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/

Genesis 1 and Our Sad, Sad Dirt

In the beginning of God creating the heavens and the earth,* the earth was confusion and emptiness. Darkness was upon the face of the depths and the breath of God was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2

This past spring, Eric and I chose a spot in our backyard and broke ground for our garden. What we found was more than dirt: broken glass, garbage, and chunks of something black and rock-like. We had apparently picked a site that was once used for a coal dump (our home was built in 1911, when coal would have been the primary fuel for heat and cooking), and then at some point, a garbage dump. Our garden is a site of confusion. It also shows no signs of life beneath the surface; this soil is emptiness.

In Genesis 1 we find God hovering over the depths, dwelling in the darkness, the confusion, and the emptiness.  The very breath of God hung over it, giving it infinite potential and value.

Most of us know how Genesis 1 progresses: God creates and creates and creates in a way that only God can create and delights in what has been created at every step. What I sense in our backyard is a reversal.  Delight has been replaced by utility. Literal garbage has replaced what the soil needs to live as it was created to live.

But the soil is still here, in its confusion and emptiness, and God is still here, dwelling in this creation, sustaining this creation with her very breath.  In our backyard is the opportunity to remember that we are not meant to be parasites, sucking the life out of the earth and offering nothing in return. No, we are not made to be parasites; we are meant to be creators, delighters, kin to the earth.  There is a relationship of mutuality to enter into here.

Next week we will start to think about ways to shed our parasitic habits. I hope that in doing so, the scales would fall off of our eyes. I hope we begin to see together that the breath of God that was dwelling in the confusion and emptiness at the time of creation dwells here even now, in our manufactured confusion and emptiness. Are we willing to touch the hope with our bare hands? That’s the question.

I can’t wait to continue the discussion. Blessings, friends!

*This is a more literal rendering from the Hebrew. For more on Genesis 1 and why it does not imply an “ex nihilo,” absolute beginning of all created things, see William P. Brown’s The Seven Pillars of Creation. 

Brown, William P. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2010.