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of the sun over the Nullarbor, the easy,
tropical constancy of Wewak, or the
polarities of Mawson Base. Landscape and
A child is born, and, a solar return later,
a birthday is celebrated. The mood of that
day stands out from others. As the solar
returns increase in number, the feeling
changes, deepens, marks a spiral of years
that has its own kind of celebration and
re ection, belonging to that person, in a
relationship marked by the turning of the
sun and their inner self.
A dog barks at the inexplicable, but
the day a child discovers her own shadow,
and skips and dances to see its instant
response stepping and darting, it is a
unique arrival of self consciousness more
archetypal than the childs trivial game
This same shadow plays out in Platos
Cave. There is mystery in the play of sun
on matter here. For Noah, the rolling
back of the clouds after the Gilgamesh
deluge brings the sight and discovery of
the rainbow, signifying the deitys spiritual
gift of forgiveness. For Aboriginal people,
losing a large part of Australia to the rising
waters also bore the gift of the rainbow
serpent. In Newgrange, the winter solstice
shaft of light penetrates the tunnel and
lls the underground chamber with a
moment of light.
The sun is the most obvious and
original source of light in our lives, but
there is also the moon, which shifts the
meaning and experience of that light,
an entirely different mood. Have you
marvelled at the exquisiteness of the
crescent sliver, tilting to the west? Or
been tempted out into the summer night,
bathed in full moonlight? The discovery
of ones moonshadow is an inexplicably
fresh excitement. The discovery of Earth,
from the pictures of the Apollo spacecraft
ying above the moon, is a parallel moment
in humanitys evolution in metaphysic
There are some who stretch that
sensitivity: the artist, or scientist, or
contemplative, or all three rolled into one.
Consider James Turrell, a noted American
social artist working with light and space.
A conscientious objector before Vietnam,
(I was a Quaker and then, for a while,
I wasnt. And now I am again¹), Turrell
ew the southwest searching for an ideal
desert location, and found Roden Crater,
an extinct volcano near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Over the decades, Turrell has created an
extraordinary artistic architectural/artistic
conversation between earth and heaven,
sculpting light and earth within that Crater.
I make these spaces that apprehend light
for your perception, Turrell explains. ²
Using the freedom of the desert, I
wanted to use the very ne qualities of
light. First of all, moonlight. Also, theres
a space where you can see your shadow
from the light of Venus alone.... And also
wanted to gather starlight that was from
Moments of Light
outside, light thats not only from outside
the planetary system which would be from
the sun or re ectedoffofthemoon ora
planet, but also...older light thats away
from the light even of our galaxy. So that
is light that would be at least three and a
half billion years old. So youre gathering
light thats older than our solar system.
And its possible to gather that light, it
takes a good bit of stars to do that, and
a good look into older skies, away from
the Milky Way. You can gather that light
and physically have that in place so that
its physically present to feel this old light.
Now thats a blended light, of course, but
its also red-shifted, so its a different tone
of light than were normally used to. But
thats something that you can do here in
a place like this, where you have good,
Turrell, who conceived the remarkable
Live Oak Friends Meeting House in
Houston, remembers as a child his
grandmothers instructions to sit in Quaker
silence and go inside to greet the light. It
is perhaps too easily brushed aside as an
abstract attempt to describe God. Instead,
Turrell in his Roden Crater design asks us
to pay close attention. We can all ask, Is
light as we perceive it the material edge
of a larger spiritual force? Why did early
Quakers call themselves Children of
the Light when they were so adamantly
opposed to ctions?
The Hindu, Jain and Sikh goodwill
festival of lights, Diwali; the triumphant
light in Zoroaster; Akhenatens anomalous
monotheistic religion of light; the Judaic
Genesis all suggest there is more to this
than an abstract picture of God, something
that it is a meditation on God. Christ
declared he was of the Light, and John
1:9 speaks of it also. Early Friend Dorothy
Howill speaks with awe: a pure light was
arising in me; George Fox in 1656 called
us to be patterns, be examples... so that
we are gathering up out of transgression
into the life, the covenant of light and peace
As with all spiritual gifts, the Light in its
material form is subject to abuse as the
neon of the strip joint, the pencil thin laser-
guiding weapons, a brightness greater than
a thousand suns, in one nuclear moment.
There is the risk of being trapped by
the beauty of the leadlight, and coloured
glass, and thinking it is God. A metaphysical
history of Light offers another way to
investigate our spiritual path. Light, not as a
metaphor, but as a metaphysic.
1. Greeting the Light (2007) http://www.conversations.
2. Interview with James Turrell http://www.pbs.org/wnet/
3. Art: 21. PBS, Series 5, October 2009 http://www.pbs.
Adrian Glamorgan traces a metaphysical history of Light.
If the sun, at its most material, affects
our experience of the day and season,
how might the Light, at its spiritual
heart, transmute our own lives, moment
We know the moods of sunlight.
Regard its seasonal faces: in spring, the
sun brightens and quickens us. The suns
overhead presence in summer is almost
too much, engaging us outwardly even
to the point of sunburn, veering us to
hedonism or indolence. By autumn, there
is casting re ection, the possibilities of
inward retreat. Come winter, and the
dim light desolates the outer, leading us
Morning has a different feel to late
afternoon. In its meeting with night, there
is the glory of sunset; in its daily arrival,
the soft quiet and promise of dawn.
Sunlight also has its geography. The
thin, weak light of Edinburgh, or the soft
sunlight of the Parisian sky compares with
the exuberance of Sydney, the vastness
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