day 11

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

Carl Jung

Yesterday I wondered how the dark matter of my life might be a source of joy.  Today I find myself wondering about ‘dark light’, which Wikipedia defines as:

Dark light (vision) or eigengrau, the color seen by the eye in perfect darkness. Dark light, a theoretical force that only interacts with dark matter.

The dark places in my life still have colour.  They maybe full of deeply uncomfortable, painful, terrifying, traumatic memories, but they are not beyond the power of transformation.  As ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) creator Steven Hayes says, ‘There is as much life in a moment of pain as in a moment of joy.’

Too often though, I am paralysed by what lies in my darkness, a deep unconscious fear prevents me seeing this life, prevents me from flourishing.  This New Year’s Day reflection from Keren Dibbens-Wyatt speaks to the nature of shadows:

How long the darkness falls now from the past and the yet to come!  Here at the gates of beginning, starting over, we feel the desire to let our monsters tear themselves away and walk slowly off into the night leaving us puffing our cheeks full of sighs, free to begin again, and yet soon, too soon, the pressure of needing to Get It Right This Time overtakes us.  The lengthening stretch of our potential obscures the gravel before us … but perhaps we might stop and remember we can ask to be led.  We can watch the light increase … For if our silhouettes were not constantly thrown before us, we would not have a following light, or we would find ourselves stripped of what is anyway declining, distraught like Peter Pam, forever chasing our own darkness and wanting to stitch it back on. 

(‘Day 274: Shadows’, Garden of God’s Heart, Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (274))

God’s light may appear to be only dark light to my fear-filled eyes, but Rilke reminds me that ’to you, and to evening, and the poets/things darkest run clear’ (from ‘You are Cloister to the Stigmata’, Book of Pilgrimage, Rilke. trans Susan Ranson).  Even when I feel I am only filled to the brim with murkiness, where no light shines, where no light could penetrate, I can remember: I am not dark to God; even dark is not dark to God.  Although I cannot see it, there is life here.  I can rest in this.  I can close my eyes.  I can find comfort.  I can choose joy even in the darkest of darks.  And that joy will hold me in safety so I can pray:

Make me your holy darkness, your blessed night.  Transform me into a great silence that drowns out distracting noises.  Fashion me into one who sees with the eyes of the soul.  I long to be a protective mantle of comforting darkness for all who need rest.  Give me insight into the Holy Mystery that cradles me through the night.

 – O make of me your night prayer.

(Macrina Wiederkehr, ‘Litany of the Hours’ from Seven Sacred Pauses (177-179))

Listen to Velma Frye sing Macrina Wiederkehr’s lyric ‘O comforting darkness’

The arms of darkness hold us,

Revealing now how dear we are.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

Enfold us and hold us.

Inform us, transform us.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

Surround us, all around us,

And hold our light, like sky to star.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

O beautiful darkness. O comforting darkness.

dark light fall. iPhone image.

day 10

Sometimes, gliding at night

in a plane over New York City

I have felt like some messenger

called to enter, called to engage

this field of light and darkness.

A grandiose idea, born of flying.

But underneath the grandiose idea

is the thought that what I must engage

after the plane has raged onto the tarmac

after climbing my old stairs, sitting down

at my old window

is meant to break my heart and reduce me to silence.

Adrienne Rich from ‘North American Time: VIII’ (1983)

The Biblical stories tell me that the journey the sages undertook more than two thousand years ago was an adventure into nightseeing.  Their guiding light was a cosmic display, only visible in the deep dark.  It seems like one of those Kingdom paradoxes that I might only be able to see my way on this JoyPilgrimage, if I keep my eyes and heart open to the undersides of my world where I would rather not pay attention.  I will need to pay attention to what I suspect might be the spiritual equivalent of ‘dark matter’.

NASA defines dark matter thus:

Dark matter is composed of particles that do not absorb, reflect, or emit light, so they cannot be detected by observing electromagnetic radiation. Dark matter is material that cannot be seen directly. We know that dark matter exists because of the effect it has on objects that we can observe directly.

