Fashion is no stranger to unusual palettes, but this season splicing shades together was standard: see yellow dress with pink shawl at JW Anderson, red trousers with green jacket at Pyer Moss. Well, we do need cheering up, says colour theorist Marcie Cooperman: “When bad things are happening, wearing several colours together can make us feel better.” LH
Throughout 2020 I have been on a deliberate exploration of colour, trying to get more of it into my life, trying to feel out where colour might lead me in both my creative life and my spiritual life. So in the midst of Lockdown 2 in the UK I am wondering whether, when I feel as if I am isolated against joy, insulated from it, that there is a particular barrier which is stopping me experiencing it; and whether colour is the way to connect with the joy I feel is so missing in me today.
One day I found myself daydreaming about colour in the Bible, and when I was re-reading the Gospel narratives of the Nativity, I was struck by the absence of colour descriptors in the stories. Are colours not words of spiritual relevance? A little research delighted my inner photographer, since the Hebrew word
translated in the KJV as “colors” (or its singular) is ayin (Strong’s Concordance #H5869), means “an eye” either figuratively or literally. According to the 1913 Jewish Encyclopedia and several Bible commentaries, ancient Hebrew had no specific term to describe this property of light… The ancient Israelites certainly knew what colors were as they saw them in Babylonian artwork (see Ezekiel 23:14). They also were aware of the art of their nearby neighbors (Judges 8:26). Scholarship has yet to offer a definitive answer as to the reason why the Hebrew language was deficient in its description of colors… Although the KJV lists bay, black, blue, brown, crimson, green, grey, hoar, purple, red, scarlet, sorrel, vermilion, white, and yellow, a precise translation of the underlying original language word(s) is difficult.
There is an intimate, sacred correspondence between colour and seeing. Scientific discoveries only strengthen this connection, since ‘colours’ are the names humanity assigns to different sections of the electromagnetic spectrum that each have a particular wavelength and frequency. These colours are the ‘visible light’, the light that the average human eye can see (and which can only be measured in nanometers (one billionth of a metre)). An average human eye might perceive wavelengths from about 390 nanometers long (violet) to about 700 nanometers (red).
Spectrum of visible light: Isaac Newton gave us the now familiar list of seven wavelengths of light that we can see: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo (a wavelength of light roughly 420 to 450 nanometers long), and Violet.
God gave me sight to wonder at these minute fractions of light piercing my eye each second. To the Great Artist it appears that colour is light is sight.
And what is cause for even greater wonder is all that remains unseen by my frail eyes, as is all that remains untranslatable and unknowable. The mysterious intricacies of all creation are here to give me joy, not for me to use and abuse, but for me to acknowledge the intimate presence of the Creator as it is being revealed in each and every nanometer.
Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all, until it becomes mindless, automated, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; until it becomes an inner law of nature. If Viktor Frankl can exclaim “yes to life, in spite of everything!” — and what an everything he lived through — then so can any one of us amid the rubble of our plans, so trifling by comparison. Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice. So often, it is a matter of attending to what Hermann Hesse called, as the world was about to come unworlded by its first global war, “the little joys”; so often, those are the slender threads of which we weave the lifeline that saves us.
Delight in the age-salted man on the street corner waiting for the light to change, his age-salted dog beside him, each inclined toward the other with the angular subtlety of absolute devotion.
Delight in the little girl zooming past you on her little bicycle, this fierce emissary of the future, rainbow tassels waving from her handlebars and a hundred beaded braids spilling from her golden helmet.
Delight in the snail taking an afternoon to traverse the abyssal crack in the sidewalk for the sake of pasturing on a single blade of grass.
Delight in the tiny new leaf, so shy and so shamelessly lush, unfurling from the crooked stem of the parched geranium.
I think often of this verse from Jane Hirshfield’s splendid poem “The Weighing”:
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
Yes, except we furnish both the grains and the scales. I alone can weigh the blue of my sky, you of yours.
praying for eyes to see. iPhone image.