(The Nationalist, 2 January 2004)


Christmas is a time of lights: in cribs, on trees, house decorations, in the shops and streets.

What is light? Physicists say that light carries energy. In fact, a beam of light is a beam of pure energy. They also tell us that light is both a wave and a particle. In some circumstances, a beam of light will behave like a stream of particles.

They tell us, too, that the only absolute, the only constant in the universe, is the velocity of light – 300,000 kilometres a second. And, regardless of the source of light, its velocity is always the same. If you were up in space, and a spaceship coming towards you at the speed of light turned on its headlights, their light would not travel towards you at twice the speed but at the normal speed of light. And if the spaceship were moving away from you at the speed of light, and flashed its rear lights, their light would travel towards you at the speed of light. That sounds impossible, even contradictory, but seemingly it is true.

At the day-to-day level, light is an enabler. We never see light, but we see by means of it. It makes sight possible. Without it, our eyes, even if in perfect condition, see nothing.

Light is one of the most obvious facts of life; it is totally self-evident and all-pervasive. It requires no definition but is perceived by everyone as making life possible. And no one can claim it as his own.

The most obvious source of light for us is the sun. Yet we can’t look at the sun directly because its light would blind us. Its light would overpower our sight.

Is it any wonder that many religions have seen light as an image of God? Hindus and Jews have festivals of light – Diwali and Hanukkah. The Bible speaks of God both as the creator of light and as light.

Religious writers saw God as being present to the individual in a way that is analogous to the presence of light in the act of seeing. The function of light is to give of itself. It literally burns itself out in self-giving. Saint John of the Cross used to say that, the purer a ray of light, the less it is seen. No one has ever seen God.

The presence of God produces light in the soul, or, to speak more correctly, it is this light itself which keeps alive in us a perpetual belief that God is, without particularizing as to what God is.