Winter Light

My January column from the Christian Courier.

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As this column appears in your mailbox we are in the season of Epiphany—in the midst of the church’s celebration of light and the one who is the light of the world. The texts that echo in our ears and minds are those that invite: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Or which declare: “Jesus did the first of his signs…and revealed his glory.”

Yet as I write the words of this column we are still in the thick of Advent. The present season is as much about darkness and judgment as it is about the light that shines in the darkness. On the Sunday that approaches we will hear “rejoice in the Lord always,” alongside “You brood of vipers.” The one for whom we wait is a judging/saving God who names our death dealing ways.

Thinking beyond the church year, the earth’s tilted, rotating orbit around the sun implies a similar gap between the writing and the reading of this column. As I write these words in early December we are still on our way toward the longest night of the year. You read them on the other side of the winter solstice, with daylight hours steadily increasing.

Writing a column requires that one inhabit two worlds simultaneously. On the one hand acknowledging the present moment as I know it, and on the other hand anticipating some future moment which can’t be known—a moment whose reality may change the meaning of my words or even render them meaningless. Light and darkness do not have precisely the same meaning on December 6th and on January 6th.

There are different ways to conceive the passage between increasing darkness and increasing light. One way is for us to simply notice the light and our experiences of it in these diverse moments. Especially, perhaps, to pay attention to our longing and need for light. Here in Montreal, there is a unique way to seek out light; to encounter it as persistent gift and mystery through these weeks.

For twelve years, now, Luminothérapie has brightened Montreal nights from the first week of December into February. Hosted in the Quartier des Spectacle (the downtown area which hosts many festivals), the project brings the creative works of digital and visual artists into our long nights. As the title suggests, this public display is built on an awareness that this sequence of days is one that needs the healing gift of light.

This year, again, a veritable playground of light has been created—playground concretely understood. Across the large open square there are teeter-totters built as horizontal beams of light, with kids and adults springing up alternately on these fluorescent shafts. Over-sized, light-emitting teeter-totters can’t help but produce excited chatter and laughter.

In the early evening after the sun has gone down, the exterior façade of the eleven-story Wilder building is illuminated with images of waterscapes. Video of the local Lachine Rapids is projected, overlain with digital or synthetic wave forms. The building becomes a wall of light and water in motion—bathing the Quartier with brightness.

At the centre of this year’s Luminothérapie is a 5-tonne whale created by Mathias Gmachl. It, also, is illuminated from all sides. Yet if you come to close to the whale, the lights dim and a sound calls out. A reminder of the harm we are doing to the planet, to whales more specifically, and our shared complicity in this. As you step back from the whale, to give it space, it glows again beautifully.

Perhaps a whale, wanting to illuminate our lives and world—wanting us to see the ways we influence the interplay of darkness and light—is the perfect passage through these weeks. All being well, as of your reading this column, the whale will still be there lighting up the night. An invitation to the playground of light that is our world.

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