Today I share the first post of a new series on my journey towards the Gift of Light. Part memoir, part manifesto, these posts will be more personal in nature as they simultaneously explore the universal impact of light on our lives. Like most of our stories, mine has beauty and ugliness, peace and anxiety, joy and despair. I’ll still be writing more theory posts, more practical posts- I can no more turn that side of my brain off than I can choose to suspend gravity. You’ll see common themes, language, and even ideas between this series and the next. And while I have an outline, a few pages of notes, and many years of reflection to share in this series, the ending is not yet written. I just hope I recognize the start of the next chapter when it happens.
In the beginning, darkness covered the earth.
Except at my house.
I was born in the cornfields of central Illinois to a mother who hated window coverings, so early and copious exposure to light was unavoidable. There were no neighboring buildings to shade the yard, no wall of trees to block the view of the horizon.
On a clear night I could stand at the edge of the farmyard an see the arm of the Milky Way stretch across the sky amidst thousands of stars. I could scan the horizon and spot hundreds of farms, nearby small towns, and follow the passing headlights on a nearby interstate highway.
On hot summer afternoons, after walking through soybean fields to cut weeds, my sister and I would float in our swimming pool, soaking up sunshine that streamed down on our bleaching hair and sparkled off the blue waters.
In my younger years, I had plenty of light. But somewhere around middle school, which we called junior high, a kind of proverbial darkness began to grow within me. It would take me years to identify the darkness, and many more to replace it with light.
As it turns out, light matters.
Our ancestors recognized that light was a critical element of human survival. Helios was the ancient Greek god of the sun. Prometheus is best known for bringing fire to humans. Zeus threw lightning bolts, and the ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra. In my evangelical Christian upbringing, we read in Genesis that God’s first words were “let there be light.”
In our scientific age, we may be losing sight of the miracle of light even as we use it more and more. We use light to measure distances in space and to keep our building projects straight, level and true. Light is the constant in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, e-mc2. We use LIDAR to discover hidden temples in the rainforest and light pulses to transmit data over fiber-optic lines. We can even use infrared light to see in the dark. Light as a phenomenon has been largely relegated to fantasy stories, like Luke wielding his lightsaber against the Dark Side, or the USS Enterprise traveling at light speed.
As a farm boy, I was fascinated by light. When I figured out that my fascination could make me an income, I unknowingly set aside my fascination for light and began a career dedicated to lighting. There is a subtle but distinct difference. Light is a miracle. Lighting is a commodity, a utility, a building system, a job. It may be a little like falling in love with movies and then making a career in a video rental store. As my father always says, “close, but no cigar.” I still don’t know what missing has to do with cigars, but the point is clear.
At about the same time I started moving away from light and towards lighting, I began to experience sadness that I would later label depression. I began to experience anxiety that would eventually lead to counseling and medication. While I was chasing lighting, darkness was enveloping my worldview. Are the two related? Will my salvation be found in setting aside lighting and returning to the miracle of light and to its creator?
Light is a miracle. Lighting is a utility. Light is a gift. This is my journey of discovery.