Having previously considered darkness, now we turn to light. Light contends with darkness: “A light in dark places, she said it was to be.” There are both greater and lesser lights: “A light when all other lights go out!” Light aids and guides: “Indeed light alone can help us.”
In the mythology of The Lord of the Rings, in the beginning of time, when the world was still a formless wasteland, the angelic guardians of creation established two large lamps on pillars that brought about earth’s first spring. But the darkness, embodied in Melkor, cast down the pillar and destroyed the lamps. Then the angelic guardians – the Valar – cultivated two beautiful trees of light, one of golden hue and one of silver rays, and planted them to bring light to the world. But the darkness, embodied in Ungoliant (the great proto-monster, mother of Shelob), sucked up the light of the trees and left them withered and ravished. The Sun and the Moon were then fashioned out of the dwindling remnants, but the original form of this light was lost, save in one capacity. The Elves had captured the lovely light in three precious gems, called Silmarils, that were stolen by Melkor. The desire to possess that light again led the Elves into exile and war with the darkness, bringing them much hardship, betrayal, and grief. In the end, only one Silmaril was ever saved, and Eärendil, child of both Elf and Man, sailed across the Sea with it to plead for the Valar’s intervention in their plight. This was granted, and Eärendil and his Silmaril were set up into the sky as a star and constellation, to ever provide hope for Elves and men against the darkness. It is the light of this Silmaril-star that Galadrial caught in her philal: it is the light of the great tale of Middle-earth.
There is a scientific composition of light: waves and photons, illumination and reflection, speed and limits. Yet there is also a historic lens into the light: the light of stars that catch our eyes today was emitted back many generations of our ancestors, and the light of our own Sun that we now witness will travel forth through the darkness of space for eons to come. Light roots us in the continuity of creation and the ebbs and flows of time. It humbles us in its potency, yet marvels us in its simplicity.
Men fear not the darkness in and of itself; they fear that which dwells in the darkness, the enemies of light, the balrogs and Shelobs of the world. Hence the hope that Sun and Moon and star have brought to women and men in countless cultures and times. Light is life-giving and life-inspiring. It illuminates, revealing mystery. It symbolizes the highest of virtues, the greatest of powers, the noblest of intentions. “Let there be light” said God at the creation. “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” say God at Incarnation.
And so, there is light. It is both rational and poetic, both great and small. It contends with the darkness while also defining it. It aids the activities of men while also inspiring them. It instills courage in the heart against the shadowy forces of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
2015’s Reflection: “On Waves, Arachnids, and that Which Haunts Our Steps”