From a certain perspective, the city has diminished for men and women the power of the dawn. Cities never sleep as their artificial light bleeds forth at all hours; the awe and the majesty of the night can be dissipated by the flicking of a switch. It has been said that the cause of modern man’s prideful insanity is his inability to look up at night and see the stars arrayed in their splendor. So too, the bulb and the billboard and the blue glow of the smartphone have belittled the dawn.
Sunrise is still appreciated for its beauty, though mostly as a startling event rather than a regular occurrence. Skyscraper and computer screen obscure; grogginess and business distract. Yet the dawn’s appeal as a source of hope only lingers in the implicit nuances of the word itself when used to describe “the dawn of a new age” or a similar matter. No longer is dawn “ever the hope of men,” as it was for Aragorn. No longer does it seem of importance that a man “look out to see the dawn” from the walls of Helm’s Deep. Natural light can be approved for all its health benefits, its photographic properties, its energy saving opportunities, and yet the dawn can still be lost.
And such a loss is quite tragic, for the dawn inspires and augments so much of what makes humans all too human. As Hilaire Belloc mused upon in his short volume, The Path to Rome:
“It is a matter often discussed why bakers are such excellent citizens and good men. […] Indeed, there are some societies in which, no matter how gloomy or churlish the conversation may become, you have but to mention bakers for voices to brighten suddenly and for a good influence to pervade every one. I say this is known for a fact, but not usually explained; the explanation is, that bakers are always up early in the morning and can watch the dawn, and that in this occupation they live in lonely contemplation enjoying the early hours.”
The dawn brings hope. Like the stars of night, it grounds man in reality: in his dependence, in his insignificance, in his joy. The subtle and silent activity of the dawn – its colors, its hues, its movement, its unfolding – evokes natural contemplation, reflection, even prayer. It is charged with the grandeur and glory of God.
Most cannot leave the city, or go without the lesser lights of man; the dawn seems to be forever relegated to a second-class occurrence or intangible memory. Yet there remains in women and men a longing; yet the dawn still breaks forth after each night. The simple and obvious feats of the world often hold the greatest mysteries. We can arise and raise our eyes and pause to appreciate, to draw strength, to hope. For, ultimately, the dawn reminds us to look for the Great Dawn, a day which shall dawn with a sunrise which shall never end.
2015’s Reflection: “On Spiritual Warfare”