This weekend, with the Oxford Light Festival, we celebrate light and its capacity to spark us into imagining and dreaming. All sorts of events are planned - from the lantern parade to Zooniverse, a global exercise in galaxy mapping. The highlight from my point of view is that, on Saturday, Luxmuralis are bringing to St Mary’s ‘Space: God, the universe and everything’, a light show intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. From 5.30pm, we will welcome everyone to come and experience the church in an entirely new way, hopefully to be amazed by the stunning projections designed by Peter Walker.
While the moon landing was a tad before my time, space exploration has exercised a strong pull throughout my life, influencing my reading, my trekkie fanhood and not least, my faith. One of my favourite short stories is ‘Nightfall’ by Isaac Asimov, inspired by a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
‘If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!’
The answer in the story is that humanity will go mad when confronted with the reality of light and its divine implications. Darkness in its fullness, is comforting and contracts the whole of the universe within us. But life is made possible by light, by the precarious relationship of physics and chemistry between our planet and our star. The vacuum of space makes us appreciate the presence of light all the more and inspires in us a feeling of awe and the nearness of the divine. It is scary and beautiful. Its scariness can provoke a sense of doubt. It takes courage to turn towards the light. What defines and makes light such a compelling human experience is the absence of it, those edges of darkness just waiting to intrude and invade, kept at bay by the flickering flame of hope.
Perhaps, it is in this brilliant incandescence, in a pitch black universe that God is most discernible.
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