In Underland Robert Macfarlane visits a mine deep under the North Sea where he meets a scientist called Christopher who shows him experiments designed to search for the properties of dark matter:

‘Right now,’ Christopher says, ‘you are looking into the absolute smallness of the universe with pinpoint accuracy, peering down at the most minute of scales.  Those coloured lines are our magnifying lens.’  Then he says – as if the phrase has just entered his head without warning, scoring a trace as it passes through – ‘Everything causes a scintillation.’  He pauses. ‘Why are you looking for dark matter?’ I ask.  ‘To further our knowledge,’ Christopher replies without hesitation, ‘and to give life meaning.  If we’re not exploring, we’re not doing anything.  We’re just waiting.’ … ‘Is the search for dark matter an act of faith?’ I ask him. (67)

‘Everything causes a scintillation’, everything emits colour, visible and invisible.  Exploring the darkness, exploring the night’s space, exploring the dark night of the soul, will mean searching for this new palette.  There are times when all I can do is sit still and wait to see what is the right direction for my exploring energy.  I do not need to exhaust myself and use up all my reserves in restless seeking.  There are times when it is dangerous to travel into these places, especially alone.  Yet I come back to remembering: the dark is not dark to God.  I will not be alone, I will not be overwhelmed.  By opening myself to an encounter with the present, in all its colours, I am opening myself to the multitude of manifestations of the Presence.  

I choose Joy.

Were you one of the three

came travelling to the workshop

with your gifts of heart, mind and soul

to the newly born in the cradle?

Was that a halo above it

of molecules and electrons,

with the metal gone hoarse trying 

to reiterate: Holy. Holy. Holy? …

from ‘Incarnation’,

R.S. Thomas, Counterpoint

dark signatures.  iPhone images.

day 9

What I fear and desire most in this world is passion. I fear it because it promises to be spontaneous, out of my control, unnamed, beyond my reasonable self. I desire it because passion has color, like the landscape before me. It is not pale. It is not neutral. It reveals the backside of the heart.

Terry Tempest Williams

I choose joy.  It might get messy.  It might be difficult to imagine, it might be hard to realise, and it might be even harder to hold onto.  But as Henri Nouwen says,

We can choose joy … choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise … or choose despair and be destroyed by it.

(Bread for the Journey, 38)

I choose joy because I know I want to live with an open heart, open towards my God, towards others and towards my self.  I know this choice to journey along the road to Joy will need perseverance. There will be darkness. There will be difficulties.  There will be diversions.  I will need to cling onto hope for all I am worth, if I am to recognise the promises, the opportunities, that can arise out every encounter and every experience.  Alain de Botton and John Armstrong suggest that,

… in many cases the difference between success and failure is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due.  We might be doomed not by a lack of skill, but by an absence of hope … we need tools that can preserve our hopeful dispositions.

(Art as Therapy, 13)

During the midst of this year’s global pandemic, colour suddenly burst forth as the sign and emblem of hope, compassion, gratitude and solidarity.  The rainbow’s spectrum appeared everywhere, claimed by religious and non-religious alike.  

lockdown rainbow (Kate Kennington Steer, mixed media collage)

What is it about this array of colour that represents such a well of emotions?  Keren Dibbens-Wyatt offers me this contemplative perspective:

A promise ribbon falling in a cascade of colours through the air as the sky dries its tears and finally lets the sun shine.  A bridge between sadness and joy, arching across the divide between creation and re-creation.  Your partialness just as much an illusion as your sudden appearance, when of course your spectrum is always there and you are just one visible section of God’s wedding band, round and perfect, a sign of covenant grace encircling those he loves, people and animals, to whom he says, “Never again” and “I am with you always.”  Hovering hues, high and holy, a sneak preview of the kingdom to come, like a glimpse of God’s petticoat sweeping through the blue.  A breakthrough of that world to this.  An eternal beau of brightness, almost unbearable in its simple vibrancy, so that it must depart into the invisible soon and fade.  Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

‘Day 37: Rainbow’, Garden of God’s Heart, Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (37)

spectrum’s shimmer. iPhone image.

Sunday 2

you need to be very still
to hear the concert of your body 

to think about what you contain 

salt and water
knows what it’s doing
renewing itself
back to earth
it is a quiet thing
this is where our riches are
we are all red inside
brimming with love
all fluid and quiet and fire. 


