LIGHT FROM LIGHT
by Jamie Gladly
I am hungry for light today. It’s been gray and dreary here in our corner of the Midwest, chilly and cloudy and grim. I’ve always craved light at this time of year; it’s almost a physical itch. In Perelandra C.S. Lewis describes Ransom’s long dark night in the underground caverns as “starvation”: in a place with no light and no food, he wants light even more desperately than sustenance. Is it universal to crave light amid darkness? It’s unwise to extrapolate from an n of 2 (especially when one is fictional and the other has Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I think it’s safe to say that a hunger for light at this time of year is commonplace.
Jesus says, “I am the light of the world”; the section of the Creed under consideration this week tells us he is “light from light.” Although other religions have conflated divine light and the electromagnetic phenomenon, in his beautiful prayer St. Thomas Aquinas shows us what it means that God is light. God who is light calls us out of our double darkness, the darkness of sin and the darkness of ignorance. God is light because he is truth and wisdom; he is light because he is good. Physical darkness presents no barrier, for “even the darkness is as light to him.”
Psalm 36 says “In your light we see light,” a line that used to sound strange to me. Why do we need God’s light to see light? These days I find it makes more sense. I think about how understanding begets understanding: the more you learn, the more you’re able to know. This is true for holiness, because freedom from larger sins equips a person to see her smaller sins more clearly, and for wisdom, because deeper knowledge prepares a student to know still more. Remember when the Dawn Treader sailed toward Aslan’s country? As they drank in the liquid light around them and soaked in the fierce sunlight above them, they became able to bear it better—to find it illuminating and not punishing.
The gospel of John says Jesus is the true light that gives light to every man. When we lived in Edinburgh I used to go and sit in front of a painting of the Epiphany—the “shining upon,” etymologically—in the National Gallery. I loved it because the infant Jesus was subtly but unmistakably emanating light. In the painting there are two truths about Divine Light that I have returned to again and again. First, it’s subtle—you have to look closely to see where the light is coming from. You can zip past the painting without noticing, if you choose, just as you can disregard the light of the world if you do not leave yourself time to gaze upon him. Second, it is the light that casts the shadows; it is only because of his light that we can perceive shadow. In the dark places of our lives, we can know that his light is real and warm, even if in the moment we know it only because we pine for it so. Cave-dwelling fish have no eyes because they spend their entire lives in darkness. We have eyes not only in our faces, but also, as St. Paul tells us, in our hearts. We are created to receive light.
Back in the fall I went for a run one Saturday morning, and as I ran I reflected on the third joyful mystery. I thought about that blessed baby, blinking sticky-eyed in the light of his first morning. I thought about the reality that we can see with human eyes—the bare trees and pale sky and sleepy houses around me—and I thought about the reality that is usually hidden from our physical eyes, the angels and archangels bowing down in wonder at the Incarnation. (I wondered briefly if Jesus must have been constructed along the lines of a four-eyed fish, able to see two worlds at once, and then I reminded myself that I never get very far when I try to figure out how hypostatic union might work.) Today I am thinking about the unmistakable presence of a brand new baby, on that first day when the promising bulge of pregnancy bursts forth to become an actual ex utero person. A person! Who knew? I’ve borne five children and it blew me away every time. “In him was life,” says St. John (and I think about the miracle of those first newborn breaths), “and this life was the light of men.” Because of his life we need not fear the darkness of sin or the darkness of the tomb: his life means we can live in light.
Were you afraid of the dark as a kid? I was, in a big way. What I remember about those nights is the way that light brought clarity and hope. (“Oh, that wasn’t a demon snake gliding across the floor to devour me entire—it was a pair of tights that I forgot to put in the hamper last night.”) I remember the way that flicking on the lamp dispelled my fears. We think of fear of the dark as a childhood folly, but I think plenty of adults are still living in its shadow. The good news is that the Light of Christ allows them—allows us—to live unafraid, in anticipation of the day when “they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Light from Light”?
Jamie Gladly is a Midwestern mother of five who blogs at Light and Momentary.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.