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Something New Under the Sun
Walk while you have the light.
Let there be light.
With a stack of books gathered in my arms, I let myself down to the floor where my daughter is playing. It’s the hour of the bedtime story. She snuggles in my lap. Actually, she writhes, headbutts, elbows, and otherwise violently settles herself in my lap. I feel time pass heartbeat by heartbeat. Finally, the little body in my lap is still enough for me to open a book.
My Light, by Molly Bang. It has a lovely cover. I hope for a spiritual message inside, something fitting for my young daughter. On the first page I discover that it’s a science book. A nameless narrator compares a nighttime view of city lights to a starry sky. The narrator reveals itself as the sun. Page by page the sun describes how its radiance and the materials of the earth interact to transform sunlight into electricity. Each carefully-rendered illustration depicts the warm, vibrant movement of solar radiation as bright yellow points flowing generously from space, to atmosphere, to earth, to home. At the end of the book, I feel as infused with light as a leaf open to the morning sun, silently photosynthesizing.
The light shines in darkness.
In Mrs. Leach’s sixth grade science class I learned how earth’s energy begins with the sun and moves up the food chain, losing 90% of its energy at each level as organisms eat and are eaten. Our world was one of competitive consumption. Oh yes, I knew that world—the scrabbling, the contests, the hiding in the pantry to sneak the last Cheeto from the bag, all to get my piece of the 10% before it disappears.
This is the way of the world. Life is a lonely struggle.
I knew this, deep in my bones. My struggle was to work my will upon an indifferent world. No one could, would, or should do it for me. I work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.
This stark fact was softened by my belief that the struggle was godly. I struggle because I am a moral agent, always about to choose between good and evil. My struggle gives me experience, and experience, knowledge. I taste the bitter so that I may know to prize the good.
But, oh, sometimes I grow weary of the constant pettiness of this mortal wrestle, to say nothing of the truly crushing struggles some must face. I yell at my kids. I scrub messes that will never get clean. People cut me off on freeway on-ramps. I forget things upstairs, I waste time, I waste food, I waste money, I make bad decisions about furniture. Parking lots are full, the car gets hot in the summer, my kids have tantrums. I have tantrums. I say sorry, make amends, and try to learn from my mistakes.
Is life only a lonely struggle? The voice in my head, the one constantly evaluating my performance in this ceaseless struggle, says yes. But sometimes, I long to simply be. Quietly. Peacefully. Easily.
On the night that I became a leaf open to the light, the struggle transformed into beautiful bounty.
I regarded anew the child in my lap, still threatening to escape imminent bedtime. I saw her held together by light, in constant interaction with the energy of the world. As we danced through bedtime, she and I were exchanging energy that traced its origins back to the sun. In the process, with threads of muscle and memory, we were weaving a relationship that was intangible, but only in the sense that sunlight is intangible. Intangible, but forceful.
All things were made by [light]; and without [light], was not any thing made that was made.
93 million miles away, a nuclear fusion reaction that started 4 billion years ago continues. Hydrogen and helium atoms, formed in the aftermath of the Big Bang, fuse together and release a wave of energy that pulses out into space. The wave speeds through space for eight minutes and twenty seconds before encountering Earth’s atmosphere. The energy of the wave immediately begins interacting with the substance of our world, substance that is itself the organized particles of stars. Some of the energy is absorbed by the green molecules of chlorophyll in the leaf of a tomato plant, subtly changing its form to eventually transfer energy into the chemical bonds of sugars. The plant produces a tomato that lands on my dinner plate. The sugars from the tomato pass into my bloodstream, carried by my heart to the cells in my brain, where the energy from those chemical bonds allows neurotransmitters to be released as my brain creates sensation and thought. More sugars, more heartbeats, and I type these thoughts on my computer. Electricity, solar energy distilled as the flow of electrons, carries my thoughts through a series of transformations until eventually you see patterns of light that interact with your own sugars and heartbeats, and you understand.
In my mind’s eye, I create a vision that might be like what Moses saw at his prophetic calling. I see all of living creation spread before me from its molecular origins of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids to its wild variety today of sprawling cities, continents tapestried with forest and jungle, complex webs of organisms in constant motion, and everywhere beauty. The radiant sunlight makes all this creation possible. This ongoing creative process exists in order to capture the energy that flows unceasing from the sun. We are suncatchers, all of us, constructing our present moment from the abundant, constant, and impartial light that animates our world.
Walk while you have the light.
I know someone who is tired of life’s struggle. His will has failed him, and he wonders why he lives. I wish I could tell him why. I wish I could spark a flame of belief within him. God, where are you? I ask on his behalf (and sometimes for myself). Why do I feel so alone? How can I find your presence?
Can sunlight be a balm for him as it was for me? The sun isn’t the answer to everything, and certainly not to life’s most unanswerable questions. Someday the sun will die. I suppose it will experience a resurrection of its own, like us. But we are here, alive today in its light. We breathe in and out, our senses witness the world. Our living bodies carry on the work of creation unwilled.
No other form of energy has existed nor ever will exist quite like this person I love, and no other creation will interact with the world in the same way. He occupies a unique place in space and time that he shares with no one else. This singularity, though beautiful and precious, can be a lonely burden, if that is all we feel. We dissolve the borders of ourselves just a little, and we become part of the continuing creation that transcends all of us, with the intelligence to apprehend its wonder.
Perhaps the weight of our existence does not rest solely on what can be built by the mechanism of our own agency. Like a murmuration of starlings over a prairie in autumn, we fly together as one, a single wingbeat matched and magnified by answering wings.
We are all caught up in a process of creation that precedes us by billions of years and will continue long after our forms have disintegrated. We are built from stardust and animated by starlight. Here is the quietude I seek. Come by me, friend. For a moment let us rest in the flow of creation. While we are here let us live in the light.
[The one] that receives light, and continues in God, receives more light; and that light grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
God says he will cause the sun to rise on the evil and the good. His word is literally fulfilled. God gives us light from the sun in the form of raw experience. Car crashes, job offers, chance encounters, stones in our shoes, a good date, flowers in the garden, mood swings, the nightly bedtime routine. How do we respond to this raw experience? Typically, my judging brain wants to categorize my experiences. Good, bad, better, best. My inner monologue provides a continuous flow of suggestions for how I can alter myself or my surroundings to make everything controlled. Be perfect, my brain says.
But the sun says otherwise. Sunlight flows continuously, and so is constantly changing our environment. Light creates life, and all the changing manifestations of life are part of creation. Even my own moments of anger, sadness, and frustration, these experiences I have are all forms of energy created from light. The struggle that at times is so wearying has its place in creation. Grow, says the sun.
And yet, the same sun that allows plants to grow can also burn their leaves and parch their roots, if there is no process to receive and transform that energy. How can we transform our experiences into growth? We wrestle with God and with ourselves to gain strength and capacity. We wonder at the world. We find solace in the shade. We ask God’s grace, not to control the world, but to add our voice to its intricate harmonies.
This is the way of the world. Life is not only a struggle; it is generative abundance propelled by an unceasing stream of light. Life is creation.
Rachel Jardine is an Associate Editor at Wayfare. She mothers her children in San Antonio, Texas, and practices law.
Artwork by Dayna Patterson.