The Nature of Light

Aberdeen harbor 2

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)

People have always known how important light is. If we accept the account of Genesis 1, light was the first thing God created. If we accept the Big Bang theory, the birth of the universe must have been accompanied by astounding light (though I’ve no idea whether it would have been visible to us, had we been there, since we see only a limited spectrum of light waves). The English language is full of references to light – our minds are enlightened, our burdens lightened, our souls delighted.

Different places have different qualities of light that delight painters and photographers. The piercing light and inky shadows of the high desert, the golden light of the Mediterranean area, the misty green light of the Pacific northwest, the brilliant sunlight of a Chicago winter – all have their own beauty. Aberdeen, in the far north of Scotland, has its own special quality of light. The city is built of gray granite. On cloudy days, the city is dour indeed – as bleak and forbidding as the slanders of Scotland claim the Scots to be. But on a sunny day (and there are far more of them than one might expect), the whole city sparkles and glows, just like the real spirit of the Scottish people.

Aberdeen is a special place to me. I spent a year at the University of Aberdeen when I was a junior in college, back in the days when Scotland was remote, North Sea oil had not been discovered, and Aberdonians found Americans rare curiosities. That far north, winter days are very short – less than seven hours, if my memory is correct. But even rainy days are likely to be broken by intervals of sunshine, and truly gloomy days are far less common than they are in – for example – central New York, or northeastern Ohio. And the days of summer! In June, it never got entirely dark. Even for the short hours the sun was below the horizon, twilight lingered in the sky and merged imperceptibly into dawn.

This photograph, which was taken in 1972, brings together clouds over the North Sea, the harbor waters, and God’s own light, breaking through the clouds and gloom that sometimes beset us, bringing us enlightenment, lightening our burdens, and delighting our souls.

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