Meditation on an electric lamp

As a Goethean, sometimes almost Hypsistarian, Mehr Licht! kind of guy, I am a great fan of electricity. I love the way it can light up the interior of one’s dwelling, without setting fire to it. Or, usually without doing so. If there is one thing by which I am captivated, in looking upon a post-modern city, it is the bright lights. From a distance, if one could only make some distance, it is most impressive. Sometimes it is possible to come over a hill, and see all the lights together suddenly.

From a ship, as a child, I so vividly recall the waning lights of Karachi; the approaching lights of Aden, Suez, Valletta, Gibraltar. Or flying over New York, London, Tokyo, in the dark: as in a space ship, passing a galaxy by.

Modernity isn’t all bad, you know; there are parts of it to keep when we move on, and perhaps we should be planting brass plaques here and there that explain how to make a light bulb, and how to wire up a lamp. (I’ve been making a hash of it in the background.) Alas, it is when we must explain how to make a hydro dam, or a nuclear fusion reactor, that this starts getting complicated and we begin to need more plaques. But perhaps we start with the simplest rotational dynamo, and leave our descendants to figure out the rest.

Goethe’s deathbed cry for more light is often misunderstood. Our spiritualizing contemporaries assume he was asking for “enlightenment.” In fact he had been discussing optics with his daughter-in-law, and if one reviews his entire final sentence one realizes that he was asking someone else to open a window shutter. The statement was “edited,” to make it less prosaic.

Similarly my wild claim, and his, to be some kind of Hypsistarian, cannot be consumed without the superaddition of a quantity of salt. He was not, and neither am I, a member of the cult which flourished around the Black Sea, from a time preceding the Descent from Heaven, when Our Lord told us everything about the Hypsistos that we needed to know.

The cultists had been partly acquainted with the doctrines of the Jews, and with the more exalted ravings of the Pagans, and were syncretists determined to worship the most elevated Godhead that could be defined. They must have persisted six centuries or more, because Gregory of Nyssa mentions them in the Christian fourth century, and others too, I think. Moreover, they left enough plaques or votive tablets to keep our modern archaeologists entertained.

Light of light, “the light of the world,” is a different thing than electrical fixtures, as perhaps gentle reader knows already. (Most of these latter made I suspect by prison labour in China, and no better from the hardware than from the dollar stores, just more expensive.)

The light that can be seen even by the blind, who by analogy need no eyes to know from where the sun is shining. And we who are quite spiritual, but spiritually demented, are in need of this more singular, solar guidance. It is possible especially those who are sighted become confused by all the lights of the city, which bleach out the stars, and make the Sun seem unnecessary.

O Sun of Justice, teach us sometimes to extinguish our own lights, and bathe in Thy glory.