Festival of light

One of the ways we tell our story begins like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light is one of the most important themes of the season of epiphany. Living in the northern hemisphere, you can see why thoughts of light dominate this season. Ancients would watch as the days got shorter and shorter and the sun’s peak moved closer and closer to the horizon. They noticed that their world was getting colder and closer with the diminishing of light. The elders, those who had experienced many winters, promised that the light would return, that the days would grow longer and the world would grow warmer once again, but nobody knew how much time it would take. Winters varied in length and severity. Tools for measuring were rudimentary at best. Even knowing the time of day or keeping the count of the number of days was imprecise. In a time before organized religion the people prayed without even knowing to whom they were praying. To some the sun itself was like a god. Light was associated with life and light and life became major themes of our story and how we talk about who we are.

As the institution of the church was formed and a calendar of celebrations emerged, the season of Epiphany emerged between Christmas and Lent. We began to speak of Jesus as the light of God made manifest. We formed ceremonies that included the lighting of candles and liturgies that used the word light in many different contexts. We told stories of the Magi following a great star - a mysterious light that appeared in the night sky to announce the birth of the messiah, who came not only to Jews, but to the entire world. The feat of Epiphany became a festival of light. Traditions of light and ceremonies of light began to spread outside of the season. Christmas lights became common in anticipation of the festival of Epiphany.

This year, the natural world has given us several opportunities to think about light. January began with a full moon - the first of two full moons falling in January this year. We don’t get a full moon in February, 2018. On January 1 and 2 we saw the brightest and closest moon of the year. The full moon coincided with the closest lunar perigee of 2018 giving us what has come to be called a supermoon. We also experienced a supermen on December 3 and will get one more, on January 31.

With the snow on the ground, and the bright moon, night hasn’t seemed to be so dark for this first week of the new year. I wake in the night and see light streaming through the windows of my home. It seems to be reassuring and even with cold temperatures outside, the presence of the light makes one hopeful that warmer days are coming.

The supermoon hasn’t been the only amazing and beautiful natural phenomenon of this first week of the new year. We’ve also been treated to sundogs. When there are ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, it appears as if there are two brightly colored spots, one on either side of the sun. These can extend to arcs, and on certain occasions it will look as if there is a rainbow halo surrounding the sun. Sundogs have appeared several days this week.

Then on Friday, those looking towards the eastern side of our city were treated to another amazing light show. The day had been foggy all day long and as the city moved toward darkness light pillars began to appear. Like sundogs, light pillars appear because of ice crystals in the air. They make it appear that light sources on the horizon extend up into the air. Looking at the city from the hills made it look like it was filled with these beautiful pillars of light extending up from the city.

Living in the hills this week brings thoughts of light to mind and with that a deep sense of gratitude for the light that is present in the world. Of course when we speak of light, we speak of more than the phenomena of physics. We also speak of enlightenment of our minds and brightness of spirit, concepts that are much more difficult to define and explain than the natural phenomena of this world. Nonetheless we understand the value of a bright spirit, especially when we feel that we are living in dark times. We learn to look for signs of hope and can feel our spirits lift when we recognize the presence of hope in our lives.

Being witness to such beauty and hope brings to mind those who lack light. This winter, I am especially aware of those in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The 140 mile per hour winds left only 20% of the cell phone towers on the island standing. The entire power grid of Puerto Rico was destroyed leaving all customers without electricity. Life has been particularly hard for those who continue to live without access to electricity months after the storm has passed. It has been estimated that it will take an entire year to restore light to all of Puerto Rico.

Being dependent upon the natural cycles of sunrise and sunset has changed routines across the island. Nights are long, but days seem long as well as temperatures rise and people know they will not have access to air conditioning. High temperatures combine with high humidity to make the tasks of walking to obtain scarce resources such as food and water especially challenging.

It becomes incumbent upon those of us who are experiencing such abundant gifts of light to share. Pray for Puerto Rico and its people. See out ways to participate in supporting them by donating and sharing in the ways you are able.

It is, after all, the spirit of the season.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!