Easter 2: The Secret Room

The Secret Room © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 2: John 20.19-31

In his book The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau writes that in every pilgrimage, there is a secret room, a place along the path that gives us insight into the deep mystery of our journey. In describing this hidden room, Cousineau draws on a story that poet Donald Hall tells of friends who purchased an old farmhouse. Cousineau writes,

It was a ‘warren of small rooms,’ and once they settled in and began to furnish their new home they realized that the lay of the house made little sense. ‘Peeling off some wallpaper, they found a door that they pried open to reveal a tiny room, sealed off and hidden, goodness knows why: They found no corpses nor stolen goods.’ For Hall, the mystery of poetry to evoke powerful feelings finds its analogy here, in its ability to be sealed away from explanation, this is the place where ‘the unsayable gathers.’

And so it is on the pilgrim’s path. Everywhere you go, there is a secret room. To discover it, you must knock on walls, as the detective does in mystery houses, and listen for the echo that portends the secret passage. You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room.

I’ll say it again: Everywhere has a secret room. You must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny cafe, a quiet park, the home of a new friend, the pew where the morning light strikes the rose window just so.

As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.

It is the day after Easter Sunday. I savored sleeping in this morning and am now in my writer’s nook at the top of the stairs, gazing out the window as I ponder the season past. I think of the pilgrimage these forty Lenten days led me on, the twists and turns they offered, the questions and challenges they posed, the graces they beckoned me to see.

Where was the secret room?

I think of a day in the week just past, when I went with my sweetheart to the Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, not far from where I live. The primary draw of the Morse is its collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the artist famed for his stained glass designs. I have always liked Tiffany well enough—a poster of one of his windows accompanied me through a succession of dorm rooms and apartments in college—but in more recent years found I had a somewhat limited affinity for this kind of work. I thought it was pretty, in an ornamental fashion, but didn’t go much beyond that.

I had, however, changed as an artist since the last time I had walked through the museum’s doors, had begun to work in ways that—I came to realize—altered the way that I saw Tiffany’s work. And so I found myself in front of one of his windows last week, leaning in close, pulling back, leaning in again. I was stunned by his line work, the loose style so markedly different from the stained glass designs of previous centuries. His lines captivated the part of me that had begun to work in charcoal since I’d last been to the museum, and had become fascinated with how the lay of a line—how it turns this way, then that—can convey a whole world.

And, between the lines, was the remarkable glass, so distinctive of Tiffany, who radicalized the manufacture of stained glass and turned each fragment into an art form in itself. I spent a long moment at a table that offered pieces of Tiffany glass to touch. Every piece a different texture—smooth, coarse, rippled, ridged. A fragment that so looked like flame that its coolness seemed incongruous. I ran my hand over each piece, each a living link with its maker, each an embodiment of his vision and daring, each a window onto the mysterious crucible that gives rise to art, each a threshold beckoning me deeper into my own creative path and reminding me why I set out on it in the first place.

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own. John tells of a room in which the disciples gather—a locked room, for fear. For secrets. And there, in their midst, Jesus appears, offering his hands and side, offering peace, offering the Holy Spirit, breathing into them (“and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” John means for us to remember). But Thomas is gone, John tells us, and will not believe unless he sees. So Jesus returns a week later, slides through the shut doors of the secret room, shows himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says, as if touching and seeing are one and the same. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him (John 11.1-16). Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs. In Jesus’ hands, in Jesus’ side, Thomas reaches into a secret room, a place that, though “sealed away from explanation,” as Cousineau writes, makes some kind of sense of the long pilgrimage that Thomas has undertaken with Jesus, to whom he is now able to say, “My Lord and my God!”

And you? Did the pilgrimage through Lent offer you a secret room? Somewhere along the way, did you find a place that offered, not an explanation of your path, but a window onto it, a space within it that enabled you to see it anew, and the one who called you there? Where was it, and what did you find there? How does it illuminate the way before you?

In the weeks to come, may we remember that Easter is not just a day but rather a season. May the gift and challenge of resurrection go with you, and may the path ahead be graced with secret rooms.

[For last year’s reflection on this passage, please visit Easter 2: Into the Wound.]

This week’s artwork first appeared at The Advent Door in Door 24: The Secret Room.

8 Responses to “Easter 2: The Secret Room”

  1. Cindy Weber Says:

    Oh, Jan, this is such a lovely reflection!

  2. Karen Williams Says:

    Wow! This one is awesome. I certainly have had some secret rooms in my journey. Thanks!

  3. Faith Says:

    I’ve been struck in recent years by the absence of scripture that describes Thomas actually touching Jesus — putting his finger in the nail holes and his hand into the sword wound. Perhaps Jesus honoring his doubt (he may not approve, but he believes that Thomas doubts) and the invitation for him to enter is enough for Thomas. I know of the rooms you speak. I’ve encountered many in my journey; some sacred spaces of hospitality and others more like crucibles of formation. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  4. Painter ofblue Says:

    Gorgeous painting!

  5. Martha Louise Says:

    Dear Jan, I found two “secret rooms” during Lent. One was the actual body, the crucifix on the cross. Growing up a Presbyterian and then becoming a Presbyterian minister, I never really focused on the cross with the body of Christ on it. This year I meditated on it daily, and was profoundly moved by it, moved into the darkness of it vis a vie my own struggle with depression. The book “Listening at Golgotha” was also a secret room for me during Lent. Your charcoal drawings touched me deeply. I left the book at our church’s silent Maundy Thursday night vigil in our chapel (the vigil continues right up to the Good Friday service) and was told how meaningful it was for others who read it at that time, too. For me, your weekly posts are “secret doors.” Many thanks!

  6. Sue Powers Says:

    Jan, I loved the imagery in your writing about secret rooms. I have acquired an imaginary secret room. I find myself mentally playing back the green roadside scenery from our recent trip to Wakulla Springs like some kind of peaceful screen saver. It smooths out the noise and stress of everyday busy-ness now and leads me into calmly pondering instead of fretting. Now I will plan some more getaways from noise and details and find some more secret rooms with peace and stillness. Thanks for helping me bring that to the front window.

  7. Susan Halvor Says:

    Thank you so much for the invitation to reflect on secret rooms … a couple opened up for me this past week at clergy and church gatherings, in ways that are helping me understand my journey better. I’ll keep a look out, tapping on walls and pulling away books. Blessings in your new ventures!

  8. Jan Richardson Says:

    A belated thanks for all these lovely comments–I’m sorry not to have managed to respond at the time but am so grateful for your words and thoughts and responses. Thank you!

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