Seeing strange references to The Cupboard Under The Stairs of late, strange at least to this most unwell-read priest in the world, I googled the strange phrase and immediately realized that this is a reference to the childhood abode of a certain Harry in another house somewhere in Surrey, not that this North-woods boy of frozen Minnesota of wolves and moose knows where such a faraway place is.
But I can tell you this. When I was only four years old, I would often search out a mysterious place, enchanted not by magic or some special powers round about, but intriguing because it was a place I could think without being distracted by daily life otherwise all around me. I was, of course, distracted by not being distracted, but this was the charm of it all, and this is what I thought about, even while there was a tug on my heart from the Most High, who was wanting me to be hidden even further away, that is, all that much closer to home. That was the mysterious part.
People were going about their normal activities, absorbed in this and that, chasing about here and there, and I was totally invisible to them, out of sight, of mind. Having stepped back from this, I felt free, but again, I was totally tied into such a dynamic so that, in other words, I was being even more inserted into the realities of day to day life even while being abstracted from it. A clearer vision kind of thing for the fact of being able to take a step back. That helps a lot in not being necessarily ripped in this direction and that by the next thing on the horizon and then the other. That would not be a clear vision of reality, but a being smothered by reality.
My first step back so as to take in the whole wasn’t hiding under the bed, which, although I did a lot of that when my big brother and I would get into it, was never about this kind of taking a step back. That was just about hiding momentarily, waiting for the next opportunity to attack.
My first step back was, significantly, a step up. There was a storage cupboard above the stairs, inside our bedroom. There were no doors, so you could walk in and turn to the right. At about five feet up, there was another storage space I was able to climb up into at my four years of age. From there, looking up, there was a board in the ceiling which could be pushed up so as to go into the crawl space in the ceiling. It seemed impossible even to me, but I was able to lift myself up, pushing the board onto the insulation above with my head, then replacing the board, thus becoming totally invisible to everyone. That got old pretty quickly. Fiberglass insulation is no fun. But I did learn some great lessons there about taking a step back so as to be all the more immersed in life all around me.
Later, now at five years old, I moved up into a more advanced invisibility cloak, which was the actual cupboard under the stairs down in the basement. There was a side-door, but this was blocked by a chest freezer, which, as long-time readers know, was to be the scene of being nearly stabbed to death by a friend who apparently did not have the opportunity to ever take a step back from things. But at the tallest part of the cupboard, as the stairs went up, there was actually a door to the backside, where we had our laundry room. That opening was, however, piled high to the ceiling with chests and boxes and all sort of whatnot. I would take a few boxes down, climb over, replace the boxes, and I was now again totally invisible to world around me, taking a step back, as it were, but totally distracted by the lack of distraction, something helping me to be, if I should ever take the opportunity, to be an actor in whatever circumstance instead of being in mere reaction.
But this is also where, now, being older, my imagination ran wild. I liked to go through one ancient of days footlocker in particular, filled with my dad’s war things, including his flying gear from the Checkerboard Squadron. There were medals and dogtags, the Checkerboard scarf, the leather head gear, the goggles, the helmet, the flying jacket (all of which I put on, of course), the distress rag (a silk cloth stating who he was in all sort of Asian languages), his flying logs and his war diaries filled with dreams and honor and visions of service for mankind. It wouldn’t be long before I could read these paragraphs which were almost poetry. My heart raced, my mind soared, and I would burst out of my invisibility cloak and, having bounded upstairs and outside, would put my arms out and run, flying about, taking deep banking turns this way and that, until I would just about drop, ready for whatever circumstance might come along.
However much my dad was a hero for me, there is another Warrior to whom I now turn. I am learning to be hidden with Him in God, as Saint Paul bids us all to do:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Mind you, he says this in a context. Don’t think I don’t know it:
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming (upon the disobedient). By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way. But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its Creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:5-17).
In all this, taking a step back, putting on the invisibility cloak of a spiritual life, watching as Christ Jesus draws us to Himself away from this exile right unto heaven, as we so hope, we are in this hiddenness nevertheless all the more immersed into encouraging one another, despite our weakness, to look with enthusiasm and love to Him who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. He loves us so very much. Amen.