Kerrie O’Brien

I am on the journey towards being a JoyPilgrim.  Reflecting on where my ‘riches are’, I remembered Eckhart Tolle writing about ‘isness’, the transformative power of doing absolutely nothing, merely being:

Find the “narrow gate that leads to life” … It is called the Now.  Narrow your life down to this moment … use your senses fully.  Be where you are.  Look around.  Just look, don’t interpret.  See the lights, shapes, colours, textures.  Be aware of the silent presence of each thing.  Be aware of the space that allows everything to be … Allow the ‘isness’ of all things.  Move deeply into the Now.  

Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now (52)

I spend much of my time in bed, seemingly doing nothing.  Coming to the end of each day and still seemingly having ‘nothing to show for it’ is a habitual mind script that I am trying to change.  Such language of achievement and productivity is deeply unhelpful to a perfectionist like me and over the years it has become a very large stick with which I can beat myself.  Such language takes me further and further away from the Now, distancing me from the revelation of the Holy in that instant.  The more I am isolated from the Holy, the more ill I become.  

So my spiritual journey is characterised by the idea of ‘travelling whilst staying still’.  I long to be constantly open to the transformative potential of each moment, where Sophia waits to guide, teach, reassure, lead, and play.  ‘Travelling whilst staying still’ is a heart journey, not merely a mental idea; it is an intentional, chosen-moment-by-moment, holistic adventure into Joy.

The first king was on horseback.

The second a pillion rider.

The third came by plane.

Where was the god-child?

He was in the manger

with the beasts, all looking

the other way where the fourth

was a slow dawning because

wisdom must come on foot.

R.S.Thomas, from Counterpoint.

fluid quiet fire. iPhone image.

day 7

this skin

this Black skin

a constant reminder of centuries of genocides in a world that kept/keeps silent every time it happens

this Black skin

a symbol of glory and triumph, symbolizing that despite all we conquered!

a skin whose essence is made of honey and gold but who’s story has been summed up to that of slavery and oppression

even though the sea holds more history of us than white minds ever will and even though the genocide continues till today. We have rised, we are rising.

because we are not defined by your crooked ignorance of who we are nor by the white supremacist version your history textbooks teach you

my melanin has and never will demand acceptance from you. i am centuries old in this small body, because my ancestors have lived the lesser life so i could have a fuller one

i have lived all these memories a century ago and so my wisdom and light is a reflection of that

i am Black and i carry the burden of the universe on my shoulders because the world’s agenda seems to want to destroy the very being of where they came from

i am Black, and there was way God could have blessed me more, no way he could’ve made me more beautiful

my skin is the color of the earth and my hair defies gravity… i am magical, i am Black!

‘This Black skin — a poem on Blackness’

Elizabeth Queta

(see/hear her read this at an open mic night)

I cannot go any further into this pilgrimage towards Joy by exploring colour, without stating I am profoundly troubled by the historical connections between colour and class, and between colour and race.  In this year where the world’s response to the killing of George Floyd was a wake-up call to many, and such injustice became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, I cannot avoid confronting my own casual assumptions.  It is no longer enough to say ‘we are all people of colour’ when part of the social construction of my understanding of colour is made up of passages such as this, from Goethe’s Theory of Colours (1810):

… it is also worthy of remark, that savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great predilection for vivid colours: that animals are excited to rage by certain colours; that people of refinement avoid vivid colours in their dress and the objects that are about them, and seem inclined to banish them altogether from their presence.

I do not know what to say to my ‘black’ friends other than asking for their forgiveness for my part in perpetuating, however unwittingly, such assumptions.  Even the following fascinating account of the symbiotic nature of light and darkness, cannot help drawing on an inherited metaphor of cultural imperialism:

Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surprisingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that make it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture.  Without that darkness, there would only be a blur.  Which is to say that a full-length movie consists of half an hour of pure darkness that goes unseen.  If you could add up all the darkness, you would find the audience in the theater gazing together at a deep imaginative night.  It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map.

from Rebecca Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost (175)

My grief and silence makes language itself seem a ‘terra incognita’, an unknown land where my vocabulary deserts me when I think of the pain my fellow human beings impose on one another through apartheid, racism and segregation.  Somewhere in this too I have to choose joy, but just at this precise moment, that feels deeply difficult.  I am ‘in the dark’, sitting alongside so many others, holding each other in solidarity as we cry to God and to one another, for justice, for mercy, for freedom.

