T’is the season for secrets, and this poem by George MacDonald got me thinking today about the very holiest of surprises.
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To live in anticipation of a creaking stair, a door opening, a sudden appearance of a familiar face – this is the joy of a “secret stair.”
It was one of the things that attracted me to this old house when we bought it. A secondary staircase, leading from the old kitchen upstairs into what is now a bathroom. A narrow passageway accessed by a painted wooden door, tucked away in the corner. The stairs here are steeper, and there is no railing. This is not the grand ascension promised by our front hall staircase, with its pillars and swirling banister. This is not the guest’s welcome. This is the hidden way for those accustomed to our home. We’ve always called it “the secret stairway.”
It can provide a quick escape to the upstairs rooms. It’s a handy way to transport laundry. It is a perennial favourite in the children’s games of hide-and-seek. And they delight to sneak down and surprise me in the dining room, throwing the door open to reveal their uncontainable laughter.
It is this aspect of mystery, surprise, and intimacy that endears me to the crooked passage. It whispers of Irene’s tower and Lucy’s wardrobe, and I half expect to see a silver haired grandmother or prancing faun peeking down.
So too does MacDonald’s “secret stair” speak of the divine encounter. The way in is not always through the front door. Ladders from heaven drop unawares where only angels know the path. And sometimes we find that first step when we’re not even looking, indeed, we may stumble over it in our haste. We look up from our stubbed toe and hear the whisper, “Come up here.” And then there are times we are altogether astonished by laughter, because God has tumbled down into our dining room yelling, “Surprise!”
Oh, the doors are everywhere, and to live with such possibility is one of the sweetest delights of our sacred trust, and the opening to our hearts desire.
Yes Lord, “come down Thine own secret stair.”