Do We Like Light?

Modernity's claim of 'privacy' serves the same cloaking function as antiquity's 'darkness'

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Faith Morals

It is serendipitous coincidence that the Gospel of Our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, “the man who came to Jesus at night” (John 3:2), occurred this year on the same Sunday that Daylight Savings Time began — and within ten days of the beginning of spring. (Spring this year begins the earliest it has in more than a century, at 11:06 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 19). I mention spring because, once it arrives, every day for the next three months will be longer than every night, reaching maximum daylight on June 20, the longest day of the year. (NOR readers in the Southern Hemisphere can ignore most of this paragraph).

People who come at night or through back doors generally have mixed motives. Most charitably, they want to keep something discreetly out of the public eye. Nicodemus is a public official, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus already upended His relationship with many of them when He upended their moneychangers’ tables. Nicodemus knows his peers don’t like Jesus. But Nicodemus is also an honest and intellectually curious enough man to recognize there’s something to this Jesus, because “no one can do the signs you are doing unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

Least charitably, folks who slink around at night do so because there’s something (usually sexually) scandalous about their activities or destinations. There’s a reason we call it a “one-night stand” (even though plenty of cheating probably occurs in afternoons). In the musical “Evita,” that’s captured in the song, “I’d Be Good for You.” Telling Colonel Perón shortly after they are introduced that she’s “too good to miss,” Eva Duarte — the future Eva Perón — makes clear: “I’m not talking of a hurried night/a frantic tumble, then a shy goodbye/creeping home before it gets too light…” That’s exactly what Jesus is getting at — not just in matters sexual — when He says: “Men preferred darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come towards the light so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives in the truth comes to the light so that his works might be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3:19-21).

One must ask, however, whether we are not in a worse situation. Rochefoucauld called hypocrisy “the compliment vice pays to virtue,” expressed in the moral sensibility of “creeping home before it gets too light.” At best, our age rewraps vice as virtue: homicide becomes “choice.” At worst, it demands we applaud what is thrust in our faces: “shout your abortion!” And, of course, modernity often invokes “privacy” as its equivalent of a cloaking function for antiquity’s “darkness.”

So, while perhaps we might not prefer to shine too much moral light on things, we do prefer physical light. Even though they lose an hour of sleep, many people are happier with daylight savings over standard time. Polls point to growing numbers of people who would maintain Daylight Savings Time year-round; Senator Marco Rubio’s legislation to that end is pending in Congress.

This author is old enough to remember when that wasn’t true. Traditionally, farmers were not keen fans of Daylight Savings Time because their animals wake up early; cows need milking, whether it’s dark or light. But the biggest opposition to year round Daylight Savings Time came from parents, who did not want their children going to school mornings in the dark. You’ll notice, for the next few weeks, that to pay for extended evenings, it will be somewhat dark even after 7 a.m. The introduction of Daylight Savings Time in winter 1974 was repealed within a year under parental pressure at their kids heading out in the pitch darkness of January.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that 50-year old experiment. Perhaps, given the collapse in American marriage rates, fertility, and childbearing, the concerns of children no longer trump the preferences of adults. Perhaps the push in many quarters to start school later — ostensibly out of youth public health considerations — has something to do with it. Perhaps the overall societal shift towards the nocturnal does, too.

In any event, we seem to like the light — even sometimes at our kid’s expense.

Certainly, a great attraction of spring is the ever-lengthening, ever warmer days. And, of course, their length depends on one’s latitude: I remember visiting Denmark in May 2003, when the sun was up in Copenhagen until after 10 p.m. (I also remember landing at 9 a.m. in Finland on December 23, 1994, i.e., nearly the shortest day of the year, as dawn was breaking. With a six-hour layover, I decided to head into Helsinki. I took the bus back to Vantaa Airport at 1:30 p.m., as dusk was settling.)

Within three weeks, we’ll also celebrate the Paschal Vigil, a rite that begins with the “Service of Light” and the kindling of the Paschal Candle. It symbolizes the True Light that enlightens every man, the Light that — as we see palpably in church on Holy Saturday night — dispels the darkness, the worst darkness in which man finds himself. And, in the encounter with that Light, man is also called out into the light. The man who came to Jesus “at night” in the Gospel will step into the light of day when Jesus’ other friends are gone, going up to Calvary with myrrh and aloes to bury Him.

Lent is a time for dispelling darkness. Let us, too, step into the Light.

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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