You have looked at so many doors with longing, wondering if your life lay on the other side.

For today, choose the door that opens to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way of all: the path that leads you to the center of your life.

No map but the one you make yourself.

No provision but what you already carry and the grace that comes to those who walk the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing as you set out and watch how your rhythm slows, the cadence of the road drawing you into the pace that is your own.

Eat when hungry. Rest when tired. Listen to your dreaming. Welcome detours as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection. Ask for the guidance you need. Offer gladness for the gifts that come and then let them go.

Do not expect to return by the same road.

Home is always by another way and you will know it not by the light that waits for you but by the star that blazes inside you telling you where you are is holy

and you are welcome here.

‘The Map You Make Yourself’

Jan L Richardson

terra incognita.  original artwork by Kate Kennington Steer (mixed media)

day 6

I could not predict the fullness
of the day. How it was enough
to stand alone without help
in the green yard at dawn.

How two geese would spin out
of the ochre sun opening my spine,
curling my head up to the sky
in an arc I took for granted.

And the lilac bush by the red
brick wall flooding the air
with its purple weight of beauty?
How it made my body swoon,

brought my arms to reach for it
without even thinking.

In class today a Dutch woman split
in two by a stroke – one branch
of her body a petrified silence,
walked leaning on her husband

to the treatment table while we
the unimpaired looked on with envy.
How he dignified her wobble,
beheld her deformation, untied her

shoe, removed the brace that stakes
her weaknesses. How he cradled
her down in his arms to the table
smoothing her hair as if they were

alone in their bed. I tell you –
his smile would have made you weep.

At twilight I visit my garden
where the peonies are about to burst.

Some days there will be more
flowers than the vase can hold.

‘I tell You’

Adrienne Rich

If I am to choose joy today I am going to have to make the gargantuan effort to stay present.  As part of my preparations for my journey as a JoyPilgrim, I need to sit much more lightly to my mind’s ruminating thoughts, get curious, and perceive what is really going on around me in this moment.  Where I put my attention will dictate what I am able to see today and what, in turn, I am able to feel.  As Rob Walker says in The Art of Noticing:

To stay eager, to connect, to find interest in the everyday, to notice what everybody else overlooks—these are vital skills and noble goals. They speak to the difference between looking and seeing, between hearing and listening, between accepting what the world presents and noticing what matters to you.

Paying attention to the details, the colours, of my life in this immediate moment, here and now, will bring me directly into contact with the Holy.  Paying attention is the doorway to wonder and the doorway to gratitude.  Most significantly paying attention will bring me into an encounter where I might behold some part of the Immensity who is Joy.

God cannot be thought, but God can be met. Through awe and wonder we experience God and there, as mystics have always stated, we understand more by not understanding than by understanding. In that posture we let God be God. In such a posture, too, we live in contemplation. 

Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God (117).

rise up. iPhone image.

day 5

Once in the Advent season
When I was walking down
A narrow street

I met a flock of children
Who all came running up to me
Saying that they were prophets
And for a penny they
Would prophesy

I gave them each a penny

They started out
By rummaging in trash-cans
Until they found
A ragged piece of silk

It’s blue, they said
Blue is a holy color
Blue is the color that
The mountains are
When they are far away

They laid the rag
On a small fire
Of newspaper and shavings
And burned it in the street

They scraped up all the ashes
And with them decorated
Each other’s faces

Then they ran back to me
And stood
In a circle ‘round me

We stood that way
In a solemn silence
One of the children spoke

It was the prophecy!

He said that long before
The pear tree blossoms
Or sparrows in the hedges
Begin to sing

A Child will be our King.

Anne Porter

Is blue a holy colour as Anne Porter suggests?  It certainly figures dominantly in many paintings of the Madonna and Child.  It is after all, one of three primary colours, from which all other hues can be made.  In that sense it might be called an incarnational colour.  But any easy assumption that the sky is blue risks blinkering myself by my own expectations, and expectations are a major handicap on any spiritual pilgrimage.  As I set my heart’s intention of being a ‘joy pilgrim’ for this Advent, I need to be intent on being curious about every facet of every blue that may appear during these days, to see where joy might be revealed.  The English historian A.L.Rowse described such an encounter with blue:

The peculiar purity of the blue sky seen through the white clusters of the apple-blossom in spring.  I remember being moon-struck looking at it early one morning on my way to school.  It meant something to me; what I couldn’t say.  It gave me unease at heart, such reaching out towards perfection such as impels men to religion, some sense of the transcendence of things, of the fragility of our hold upon life.

