Light of the World

Curator's Statement:

Images of light permeate the verses of scripture, the prayers of the church, and the church’s hymnody. Sometimes that light is literal, as in God’s command in Genesis 1, “Let there be light!” But that light is often figurative, a symbol for goodness, for truth, for God. For instance, the Advent Collect, echoing Paul’s words in Romans 13:12, admonishes us to “cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light.”

What we understand from these repeated references to light, is a mysterious link between light and the holy. And while many other religious traditions draw this same connection, what distinguishes us as Christians is our belief that the Light became incarnate and lived among us. So we understand Light as a manifestation of the mystery and power of God the Creator AND as the Light of the World, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Surely it is fitting that, during the seasons which celebrate the Incarnation, texts about light occur so frequently. 

For Light of the World, ECVA invited members of The Artists Registry to engage in a visual exploration of these images of light, asking them to submit works that “give vision to the longing for light in the darkness and the growing anticipation of the birth of Christ,” reflecting “our search in darkness for the mystery of life-giving light.” In selecting images for the show I looked for works of artistic excellence which give visual expression to the theme in ways appropriate to each artist’s chosen medium. Many of the submissions are appropriate for Christmas and Epiphany as well as for Advent, and the selected works constitute a celebration of all three seasons.

The works chosen for the exhibition embody a broad interpretation of the theme and include both literal and symbolic light. Many images are non-representational, as though in recognition that God cannot be circumscribed within the bounds of the material world: Angela Wales Rockett’s luminous Vesper Light, Robin Rule’s Advent, with its central field of white bounded with slivers of color and a cross, and Moses Hoskins’ Untitled. Work by ECVA photographers is particularly strong. Some, such as the Rev. Scott’s Fisher’s Early Winter Morning, record scenes of crystalline clarity while others, such as Diane Walker’s Chosen, convey a sense of mystery. Many photographers picture paths or distant doorways which seem to draw the viewer forward, as in Robert Epley’s An Invitation to Follow and Krystyna Sanderson’s Places of Light 3. Lynda Smith-Bugge’s Beckoning repeats this theme in sculptural form. The works in fabric are also impressive, in particular Linda Witte Henke’s Light in Darkness and Barbara Mitchell’s The People Who Sat in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light. Finally, while I recognize that according to Orthodox theology an icon would not be included in an exhibition of art, I feel that the western church has much to gain from our appropriation of this ancient visual form, and I have included two icons in my selection of images. 

Deborah Scarff’s photograph, An Invitation, stands as the lead image for the exhibition. The artist explores, through the almost tactile sensitivity of the silver gelatin print, the concrete particulars of form and texture: the rough plastered wall, the heaviness of the altar cloth, the sliver of floor revealed by the light. The image documents the power of literal light to illumine a dim interior. Her ostensible subject is an altar in a chapel. But her words make clear that her intention goes beyond the literal light: “An altar bathed in sunlight is a simple image, with a very profound invitation. It catches our attention and pulls us in through the stark contrast of the light to offer us a meal full of hope, love, and peace to nourish a broken world. The light of the world illuminates those places that are in need of our attention and invites our participation through conversation at the ultimate meal.” 

I also offer two of my own images as my reflection on the theme:  the shaft of gold light which pierces Mary’s body in Here I am… is the Light of the Word (and the World), which becomes incarnate in a vulnerable infant; in the sculpture of MARY, she cradles Jesus protectively against the ordinary conditions of life as well as against the suffering foretold for this holy child. 

I hope ECVA viewers find their journey from Advent through Epiphany enriched by these images. I invite you to linger over them, to meditate through them. May they inspire us all to live by the words of the Collect for the first Sunday after Christmas: “Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives…”

Margaret Adams Parker
November 2008