As both a woman of faith and one who takes conscious steps to adopt earth-friendly practices in my life, I have recently found myself increasingly fascinated by the extent to which the story of Creation itself embodies ecological principles. Compelled by Creation, I decided to engage in an open-ended reflection on the day-by-day Genesis story.
What is it about God’s gift of light that never ceases to enthrall and uplift us, whose many powers include bringing us warmth on a cold day and pulling us out of the doldrums of depression? Whether light serves as a comforting reminder of upcoming festivities or as a beacon of hope, we have arrived in a season where holiday lights are plentiful, despite the reality that, throughout the month of December, the days grow shorter and the ambient bursts of sunlight are increasingly few and far between.
Indeed, today I find myself curled up beside a fire, with a purring cat, a mug of hot chocolate, and an enticing mystery novel. I lay down my book and look out the window, feeling a marked sense of disenchantment at skies gone grey. As I venture outside, the blast of holiday lights on my one-block street infuses me with a sense of warmth, hope, and connectedness that comes with feeling part of a close-knit, nurturing community. Earlier in the day, my phone display delivered the reminder, in a luminous flash, that a local historic estate boasting “a million lights” will soon open its gates to welcome families, whose small children will stand wide-eyed and their mouths agape at the wonder before the spectacle of 70 illuminated acres before them.
Light is transformative in its power to reveal that which was previously concealed. Even a person stricken by blindness can sense light’s radiant presence, whether it emanates from a flame or a man-made source. Without a doubt, every one of us knows snowbirds who flock to Florida for the winter to bask in the sun’s toasty rays, on the same beaches where college students make their annual spring break migration. In the natural world, green plants photosynthesize sunlight, directing its energy to fuel their growth. No doubt about it, light shines down and brings up God’s creation.
Given its contagious energy, it comes as no surprise that light has worked its way into the fabric of metaphorical language. My children and my cats are the lights of my life; when my feeble brain finally gets what’s going on, I have seen the light; and when hope vanquishes despair, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Shedding Some Light…on the Origin
In the Judeo-Christian lineage, at the end of Kislev, the darkest month of the year, Jews begin the eight-night celebration of Chanukah by lighting candles on menorahs to commemorate the unlikely victory of the Maccabees. At a similar time, in late December, Christians behold the birth of Christ, which they announce by draping fir trees with lights and adorning their homes with luminescent ornaments to muster a festive glow.
But before these end-of-year holidays existed, light made its original miraculous appearance in our world at the dawn of creation, as we know from Genesis. A quick look at the book’s first verse, as literally translated from the original Hebrew, can expand our understanding of Creation as a whole and the birth of light in particular. While most Christians have come to know the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” Old Testament theologians tell us that they can be most accurately translated as “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and earth…” And while to some, this slight variation in the first line of our common Bible may appear minute and insignificant, others may see it as an invitation to speculate. Perhaps, rather than simply state what God did as a completed act, the use of the verb “to create,” in its progressive “-ing” form nods to the process involved in Creation.
This tiny detail serves as an enormous revelation, as it places emphasis on the ongoing nature of God’s creative act, during which we learn that he “hovered” over his creation, pondering during his process, considering what needed to follow. And then, as if in a flash of consciousness, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’” bestowing us with that scintillating gift to illuminate the surrounding obscurity.
Light: Past, Present, and Future
As I reflect on this infinite, ever-renewable gift, I find myself visualizing a lighthouse on a foggy coast, emitting a steady stream of light to beckon adrift seafarers back to harbor. Finding our way home, open doors draw us into the glowing hearth, to a space where we can share tales of our lives with our loved ones. At the end of Day One, we are blessed with the creation of earth, light, and time, marked by Night and Day. Also, we are reminded not only of our individual homes, but also of our common, shared home, our planet Earth.
This twofold conception of home, coupled with lessons from God’s own process of creation on Day One of Genesis can ignite our inner fire and bring us to a place of action. Firstly, as regards our own places of rest and belonging, we can take the time to nurture our home environment, be it by making it sparkle, ridding spaces of clutter that can be donated to local charitable organizations, engaging in joyful re-creation by repurposing objects for our own use or as offerings to our loved ones, taking a stab at something new in the kitchen (or changing up a tried-and-true recipe for kicks), and other fun and interactive activities that can involve the entire family.
Extending this gesture outside of our microcosms, we can turn our energy of gratitude towards those not fortunate enough to inhabit spaces they can call their own, by donating our time, good cheer, and material resources to local homeless shelters, and perhaps collaborating in formulating community policies to eradicate homelessness.
And secondly, moving from the personal and local spheres outward, we can embrace the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (literally, repairing the earth) and participate in creation care, as practiced by many Christian organizations, which point out that God not only gave us the earth, but commanded us to take care of it. This past month was the warmest November on our planet, surpassing official reports of record-high temperatures in 2016 and 2019. While God created this earth as our collective dwelling, we have neglected our duty as his co-creations to nurture our relationship with Mother Earth as we would a parent, child, or spouse—over the long haul, in good times and bad.
Whether we take simple steps, like gathering garbage within walking distance of our homes (and hey, this provides an opportunity to get more steps in for the day!), engaging with local groups to expand community recycling options, or perhaps partnering with inspiring, future-thinking folks engaged in creation care, we can all find meaningful ways to re-calibrate our daily practices, nourishing our relationship with our surroundings. And who knows, we may find inspiration for future creations along the way!
About the Author
Jeanne-Hélène (Néna) Roy, a contributor to Consensus, is an Associate Professor Emerita of French at the University of Akron. Throughout her professional career, Néna specialized in and authored works on the French Enlightenment, contemporary French fiction, and cinema studies. With undergraduate degrees from both France and the United states, she holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, and has most recently become a certified yoga instructor. She has guest-lectured and taught throughout the United States, as well as in France and Italy. Néna currently lives in Akron, Ohio with her two teens and a smattering of cats.