(found in John Pridmore, Playing with Icons: The Spirituality of Recalled Childhood)

cloudscape (original artwork by Kate Kennington Steer)

Where might joy be found in this ‘unease at heart’?  How does my attraction to blue clothing, for example, sit next to my recognition of Rowse’s description of perfection, transcendence, purity, fragility?

How simple is it to be ‘moon-struck’ by blue?  In Underland the poet Robert Macfarlane explored some of the deepest places below the earth’s crust:  

Crevasses open around us, a few feet deep only at first, soon dropping to twenty, thirty, fifty, countless feet deep.  Colours change.  The surface ice is whiter than at the snout.  The crevasses glow … Here the blue is even more intense, more radiant, older … Ice is blue because when a ray of light passes through it, it hits the crystal structure of ice and is deflected, bounces off another crystal and is deflected again, bounces off into another, and another, and in this manner ricochets its way to the eye.  Light passing through the ice therefore travels much further than the straight-line distance to the eye.  Along the way the red end of the spectrum is absorbed, and only the blue remains. (385)

Be ‘moon-struck’ by blue; be awed, silenced, confronted by depth and immensity.  Yet it might also be easy to be over-awed, overcome perhaps by joy, but perhaps too, by an ‘unease of heart’. In an attitude of wonder Mcfarlane writes: 

Ice has a memory and the colour of this memory is blue… The colour of deep ice is blue, a blue unlike any other in the world – the blue of time.  The blue of time is glimpsed in the depths of crevasses.  The blue of time is glimpsed in the calving faces of glaciers, where bergs of 100,000-year-old ice surge to the surface of fjords from far below the water level.  The blue of time is so beautiful that it pulls body and mind towards it. (338-9)

I am on a journey that follows in the footsteps of wise ancients being pulled toward joy – mind, body and spirit.  I am intent on choosing joy.  Yet I also recognise that in the making of that choice, I need to see the flip side, to hear the pain that the Blues songs express so powerfully.  Similarly, next to Macfarlane’s experiences sits an acknowledgement of the pain the earth itself might feel.  This is clearly seen in the photographer Timo Lieber’s images of the Arctic, where beautiful, but hugely troubling pools of water are forming on the melting ice cap. “There are so many lakes, it’s scary. A landscape you’d expect to be pristine white is just littered with blue”, Lieber says.

Blue might be holy, and perhaps part of its’ intrinsic holiness is a sacred ability to warn us; its’ sacred duty is to draw us in, confounding our expectations and easy assumptions.  If joy is blue to me today, it seems to suggest that deliberately choosing joy must always be a commitment made from the wisdom of compassionately seeing the pain sitting alongside the joy.

Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.

Jan L Richardson

singing the blues. iPhone image.

day 4

… judging from the scripture of the season, Christmas is surely meant to be an attitude toward life, not a carnival. It is meant to be arrived at slowly and lived succulently. Christmas is not meant to be simply a day of celebration; it is meant to be a month of contemplation….

Advent is an excursion through scripture meant to give depth and emotional stability to the days for which there are no songs, no tinsel, no flashing lights to distract us from its raw, tart marrow.

Joan Chittister, Thanksgiving 2017

A month of contemplation of life’s ‘raw, tart marrow’, does not sound either joyful or appealing.  Yet if I am to understand anything on this journey into joy, I need to be clear about my intention.  I wish to become a ‘JoyPilgrim’, exploring the nature of the One who is Joy, the One who brings joy to me in all the ups and downs of my everyday here-and-now, the One who longs for my days to be joy-filled in a world saturated with grief and uncertainty.

So I need to get curious about looking for where joy might be revealed, and what the colours of joy might be.  I want to pay attention to what colours block the light of joy in me.  Which might I reflect back to help someone else’s day?  I need to scrutinise my colour blindness.  I need to peer into the shadowed places where I have camouflaged the places of deep shame and loss, even from my own sight.  I need to examine the cultural frameworks which have directed my understanding of colour thus far, and challenge the easy shorthands of symbolic meanings in their differences.

