gleamed against the curved edge of the bowl and scattered into a thousand crystals in the water streaming over my hands.
My heart responded to this picture with a surge so eager that I was literally startled awake for a moment.
That image seemed to carry a wisp of something I’ve glimpsed in places dearest to my Homeward heart — places like the final chapters of C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, and the steps down to the harbor of Tolkien’s Grey Havens. I’m slow on the uptake when this deep thirst awakens, so that only now — a year later — I’m able to recognize this image of the lighted window for what it means to me.
It’s a visual symbol of my expectation.
We live our lives on the brink of a great beginning, and it so often feels — as it did to the early Thessalonian church — like that beginning is long in coming.
I am endlessly learning to keep my hand on the plow in faithfulness, learning to carry the crosses of the current phase of life, learning to ask my Lord to search my heart and remove the things that would poison its fruit. And it is good work. The mercies of each day fairly fly through the air past me every morning, and I know someday I’ll fall on my face in acknowledgment of the ones I never even noticed.
But there also remains in my heart the hope that, someday, the light will shift and glimmer over my head as I go about the work given to me now. I’ll look out a window and there will be a sight I haven’t seen before, some beauty stretching far before me that is more real than anything upon which I have ever laid eyes or feet. And the light streaming through the glass will be the first sign that it is time — time to be led home to the One whose name becomes more precious to me with the step of each year.
The prospect of seeing Him finally with the veil and all scales fallen away from my eyes is becoming a thing so tender and lovely that my heart aches with it, a thing so solemn and imposing that all the frailness of my earthbound self shakes at the idea. But the more I see of the reach of His grace in me, and of the beauty that His people have been so faithful to relay through music and myth and art, through bracing theology and good counsel — the more I yearn.
Somehow an unwitting foray into a book about bedrooms opened the door to this picture of waiting. It plucked a string of longing and sent the little chamber of my imagination echoing, and I’m left smiling at what my King may use to bring my heart and mind and soul to Himself. “Low” art, as well as high. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” as Browning says, and it is a mercy to not be permitted to esteem myself so highly that I cannot see it in a window and a bowl of light.
As we enter the new year, to be perfectly candid, bedrooms sound very appealing; I’ve glimpsed some of the labor that’s waiting up ahead. But while I’ll likely crave a soft corner and a light to read by far more often than I can get it, I’m deeply glad that the air of eternity is abroad.
All told, this is the personal story of the inner refuge of my heart: not that I have sought Him, but that the Light of the World has infiltrated hidden places and desperate hollows like mine, changing them from private, inadequate burrows into antechambers of glory.
Throw open the shutters, that room thus says to me;
Throw them open though the clouds gather and the world dims.
Heed the small, winking things.
And watch —
Watch for the movement of the Light.
The featured image above is a glimpse into one of the sitting gardens at The Kilns,
the home of C.S. Lewis, and now study centre owned and run by the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
The image is (c) Lancia E. Smith.
You can find a copy of Victoria Bedrooms: Private Worlds & Places to Dream here.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.