Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The utter east

Light and darkness are major theological metaphors in Scripture, so I find it useful to mentally visualize the play of sunlight in different situations. 

In addition, my parents had a waterfront property with a panoramic view spanning east and west, so I was used to watching the play of sunlight on the waves as the sun arced over the sky. I've lived in different places, in and around nature, and I study sunlight from different angles. The symbolism of light in Scripture trades on these variations, so it's useful to be observant.

Suppose you're standing on a hilltop facing east, just before dawn. As the sun rises over the opposing hillside, the shadows retreat. As the sunlight strikes the hillside you're standing on, that's where the recession begins. When the sun is overhead, the valley is flooded with light. As the sun dips below the hillside, the valley becomes enveloped in shade, with shadows crawling up the opposing hillside. 

But suppose you're standing on a hilltop, facing west. As the sun rises, the valley is backlit. It comes alive in the light. By the same token, if you're facing east as the sun circles around behind you, the scene is backlit, but the light is muted. Fading, dying light. 

In the Christian pilgrimage, the road ahead is backlit. We don't see the sun directly. Rather, we see by the sun. We see the effects of sunshine. That's like faith and hope. 

The pilgrimage also has phases of twilight, moonlight, starlight, and pitch black. By contrast, heaven is like facing the sun, where faith and hope give way to sight. 

It's similar to the OT paradox about seeing God. You can't view God directly, face-to-face, and live–but you can see reflections of God. It reminds me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

As I have said before, there had been too much light ever since they left the island of Ramandu — the sun too large (though not too hot), the sea too bright, the air too shining. Now, the light grew no less — if anything, it increased — but they could bear it. They could look straight up at the sun without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and brighter and every rope shone. And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it.

After that for many days, without wind in her shrouds or foam at her bows, across a waveless sea, the Dawn Treader glided smoothly east. Every day and every hour the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it. No one ate or slept and no one wanted to, but they drew buckets of dazzling water from the sea, stronger than wine and somehow wetter, more liquid, than ordinary water, and pledged one another silently in deep draughts of it. And one or two of the sailors who had been oldish men when the voyage began now grew younger every day. Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. The further they sailed the less they spoke, and then almost in a whisper. The stillness of that last sea laid hold on them.

There was no need to row, for the current drifted them steadily to the east. None of them slept nor ate. All that night and all next day they glided eastward, and when the third day dawned — with a brightness you or I could not bear even if we had dark glasses on — they saw a wonder ahead. It was as if a wall stood up between them and the sky, a greenish-grey, trembling, shimmering wall. Then up came the sun, and at its first rising they saw it through the wall and it turned into wonderful rainbow colours. Then they knew that the wall was really a long, tall wave — a wave endlessly fixed in one place as you may often see at the edge of a waterfall. It seemed to be about thirty feet high, and the current was gliding them swiftly towards it. You might have supposed they would have thought of their danger. They didn't. I don't think anyone could have in their position. For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw — eastward, beyond the sun — was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter or a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. 

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