In the Biblical account of how things came to be and of how they are to be fulfilled, the place of light is very much part of the scenario. According to Scripture it is the first act, the first gift, of creation. When ‘in the beginning all was without form and void…GOD said, Let there be light, and there was light’… light in its simplicity, pure, undifferentiated, unmediated; as yet there are neither suns nor stars, neither galaxies nor constellations – there is just light, created light, ‘and GOD saw that it was good’.
And then at the end, when history has run its course and all things are to be gathered up into GOD, John the Seer ‘on the island called Patmos because of the word of GOD and the testimony of Jesus’, speaks of the Uncreated Light into which creation, healed and restored, is to be taken. He speaks of a radiance and a glory which surpass anything which can be described or imagined.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the attention of our Biblical forefathers should have been so caught by the concept of light. They lived in a climate in which the natural light was strong and clear and immediate, and for whom artificial light from candles and lamps was feeble and uncertain. Perhaps it was because of the sheer clarity of the natural light that the prophets and seers of Israel came to discern something of the nature of GOD himself.
And when later on, in the fullness of time, there appeared One who said of himself that he was ‘the light of the world’, those who were his witnesses came to perceive still more of the nature of GOD. Prophets and Psalmists, Apostles and Evangelists, these were men to whom it was given see into and beyond physical appearances and contingencies, and were able to glimpse something of the nature of ultimate Reality.
From Genesis to Revelation it is the testimony of these seers that ‘GOD is light and in him is no darkness at all’, that he ‘dwells in unapproach- able light’, and that clothed with majesty and splendour he wraps himself with light as with a garment.
This is both the light which shone forth in the beginning, the primal light which is the source of all life. It is also the light which among other things Moses encountered in the bush in the desert, which led Israel out of the darkness of their Egyptian bondage, which came to reside among his people in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple built by Solomon, which shone from Jesus on the holy mountain of the Transfigur- ation, and which struck down Saul on the road to Damascus. And this is the light which John the seer describes shining from the heavenly Jerusalem – which has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of GOD is its light. And by this light – this ‘marvellous light’ S. Peter calls it – the nations of the world are to be scrutinized and searched out, and by it all things are to be made new.
But how can we bear the weight of that glory? Like Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple in Jerusalem, we would be utterly overwhelmed by it and lost.
But GOD deals with us mercifully. He shows us his glory, indeed he wills to make us partakers of it, but he does so ‘here a little, there a little’, gleam by gleam, and flash by flash. The Uncreated Light comes to us, shines upon us, but refracted as it were, in the way that created light is refracted into its constituent colours when it passes through a prism.
But once a year, on Trinity Sunday, we are encouraged to screw up our eyes, so to speak, and try to look into that ‘deep but dazzling darkness’ (as Henry Vaughan the 17th century Welsh poet called it) which is GOD himself. For the rest of the year as the Sundays and weeks go by from Advent to Advent, we are shown one after another, some of the various aspects and facets of GOD’s being and activity – his power and resourcefulness as Creator and Lord of history – his mercy and love and his longing for us shown in the life of Jesus of Nazareth – his sanctifying grace and energy in the work of the Holy Spirit and in the lives of the Saints.
And not only in our liturgical observances, but at all times, and in all seasons and places, we are given – if only we will look – glimpses and gleams of the Uncreated Light of the Divine Glory refracted in the loving, wise, noble and understanding actions and attitudes of human beings. In countless and unexpected ways the light of GOD plays around us ‘lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his’. For as Hopkins reminds us, we live in a world ‘charged with the grandeur of GOD’.
It is perhaps not without significance that when John the Seer, interned on Patmos, tried to describe what he saw when the door was opened in Heaven, he wrote of seeing One seated on a throne who appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow – a rainbow – refracted light.
A rainbow round the throne. A rainbow speaks of variety – a variety of colour held together in the single entity of the bow. So the rainbow round the throne of GOD is a reminder that among the shadows and half-lights of created existence we can glimpse, ‘here a little, there a little’, something of the glory that is to be revealed to us and in us.
Here we peer through the glass dimly to discern the One who is seated on the throne, the One who is the Source of all light, Uncreated and created, the Source of all Unity and Multiplicity.
And in the darkness of faith, and in all our unknowing, we acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty we worship the Unity.