Light of Lights
Advent in the Age of Light Pollution
“She dreams a little, and she feels the dark / Encroachment of that old catastrophe, / As a calm darkens among water-lights." — Wallace Stevens
On Sunday, I lit my second Advent Candle in celebration of the coming light of Christ. That same day, in the morning, I'd listened to a sermon about how the "Light" used to describe Christ is a metaphor, and shouldn't be taken "literally." Darkness, I was informed, is also good, and much of what we enjoy in this bright life would not be available without the dark.
A couple of weeks ago, I put up some extra curtains to block light out of my apartment. Kitty-corner to my house, the Emma Goldman Clinic has bright lights on all night long. Down the street, Pagliai's Pizza has four flood lights that do the same. The parking lot behind my building has a light on non-stop, and there is a single street light on my street which contributes to the phenomenon.
Because of all of this, as we get into what is often called the Darkest Day of the Year, a time when we lament the lack of sunlight, I find myself unable to actually escape light. Whereas throughout the year the leaves of the many trees on my street would prevent much of this light from entering my chamber, their bare branches now offer nothing but the occasional slim shadow.
I’m certainly growing dark. Sleep is becoming something of a premium. And I think of those Pagan festivals, and of the Jewish Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights), and the original Christian Advent season and wonder “What must've these traditions been like in their times, when their symbolism was more consistent with their practitioners’ experience of the world?”
I've been calling this my Christian year. After having had a mystical experience watching a Catholic Midnight Mass last Christmas Eve, I've been throwing myself into the faith as an experiment in psychotechnology as much as anything else. I can say that there is something coming, something which has already come, and which will come again — of that I'm sure. The daily prayers and weekly masses have accompanied my meditations with a narrative, a culture, a set of symbols, and a never-ending drama.
Thanks to that, I can read this eerie situation with light pollution in a meaningful way. It's not only a problem challenging me, but an emblem of how the Slanderer perverts the very metaphors we live by. In the coming age, there will be a darkness where we can all find rest.
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