For there are miracles of colour happening in the nature all around me.  They might be a source of joy for me, as yet unseen. Dr Helen Czorski brought to my attention the fireflies in the Smokey Mountains, whose mating displays in May and June are showers of pinprick colours, where the male creates its own personal colour in order to attract a female, making their bodies become physical lanterns of light.  If I have eyes to see, one of the smallest species on earth might show me how life harnesses light.

May my lifelight shine in my colours today.

Blue sky … is a flag that signals … high-intensity light and, therefore, optimal conditions for photosynthesis… Blue means a lot of work.  The trees get full as they convert light, carbon dioxide, and water into supplies of sugar, cellulose, and other carbohydrates … the colour of organisms and objects is dictated by the colour of reflected light.  And in the case of leaves on trees, this colour is green… But why don’t we see leaves as black? Why don’t they absorb all the light?  Chlorophyll helps leaves process light … however, [it] has one disadvantage.  It has a so-called green gap, and because it cannot use this part of the colour spectrum, it has to reflect it back unused … What we are really seeing is waste light … Beautiful for us, useless for the trees …  The colour gap in chlorophyll is also responsible for another phenomenon: green shadows … shadows are not all the same colour.  Although many shades of colour are filtered out in the forest canopy – for example, very little red and blue made their way through – this is not the case of the “trash” colour green.  Because the trees can’t use it, some of it reaches the ground.  Therefore the forest is transfused with a subdued green light that just happens to have a relaxing effect on the human psyche.

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees (227-230)

reflection. iPhone image.

day 3

… think not so much of something ‘being’ a colour but of it ‘doing’ a colour.  The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colours they describe – in such a way that when the white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the ‘red’ tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red.  A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance …

from Colour: Travels through the Paintbox, Victoria Finlay (6)

Earlier this year I was brought up short by an advent for Gudrun clothes: 

‘Be the colour in colourful’ 

it urged me.  What colour was I being in that moment?  What colour am I projecting to others as I write this sentence?  To use Victoria Finlay’s metaphor, are my atoms shivering vibrantly?

I hope to explore the visceral connections between joy, light and sight this Advent, and particularly to concentrate on how an internal commitment to being joyful – and thus colourful – might affect my doing colour in the lives of others.  For designer Ingrid Fettell Lee, colour is a happening which directly affects our ability to feel joy:

When I studied color and its effect on joy, I wondered: Why is there such a gap between the colors that enliven us, and the colors that surround us?  “Chromophobia,” was the immediate answer I received … Why are people scared of color? “It’s the fear of making a choice,” said an architect. “Of making a mistake and having to live with it.” … Why are there so many chromophobes out there? I think it’s because there’s a cultural bias against color. We’ve come to dismiss color and joy as childish and frivolous, prizing neutral hues as a mark of coolness and mature taste. That belief has left us in a place where we feel almost ashamed to have color in our lives.  I’ve spent the last decade studying joy. From the beginning, it was clear that the liveliest places and things all had one thing in common: bright, vivid color… The human eye is adept at distinguishing between subtly different colors; scientists estimate we can see as many as seven million distinct shades… While we think of color as an attribute, really it’s a happening: a constantly occurring dance between light and matter… Ultimately, creating colors that enliven us is about increasing the activity of these vibrating little particles in a space. Bright colors animate the light that shines on them, reflecting it around a space and magnifying its effect… Once, when [architects] Stamberg and Aferiat were stuck on choosing a color for a house they were designing, they turned to a good friend, painter David Hockney. He said, “Do what I do whenever I have a color problem. Look at Matisse.”

from Joyful: The Surprising Power of Extraordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee

I wonder, do I have a colour problem?

Could I be colour, be joy; do colour, do joy?

How might this change my seeing God in my here and now this Advent?

Our feeling of being ill at ease in the world… signals our longing to share in that flow of blessing, to experience God’s spirit in true enthusiasm, to feel that joie de vivre that is not just a passing mood.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence (68)

transitioning colours. iPhone image.

day 2

Wonky colour combinations are everywhere

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.

Maria Popova

praying for eyes to see. iPhone image.