Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A midnight light show in the vale of tears

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 2, 2018

About two years after my husband’s death, I awoke during the night and saw pinpoints of light dancing up and down my bedroom wall.

I looked all around, quite startled, trying to discover an apparent source for these lights, but the shades were drawn and the room was pitch dark.

The show went on for a few minutes, and then I whispered, “Jef, is that you?”

Of course I can’t prove this, but I believe he orchestrated that light show as a way to say, “I’m still with you.”

The dancing lights reminded me of an event he and I attended years ago, called A Long Expected Party, which was dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Held in the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, the conference featured talks, workshops and camaraderie among fans of Middle-earth.

Many participants dressed as their favorite character from Tolkien’s books, whether that was a wizard, elf, hobbit or dwarf, among others.

My husband was giving a presentation on his Tolkien artwork at the event and happily dressed up as a blue wizard, complete with a blue shirt, black hat with a blue band and a handmade wand.

At the top of this device, he attached a small glass globe that shed glowing prisms in the darkness. This was especially appropriate, I thought, for an artist whose paintngs contain radiant beams of light, which remind me of the Light of Christ.

The first sound we heard each morning in the Shaker Village was an insistent “moo” emanating from a distant cow. Our ears tingled delightfully at the blissful absence of growling lawn mowers that often threaten peacefulness in the city.

Tolkien surely would have loved this setting, since he was no fan of cities. He lamented over the growing popularity of the automobile, which was changing the world in his day—and dreaded the eventual felling of trees to make way for more roads.

He saw earthly life as tinged with sorrow, tears and suffering but believed God always triumphed in the end.

In 1956, he wrote in a letter, “Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’—though it contains … some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

As a faithful Catholic, he embraced God as the creator of all things “seen and unseen,” as we proclaim in the creed each Sunday. These, of course, include the shire, the trees and the cows, as well as faeries, elves and angels.

In this quiet, no-frills village, we had a lovely glimpse of the shire Tolkien created in his books. One morning, Jef and I were walking down a fog-drenched path and spotted a feisty skunk, happily browsing through the meadow grass in search of breakfast treats.

Another morning, a sparrow flew into our car, perched on the steering wheel just long enough to be photographed, and then headed back into the forest.

For me, there also was something intangible, which has become more precious with each passing year—the cache of memories we took home with us.

I cherish these memories, especially now that my sweet wizard has traveled to the unseen realm that exists beyond this world.

He’s no longer in the vale of tears, the place of the long defeat, but as a member of the communion of saints he’s still connected with folks on earth, and still part of my life now.

Sometimes, in the pitch-black night, I imagine him someday lighting my way to heaven with that bright wand, and welcoming me to the everlasting shire.


Artwork (“Slayer of Darkness”) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is