At night, when the house is dark and I cannot sleep, my gaze often lands on the irregular shapes of light across the bedroom ceiling. Depending on how tightly the curtains are closed, lines of light, originating from the street-lamps outside may be shortened or stretched thin. There are times when I wake up to a warm morning glow on the curtains. And later in the day, when the curtains are open, direct sunshine comes through the windows and falls over our old soft pine floors. Pevensie, our sweet black dog, can be found napping where the light has pooled.
The beauty and warmth of light has been a constant draw for me. When we moved into our century-old city row house, I was relieved to learn that our house faced east and west—the morning sun fills the kitchen windows, and by mid-afternoon, light streams in through our front room windows. If we had bought a house that was on a street running north and south, we would not receive as much direct sunlight.
Many painters have felt the same as I do. Most of Rembrandt’s paintings are a study of shafts of light coming from a source outside the painting and illuminating his subjects, with the rest of the scene in shadow and darkness. Claude Monet, so intent on the play of light, would paint the same subject, be it a haystack or cathedral, over and over again, capturing how the movement of light changed the object he was depicting with paint. He said,
“Light is the most important person in the picture.”
Scripture is witness to the mysterious relationship between light and life. In the beginning, as the Spirit hovered over the waters, the world was without form and void—chaos. But God spoke, “Let there be light…” and the first step was taken for order and life. We immediately learn this light was good. God continued to speak to bring forth abundant life of vegetation, birds, animals, and humans. He also ordered different forms of lights to rule specific spheres—the sun for day and the moon for night.
The Apostle John, rooted deeply in the words of Moses and the creation story, stated in the opening of his gospel that all things were made through Jesus, the Word-of-God-Made-Flesh. He continued to reveal the Word as God, and that in him was life, the light of all. This light gave life, and this light shines in the darkness, never to be overcome. Death and darkness cannot extinguish the true Life and the true Light.
Light and life are woven throughout Scripture. These word pictures are given as a beacon of hope in a world darkened by sin and sorrow, war and displacement. After a long dark night of the soul, one needs to be awakened by the light of the Morning Sun. Solomon wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter till full day.” (Proverbs 4:18) What comfort to know that God’s chosen, the righteous, have a sure direction out of the darkness of sorrow and suffering brought on by our brokenness and the brokenness of this world.
Jesus—the prophesied light shining in the darkness—proclaimed, “I am the Light of the World.” As a sign to this reality, he healed a man of his blindness, allowing the everyday light into his eyes so that he could fully live life. The Kingdom of God was brought near to this newly-sighted man, and no longer would the death-hold of darkness rule his days. This was a physical sign of the spiritual reality of Jesus being the true light. As Paul would later write to the church in Colossae, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13)
At Creation the light of the sun was placed to rule the day, while the light of the moon was to rule the night. In between morning and night, men and women could work as God called them to. When the New Heaven and the New Earth are established at the second-coming of Jesus, New Jerusalem—the everlasting city of God’s people—will not need the sun or moon, because “…the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:23) We have a forever-more promise of being fully awake and alive in eternal light.
“Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down into the forest floor…”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Like when the glow of the morning
runs through our
faded, cotton curtains.
Or when the car windows are rolled down,
and we are swallowed up by the sun
on open back country roads.
Like when my little girl and I
are lying in the grass,
our faces to the shining blue sky,
and our eyes squinting through upheld fingers,
and the bright rays warm our skin.
Many times when I see sunlight falling through branches of a tree, making the green leaves glow, or when I watch the sun on the horizon, spreading out hues of orange and pink, I feel at once a little more alive and a little more sad—an ache to be united to this beauty. I feel delight tinged with regret. C.S. Lewis affirmed this very human desire: “We want something else which we can barely put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bath in it, to become part of it.”
I feel Lewis’s ideas keenly when…
I see a multitude of stars winking in a black sky,
and the glow of the afternoon playing
with the whispery ends of tall, dry grass,
and sunlight shimmering and sparkling on a lake.
It is a transcendence of heaven into my everyday life that causes this longing ache; I want the eternal realty of light to invade my feet-on-the-ground reality.
Although this longing will not be abated easily, practicing the presence of God and purposefully bringing light into my everyday life reminds me that hoping in the eternal is not a waste. It is placing a reading lamp beside a cozy chair, inviting someone to be at peace with a book or a nap. Or it is setting a dinner table with favorite foods and lit candles, then hearing my family laugh together around it. Or gathering friends around a fire pit in the backyard. Or it is paying attention to the morning light seeping through my closed curtains helping me to welcome in the day.
Because I need to remember that Jesus, the light of the world, has rooted my family and me in his kingdom story, reminders—original artwork of paintings, photographs, and prints—hang throughout our home. Many of them illustrate the stories of Scripture. Two well-loved pieces which bookend our living room shed light on the mystery of a faith that holds together God’s holiness and goodness, his light and his life in our lives.
On the front wall of our living room is a Marc Chagall lithograph depicting the face of an angel. All the lines–thick and thin–are bold and organic. With a tilt of her head, her eyes looking down, her face exhibits both awe and serenity. A bright, gentle yellow washes over her.
Except for the swoosh of wings behind her head, she bears little resemblance to the angels in Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple. Isaiah described these angels as having three pairs of wings, each pair covering different parts of their bodies. They called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) I imagine, since they are continuously before the throne of God, they have glowing faces like my angel.
Across the room, a Craig Hawkins print of bread and wine hangs by the large archway that connects our living room to the library. The perspective of this piece is from above; we are able to see the circular rim of the cup with the wine filling in the space, as well as the specks of grain in the bread. The bread and the cup look contemporary and ordinary–not at all like the unleavened bread and cup of wine I think of at Jesus’ Passover when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. The dark gray lines that form the torn halves of bread with the small cup nestled between them are delicate compared to the bold movement which makes up Chagall’s angel.
The glow of the angel reminds me of God’s holiness, while the simple elements of the Eucharist point to God’s goodness. Even though only the angel seems to be in the light, both pieces of art symbolize how light is connected to our lives. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Jesus—this light that shines in the darkness—gives us his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and even his holiness. And with these gifts, we awaken out of the shadows of sin and death into his marvelous light and his life.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Leslie Anne Bustard takes great joy in loving people and places, whether at church, around her kitchen table, in a classroom, or traveling around. She delights in words and the way poets and storytellers put them together, and marvels at the beauty found in the details of ordinary life. Reading, writing, teaching literature, baking, producing high school theater, and museum-ing are some of Leslie’s favorite things. Leslie is the host of The Square Halo, a podcast for Square Halo Books (https://www.squarehalobooks.com/podcasts) and is developing a book titled Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to the Best Children’s Books. She and her husband Ned have been married for 30 years and live in a century-old row house in Lancaster City, where they raised their three daughters.