This morning in church our pastor used a photo to illustrate a point he was making, a photo I saw many years ago: it’s a composite of multiple images taken by satellite of the entire earth at night. It captured me so at the time I first saw it that I bought a large poster of it that still sits in the cardboard tube, too large for me to put anywhere. With my apologies that I could not find an image with higher resolution, here it is.
If you clicked on it to enlarge it and studied it a bit (please do so, it’s pretty amazing), you can see that the major cities of the world are easily recognizable by their intense light shining into the night – Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, London, etc. Did you spot them? Certain places, like the eastern third of the United States, Japan and the UK are practically nothing but light, where populations are dense. By contrast, it is also easy to recognize the oceans, or to see Mongolia, the least densely populated country in the world, by their lack of light, similar to the vast blackness of Africa’s Sahara Desert region or the Australian Outback. Living as I do in the more sparsely populated American Interior West, I enjoy trying to pick out the cities I so often travel to. And though the photo is titled “Light Pollution” by some, giving it a negative connotation, I think the image is absolutely beautiful. My eyes are drawn to both the highly populated and meagerly inhabited regions, I think about those who live there, and I am struck once again by the power of light.
In a universe that on average is exceedingly black, light is more than a physical beacon. Not even taking into consideration light’s spiritual associations, there is profound emotion attached to light in darkness. And this is to say nothing of some children’s (or adults’) need for a nightlight. (Did you know that there are at least five words for fear of the dark -- none of which I even recognized -- such as achluophobia and nyctophobia?). Who can fail to be moved by the routine shtick done by park rangers or tour guides in vast underground caves, where all lights are extinguished, one is given the chance to feel the almost suffocating palpability of total darkness, and then, off across the titanic expanse, a candle flame is lit, drawing every eye to its simple, inviting, almost salvific glow.
It’s all about contrast. That’s where the emotive power is.
Here’s another cool expression of the same idea from a Japanese photographer, who is moved by the simple light of fireflies in the night (OK, lightning bugs if you’re from the Midwest). Using sensitive equipment, he has taken time-lapse photography of firefly lights in natural settings. (This particular photo is from a series shared in Smithsonian magazine.) Growing up in Chicago, I found them so thick on muggy summer evenings that I could catch a jarful in an hour. But to see them like this, that’s another thing. Astounding. Again, contrast.
It’s light’s contrast with darkness that is so impacting, and frankly, yes, so emotional. Our pastor was making the point that it’s the same contrast that should exist between devoted followers of God and a world that often seems bent on its own destruction – not in the sense of God-followers taking pride at all in their enlightened condition, but rather taking joyful responsibility for bringing and offering light in the midst of darkness.
Here is a true truth: it’s a jungle out there, and a dark one at that. Be light.
...Become pure children of God, without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine like stars in the sky. (Philippians 2:15)
Let your light shine in order that others may see your holy lives and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
~~ RGM, From an earlier entry in my nature journal,
Adapted for my blog October 21, 2016