Yesterday I started reading Philip Newell’s book, The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Sprirituality. I can already tell I’m going to love it. Its seven chapters are divided up by the seven days of Creation. Genesis 1:3-4 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” This passage is the focus of the first chapter.
Concerning Genesis 1:3-4 Newell says, “To say that light is created on the first day is to say that light is at the heart of life. It is the beginning of creation in the sense that it is the essence or centre from which life proceeds. At the heart of all that has life is the light of God.” Newell makes sure to distinguish the light spoken of on the first day of Creation from the sun and moon that are created on the fourth day. It is the light created on the first day that makes everything else possible.
Newell goes on to say “the heart of all life is the light of God.” What he says next I find most intriguing. He claims “The more deeply we move in relation to any created thing the closer we approach ‘the divine brillance’ at the centre.” In other words, the more we get to know other life forms the more we will come to know and experience the light which comes from God. This means learning more about the flora and fauna that surround us, not to mention our fellow human beings, can bring us much spiritual benefit.
Even though the Scriptures declare that “God is light” Newell is careful to distinguish the light created on the first day of Creation from God Himself. He says, “God is always more than that light. Though invisible, it is a created light and can never truly reveal the Uncreated. God expresses the light of creation into being and yet is beyond creation; he is simultaneously immanenet to the universe and transcendent to it.”
Towards the end of the first chapter Newell draws some practical implications of what he has written. He says “God is to be found not by stepping aside from the flow of daily life into religious moments and environments, or from looking away from creation to a spiritual realm beyond, but rather by entering attentively the depths of the present moment.” What wonderful advice! I encourage you to give Newell’s words some thought and to begin looking harder and deeper for that light which God spoke into existence the first day of Creation long ago. As God Himself said, that light is “good.”
(This week I’m in Louisville on a summer mission trip with a group from my church. We’re helping out at a facility with about 500 elderly residents. On the grounds there are some nice gardens. I took the pictures shown above there.)
The winter solstice is once again upon us. This is a day that has been celebrated for centuries. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. Once it passes the hours of daylight slowly begin to lengthen. Ancient people found this as cause for celebration. They were reminded each year at this time that darkness would not prevail. Many people believe that Christmas came to be celebrated this time of year for the same reason. We do not know for a fact what month Christ was born. Some scholars believe it likely occurred in the spring rather than at the start of winter but the date of December 25 may well have been chosen to coincide with the winter solstice because the message of Christmas likewise declares that darkness will not prevail.
Long before Jesus came the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) This prophecy has been linked with Christ for centuries. His coming brought light to the world, a light that darkness cannot extinguish. Jesus himself said “I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5) Reflecting on Jesus the author of the Fourth Gospel said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
Darkness can be a scary thing both literally and figuratively. We all know that darkness often conveys the idea of danger. It can also be a metaphor for despair. Darkness pretty much describes what life is like apart from Christ. Without him things are gloomy. Without Jesus there is little hope. Without Christ we live in “the shadow of death.” If I had to describe in one word what my life would be like apart from Jesus I could think of no more appropriate word than “darkness.”
As the winter solstice approaches and the celebration of Christmas draws near I give thanks that into this world of darkness “a light has dawned.” I rejoice knowing that because of what God did that first Christmas long ago darkness does not have the final word. Even though there is still plenty of darkness in the world I remain confident that this darkness will not prevail because that child born in Bethlehem truly was and is “the light of the world.”
(I took the top image of Skylight Cave in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. I took the bottom image at Sequoia National Park.)
If you were out last night and the skies were clear you may have noticed a beautiful full moon. You may even have thought it looked bigger than usual. Actually it was. Last night we experienced what some have called a “super moon.” Because the moon was at the closest point it gets to the earth and it happened to be a full moon the view of our lunar neighbor was extra special last evening. It will be quite a while before the conditions are the same again so I hope you got to see it.
The moon has fascinated humans from the very beginning. It continues to be a source of fascination for me. Early in my life I dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut and flying to the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were my heroes. Needless to say, my dream of becoming an astronaut never materialized.
For quite some time the moon has been a reminder to me of an important spiritual truth. In the Gospels Jesus indicated that he was “the light of the world” and in the Sermon on the Mount he went on to say “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
This passage raises an interesting question. Is Jesus the light of the world or are we? The answer in once sense is obvious; we both are. But there is certainly a difference in the light we share and the light Christ shared. Jesus, as the Son of God, shown with his own light. Our light, however, is derivative. We shine as the light of the world only as we reflect the light of Christ. It’s here where the moon helps us out. As every elementary school child learns, the moon has no light of its own; it simply reflects the sun’s light. In the spiritual life it is the same. We have no light to share of our own but we are able to be reflections of Christ’s light.
When I look up at the moon I’m often reminded of our calling to be “the light of the world” and how if I am to let my light shine at all I must remain close to the true Source of light and reflect his light to others. If we let things get between us and the Source of light we do not offer much of a reflection. It’s imperative that we remove anything that hinders Christ’s light from shining on us and from us. In a world filled with as much darkness as ours, I’m hoping there will be lots of “super moons” out there and that I can be one of them too.
(I took both of these images last night in my back yard.)
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14
He probably didn’t realize it but when Roger Miller penned the words to “I’m Waitin’ For the Light to Shine,” a song from his hit musical Big River, he wrote what could be the official nature photographer’s theme song. Nature photographers know that light is everything. A good subject in poor light typically does not produce a good image. A poor subject in good light, however, can at times look amazing. As a result, we photographers look for, and long for, “the light to shine.”
Often, to get the right light we have to wait. The image above is a good example. It was the last day of my southern Utah trip last month and I had not done well photographing Canyonlands National Park. The first day there the light was terrible, making even Mesa Arch look unflattering. On my last evening I decided to try one more time. When I arrived at Green River Overlook the light was, once again, horrible. I just about concluded that I was going to get “skunked” at Canyonlands but then I noticed that there was a tiny clearing at the horizon. I held on to the hope that maybe at the very last moment beautiful warm light would flood the canyon below me. My friend Steve, who was with me and is not a photographer, decided to go sit in the car. Since it was 15 degrees and windy, I couldn’t blame him.
I waited in the cold for over an hour hoping (and praying) that I would get good light. And just when I thought time had run out on me it happened. Whereas a split second before the scene before me was dull, dark and gray, all of a sudden a warm brilliant light flooded the canyon. My heart soared and I immediately sought something to photograph in that glorious light. Because the good light only lasted a minute or two I couldn’t be choosey. Still, I found a couple of decent subjects to capture with my camera and once again I was reminded that in photography it pays to wait for the light to shine.
In our spiritual life we also have to wait at times for the light to shine. In my walk with the Lord there are many times when things seem flat and dull. It can be quite discouraging and at times I may even feel like giving up. But I have learned over the years that we must learn to “wait on the Lord.” God does not always move on the timetable we want. In fact, He typically moves a lot slower than I’d prefer. But God knows what He is doing so the smart thing for me to do is be patient and wait for Him to shine His light on me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that it pays to wait for the Light to shine.