Light and Dark: It’s Pretty Neat

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God made a distinction between the light and the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness God called night. And it was evening and it was morning, day one.

Genesis 1:3-5

Light and darkness is one of our most enduring false dichotomies. Light and darkness are seen as opposite, opposed to one another, and entirely different from one another. We have even endowed the concepts of light and darkness with the moral dualism of good and evil. Good lives in the light, and evil dwells in the darkness. Or so we insist. This light/dark dichotomy even touches our social construction; dark skin is threatening, light skin is not. To say the very least about it, this construct is deeply problematic. How else might we think about light and darkness?

Before God created the light, God dwelled in the darkness. And there is nothing to indicate in the text that this darkness was not good; this darkness is not hostile or “evil.” “Indeed,” writes William Brown, “God’s breath suspended, ‘hovering’ over the dark waters… could suggest a relationship of intimacy as opposed to enmity.”¹

God created light and delighted in it saying, “it is good.” But darkness was not subsequently banished. Darkness and this newly created light were separated and then named: day and night. Darkness and light became parts of a foundational whole: together they became the measure of a full day.

Life in the Dark

They certainly look like opposites, but together they host the fullness of creation’s activity. Did you know that nearly half of the species on Earth are nocturnal?² That means that half of the life on earth is dependent on the darkness to go about their natural processes. Artificial light – from things like airports and cities – actually cause light pollution which disrupts the natural rhythms of many species.

We humans, like many other creatures, depend on the light to perform our activities necessary for survival. But even creatures who sleep in the night are not exempt from the gifts that dark has to offer. Check this out:

As evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep. With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to rise, and other chemical shifts, such as an uptick in the activating hormone cortisol, occur to help us feel alert and ready for the day.³

The darkness establishes our own rhythm of sleeping and being awake. And sleeping itself is not a waste of time: when we sleep, our blood pressure drops, the blood supply to our muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored, and hormones that are essential to growth and development are released (See note 4). What happens in the dark is truly amazing.

Life in the Light

We can see in the light, and yet somehow we miss the activity going on around us. The sun does more than give you a tan (which is terrible for you, by the way. Stop tanning!). The sun provides the energy that fuels the planet. For an example, let’s zero in on one particular process that you probably learned about in middle school: photosynthesis. This is the process by which water and carbon dioxide are converted into oxygen and glucose. What creatures like us need to breathe in is oxygen. What we breathe out is carbon dioxide. Plants kind of do the same thing, only opposite: they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This process cannot occur without the solar energy from the sun (please note that this is an overly simplified description. Plants actually do take in oxygen as well, but mostly during the night when photosynthesis is not occurring. See note 5).  Below is a simplified diagram of the process:

 

One of the great mistakes we made in the Reynhout Garden this spring was choosing a spot that didn’t get enough sunlight. We chose the most convenient spot for us; the amount of hubris in the decision is incredible. This is an example of having to submit to our surroundings and understand that we do not have control over natural processes.

It’s all gorgeous, isn’t it? Like a perfectly composed symphony, each movement expressing something unique while fundamentally connected to its other parts to form a big, beautiful, complex whole.

And now, because everyone needs a ridiculous YouTube video to bring the point home, let’s go on a Neature Walk:

 

 

  1. Brown, William P. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2010.
  2. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nightskies/natural.htm
  3. https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php
  4. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
  5. http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/sleeping-with-plants/
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