Light in the darkness

Posted December 22nd, 2008 in Blog, Featured 5 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[This is my last post until after Christmas.]

I find it odd how we have divided into good and bad this notion of ‘light in the darkness.’  It is a strange western construct.  Since without darkness there is no light, darkness must not be a bad thing, but essential.  It is the play of the two that fills us with wonder.  For many thousands of years and beyond, we humans have put a spiritual interpretation over this time of year — the solstice in the northern hemisphere, the time when darkness is longest, after which, little by little, the light expands through our day until June when the balance shifts once more.

How do Christians interpret it?  as a “light that shines in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overpower.” (John 1:5)

Okay, it is good that darkness does not completely overpower light; it is also good that light does not overpower darkness.  Either would be the end of creation.

What am I saying?  There is a difference between aggressive and hostile forces that seek to break down creation as love and healing within our human community, the essential aspect of the Gospel story, and the word ‘darkness.’  I have this question about whether our using the metaphors of darkness and light to interpret that part of our human story has separated us from the mystery of creation as it expresses itself this time of year.  Instead of immersing ourselves in this overwhelmingly human overlay of incarnation and redemption, we might consider re-entering into the mysteries of the cycles of light and darkness, warmth and cold, the rhythms of our planet that once formed the spiritualities of countless cultures (and still do in many places).

We are in a bitter winter here in Wisconsin (bitter not being a ‘bad’ word, just descriptive of the weather).  It is raw and tough and as real as can be.  Today there is brilliant sunlight — and wind chills well below zero.  We are under a blanket of snow from a series of storms, with more to come, two more in the next two days.  We are well ahead of last year’s pace, which reached a total of 100 inches of snow for the first time since the 1880s.

Lake Michigan is magical, quickly freezing over, sometimes steaming with the contrast of cold air and warmer water, waves crashing in the storms, the shoreline creaking and cracking with the undulation of the water beneath the ice.

Raw and real.

I believe we must rediscover the wonder of creation if we are to put the human in perspective. Then maybe we could de-emphasize our own importance and return to the importance of the creative act itself, that in which we dwell, that of which we are a part, so full of mystery and wonder, of things beyond us and so much larger than us whether we go back in time, out into space in any direction, or forward in time.  A little perspective might humble us, remove the human story from the centerpiece of the drama, and put the creative act back into the center of the drama where it belongs.

I don’t mean to remove the Christian story from that drama.  The drama of the human and our experience of ourselves as in need of redemption is part of the story.  But that experience needs some breaking open out of orthodoxies and cultural overlays and our broken history if we are to see it in the light (or darkness) of our new understanding of the creation story.  It is a story begging for new insights, deeper penetration into the mystery of the human within the arc of creation itself.

As a last reflection for this week, I want to leave you with this particularly vivid manifestation of the meaning of light and darkness in our universe.  Below is a photo of Saturn in eclipse taken by the Cassini-Huygens space mission.  Here is the contrast of light and darkness indeed, the rings of Saturn vivid in the eclipsed light of the sun.  But look further to the left and a little above the vivid rings to the tiny pale dot just inside the pale ring.

That’s us.  That’s the light of the sun shining on the Earth.  That is light in the darkness, the light of this tiny planet in the darkness of space, a light we can see only because of the darkness of space.  This photo is us looking at ourselves from a whole new vantage point.

Everything we love and care about is on that tiny dot, as far as we know right now the only place where the universe is conscious of itself.

So heading into this Christmas holiday, I leave us with this image.  It transcends everything else we think about this time of year.  It shows us how precious, fragile, and vulnerable we are; it shows us what is at stake here; it begins to reveal to us who we really are.

In the dance of creation we find the meaning of us.

Earth from Saturn - Cassini Huygens mission - NASA

Earth from Saturn - Cassini Huygens mission - NASA

Photo credit: Milwaukee breakwater in winter, copyright © Benn Newman, all rights reserved.


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5 Responses

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Good health and good cheer to everyone during this season of holy days.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Keep going, Margaret. Very best wishes for 2009. You are surely one of our brightest lights.

    Thanks for all you are doing to protect the environs from wanton, irreversible degradation and global biodiversity from massive extirpation; to preserve Earth’s resources from relentless dissipation and the future of our children from reckless endangerment; to save “the pale blue dot” from the ravages of unbridled global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species in these early years of Century XXI.

  3. Steven Earl Salmony

    The dangerous devotion of so many leaders to a “business as usual” status quo as well as to unbridled global economic growth and outrageous per capita overconsumption could prove to be lethal for our children also to worship because these forms of idolatry could soon become patently unsustainable on a relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet like the planetary home which God has blessed us to inhabit……and not to ravage as the leading elders in my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” have been advocating so religiously and doing so recklessly in these early years of Century XXI.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  4. Margaret


    My fear in a time of economic and financial crisis is that the political culture will move as quickly as possible to reconstruct the very economy that has just fallen apart. Where will come the political courage to tell people that things are collapsing because this economy of growth and consumption is already unsustainable, that if we try to salvage this way of doing business, the next collapse will be worse than the last, and on and on?

    We are having a very hard time learning even from disaster. Will the TVA disaster get us to reexamine our reliance on coal? Did Katrina teach us about the dangers of manipulating nature as we did the Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast, and the climate?

    We need all the voices we can gather for the new moral dialogue, the new earth rights movement, the reinvention of the human presence on the planet.

    Thanks for your comments – Margaret

  5. Steven Earl Salmony

    Yes, definitely yes, Margaret, to all you are suggesting and for all you are hoping in 2009.

    Perhaps change is in the offing.