on the eve of christmas eve, joel was very tired. he’s a good dad, an “all day and all night” sort of dad, who’s probably changed more diapers than i have, even though i’m the full-time parent. and he was tired.
so becky and i took the kids to the festival of lights at the grotto, a beautiful monastery and garden not far from our house. it was the perfect opportunity to reflect a bit more on the light of winter, which is something i like to do with a camera in hand – reflect on light, that is.
for photographers, light is everything. light is the artist’s paint, the musician’s sound waves, the sculptor’s clay, the dancer’s gravity. we create art by accepting and working with the light in a particular time and place. the end result, a photograph, is flash-frozen light, caught in all its ephemera, frozen mid-bounce, a moment snatched from its movement at the speed of light and preserved.
conveniently for this photographer, there were lots of lights.
the light of summer is surrounding and enfolding; we talk of the world being “bathed” in light. the light of advent, however, is a pinprick in the fabric of darkness. it’s like the difference between a lake and a raindrop.
at the grotto, we were caught in a rainstorm of advent lights.
advent is about hope. advent is about future.
and how do the lights of advent reflect these things? each tiny flame or bulb fights darkness in its own sphere. each prick of light is a promise that light is alive and victorious, if small.
oh, how wise our $5 strands of christmas lights are! how much they can teach us about living fully and hopefully right where we are, amid the mundane and the ridiculous. along those lines, the most beautifully lit bush that i saw was tucked in a corner right outside the bathrooms. such wisdom!
there are piles of books written on lighting for photographers. one can easily spend thousands of dollars on lighting equipment to control and manipulate light. certain places in the world and types of weather are considered to have “ideal” light. we lament the evils of fluorescent and indoor lighting. we cringe at certain wall colors. we bounce and flash and direct and maximize and balance and filter light, and assign it a numeric temperature on the kelvin scale.
basically, we’re obsessed with light, and we exert very scientific attempts to control the light in our art.
part of why we do it, i think, is because we’re overwhelmed by the power of this thing with which we create.
“in the beginning god created the heavens and the earth. now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of god was hovering over the waters.
and god said, “let there be light”
and scientists say, “we don’t know if it’s a wave or a particle”
and astronomers say, “this is the light from millions of years ago”
and more scientists say, “the speed of light is ultimate”
and photographers say, “hey you, light, you that danced with the spirit over the deep, come dance with us.”
… and then we assign it a number on the kelvin scale. who can blame us for feeling intimidated?
so, as a photographer, i’m obsessed with light, and spend a lot of time thinking about its personality. but the festival of light at the grotto isn’t about just any old light. it’s about advent light, christmas light.
during advent we decorate with thousands of baby lights, because christmas is about a baby.
a baby who embodied light. the light of the world.
the egg of earth and the seed of light wove the cells of a solid, breathing human, who was born under a special light. this is the story that we celebrate, and this is the mysterious personality of advent light.
advent light is a great equalizer. it falls on the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the kings in the east and the animals in the stable.
(as a side note, the implication through petting zoo selection that there likely were alpacas in jesus’s stable may be exceeding the bounds of artistic license. but hey, at least the alpacas were cute.)
advent light is sparse, leaving room for wonder.
advent light is soft; it is mysterious because it dances with the shadows, instead of obliterating them.
advent light is arresting; it surprises us; we stop, and we reflect.
as we pause to reflect, advent light shows us the contours of reality, silhouettes and angles and sharp contrasts are thrown into relief. we see facets in life where we assumed there were straightforward planes; advent light challenges our assumptions about the world.
advent light is beautiful.
advent light brings us together, in from the darkness and cold of our separation, crowding into the stable with kings and goats to celebrate hope, to celebrate the tiny beginnings of great things, to celebrate humility.
i don’t have a tidy ending for these random musings from a trip to the grotto, but maybe there’s truth even in that. advent light isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. the seed of something wondrous and huge and marvelous, at present still tiny and unfinished. it is the mystery of a tiny flame of light that holds the promise of a thousand suns.
“the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”