Shades of Gray


Picture with me the reddest red. Picture the greenest green. Picture the orangest orange and the yellowest yellow.

I imagine that the colors you pictured were almost exactly the colors I had in mind. I pictured red like a stop sign. Green like the rolling hills of Northern Ireland. Hermes orange. Lemon yellow. The most vivid examples of each of these colors. Red. Green. Orange. Yellow.

Now picture the grayest gray.

What do you see? Gray like the sky over my part of the world today? Gray like the sky over yours? Gray like the walls where I work? Gray like the sidewalks you traverse when you jog? Concrete may be gray, but gray is not concrete. There is no quintessential gray.

Years ago, I worked in a research lab where I used MRI scans to determine the total volumes of squirrel monkey anal sphincters. Yes, you read that correctly. My job was to trace the shade of gray belonging to the anal sphincter in each slice of the scan, determine its total area using a software program, and find the volume by adding all of the calculated areas for the entire depth of the muscle. So many shades of gray—they told me in the lab that there were 250, but I’ve heard some scanners boast of over a thousand shades of the color. It was several days before I could reliably recognize the shade I was looking for and differentiate the sphincter [I totally hate that word] from the surrounding pelvic floor muscles of varying other shades of gray. I had to watch the principal investigator trace many times before I began to see it myself. He had to watch me and guide me many times before he trusted my eye enough to let me trace alone.

Last week, I saw another MRI—an image of my friend’s brain. It contained a few shades of gray that were lighter than the gray making up the rest of the structures. Glioblastoma. She has only months to live. A devastating story told in different shades of gray.

So much of my life right now is interpreting shades of gray. What is truth? Is there such a thing? Is there one foundation that I must build my life upon—or will any worldview do? What is right? What is wrong? Why is my God more worthy than another? Why would my gray be any more perfectly gray than someone else’s? Does any of this even matter? It’s all gray, right?

But sometimes shades of gray do matter. Sometimes they are the difference between life and death—ask my friend with Glioblastoma. What if I pick out the wrong shade of gray? Outside of the lab, I don’t have an expert to observe and learn from. I don’t have someone guiding my hand as I select a shade to work with and carefully exclude all others. A shade of gray could be the difference between eternal paradise and eternal despair.

Loving Jesus wasn’t always gray. In the words of the great philosopher Taylor Swift, “loving him was red.” I worshiped him passionately. My memories of his faithfulness are vivid. He seduced me with scripture. Now I’m colorblind—but that’s okay. I’m getting used to gray. If there is a God who is all-knowing, he sees my desire to believe and the reasons I struggle to do so. If he is all good, he won’t base my eternal destiny on my ability to interpret shades of gray. If he is all powerful, a crimson flow of blood can cover anything—even my doubt, and even the scarlet letter that my color-blindness keeps me from seeing.

Picture the reddest red.


4 thoughts on “Shades of Gray

  1. Squirrel monkey anal sphincters. Say that ten times fast! This just made me smile (I know, weird eh?) but it reminds me of the various times and tests I went through regarding bowel issues.

    I’m new to your blog as you know but so far this is my favourite post of yours. I remember early in my “leaving” I started a blog titled “Gray Matters” though I may have spelled it grey. Somewhere along the line the colour gray got a bad rap I think. But I agree with you, it matters.

    My heart goes out to your friend and to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I find that often God is in the struggle. Such a massive idea can’t possibly ever be entertained with certainty; it isn’t meant to be, I don’t think.

    My thoughts are with your friend…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. While I no longer believe I find the idea of certainty almost absurd. I know what the fundamentalists say but even if I could believe again it would always be pensive, I would always wonder, I would always doubt. I find it so hard to believe in the certainty of a God who would insist on certainty in a certain certainty as a prerequisite for certain salvation. There are, as you said, so many shades of gray. The trouble seems to be there isn’t a precise guide to pick out the exact shade of gray that is the right shade of gray. Unlike with an MRI there is no definitive meaning of the varying shades.

    My heart goes out to you and to your friend. (((hugs))) to you both.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Dear beautiful lady – I am on my hearts lasts breath reading here today… I see and know so much of these places you bring to life through your words. I ache – in me, for me – for you – for your friend – for this world of broken yet whole people in our shades of gray. When we are taught to draw to see the light and shadows – it is all in tonal drawings – grays. I always struggled when it came to realistic colouring. I see two or three colours where others see only one.
    In those gray drawings – I found it easier to make my artistic mark (so to speak) as there was no distraction of colour to confuse me the grays take all their different variations to form the picture…it is like seeing things more simply and clearly. Adding colour became harder (for me) as gray simply made sense when I closed my eyes to a squint it is what I saw. But when I opened them I was flooded with too much which overrode my ability to see the shapes in front of me. It was (and likely is still) an area I struggle with in my art… even though it may not be apparent to the beholder. It is the tonal quality that build a form and give it its substance and depth – that make it a complete picture. The colour simply blinds us to these things and only can bring the painting to life when applied over the correct placement of the – shades of grey. The grey (sorry I write grEy 😉 ) is the foundations – understand how they work together…and you find the whole. Much as all the shades of gray come together to form the brain – there is no shade that is perfectly akin to say ‘this is the shade a brain must be’.
    But who can understand the exact working of the brain and all its shades…how many years do neurologists study and only now, in this generation are we truly, beginning, to understand the functioning of the brain. This generation will know so much more of what neurologist know of what all those shades mean in those scans. Whereas so many – really do not and will not – as they cannot comprehend how much the brain determines of our lives…let alone piece it all together by the shades it takes on in a simplified version of itself in MRI scan.( PS – those things are flippin incredible right!!)
    And I am off to try get some sleep now. Thank you for your time CC and your precious heart of gray 😉


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