October / November 2018 - Vol. 100

Christmas Star, artwork by Ros Yates 2013
Christmas Star, artwork by Ros Yates 2013
“Let there be Light”

 Part 1: Reflections on Light, Color & Our Relationship with God

by Ros Yates 

Genesis 1.1-3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The story of creation begins with darkness - the absence of light.

Without light there is no colour, nothing for our eyes to respond to, no information, no energy, no life on earth.

3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

White light contains all the colours of the rainbow – and more beyond our eyes’ capacity to see. When white light hits something it reflects back light of different wavelengths. The colour of the reflected light is determined according to the nature of the object.

Other colours are absorbed by the object’s surface and so what we see is what is given back.

diagram of
                            prism with light

I have been struck by this physics lesson as a metaphor for our lives lived in the light of God. Each of us reflect God’s light differently – our absorption and refection spectrums are unique, everyone giving off light differently according to who we are and how we respond to God’s light.

                            expresses her personality
[Gundi expresses her personality]

So God shines his perfect light on each of us – in our lives and worship we seek to give back all we are – to love the Lord our God with all our heart mind soul and strength, with every colour of our being, every creative quantum of energy.

So we all emanate a wonderful variety of light; of personality, ideas, gifts, offerings of love, but also weak spots, needs, and opportunities to be interdependent in community.  None of us fully reflect God’s light and that’s why we need each other to complete the picture, the body of Christ.

Colour theory includes the notion of complimentary colours – those which are on the opposite side of the colour wheel; red and green, yellow and purple, orange and blue.  These colour combinations used in a painting enhance one another;

Think about the red and green of Christmas…….

                            and shadows’ Ros Yates artwork 2012
‘Holly and shadows’  Ros Yates artwork 2012

……or the purple and gold of royalty.

Iris –
                            (detail) Ros Yates artwork 2015
Iris – (detail) Ros Yates artwork 2015

-    The blues and orange of a glorious sunset.

Edinburgh City Aglow – Ros Yates
                                artwork 2015 - in memory of Iain
Edinburgh City Aglow – Ros Yates artwork 2015 -  in memory of Iain Archibald

God’s light is complete, white, pure, without gaps, no colours missing or under-represented.  White speaks to us of purity, holiness, glory, splendour, and revelation. But we have stains, imperfections, mistakes, dirt, flaws.

                              Yates artwork

Isaiah 1v18
18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

-Think of laundry detergent adverts, or those for stain removers.
- Think of snow – it makes everything look clean and bright at first – till muddied and trodden.
- Think of a blank canvas or piece of paper – I choose one without marks, undamaged, unused by others, ‘virgin’ – kept clean WHITE and fresh for me.
- and think of what things make us impure, spoilt; as individuals, or as a community, and our need for forgiveness.
- but our destiny is to be the bride of Christ – pure and spotless, made clean, amazingly, by His blood shed for us.

Revelation 21. 1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

I shared this vision with a school group of 11-14 year olds I work with at a local High School.  We talked about being brides (it was almost all girls!) and how we would prepare for our wedding day.

We played that game where one person is dressed like a bride by the rest of the group in toilet roll paper and white bin liners – we laughed, we celebrated. The imperfections of the dress design and the outcome didn’t matter too much in the fun of the moment – and so our imperfections will be obliterated by the work of Christ our bridegroom who laid down his life for us and is coming to take us for his own.

art project
Creative Worship Group, London – dressing the bride January 2018

So one day we will be robed in white and reflect all God’s glory – but how do we get there? How can the darkness be dispelled?

Christmas Card 2013, Ros Yates
Christmas Card 2013, Ros Yates artwork

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.       
John 1.14

‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.       
John 1.5

It is darkness that is associated with evil in the Bible– not the colour black itself.  Black things are not evil or sinful. The beloved in the Song of Solomon describes herself … ”I am black and beautiful”  (Songs 1.5) Things that are black and shiny can be brighter than white things hidden in shadow. It’s all about how much light we reflect.
shades of black art chart
Black is never really totally black. Even the darkest black paint reflects some light – and if you dilute black paint you will see that different blacks have a colour to them.  Paynes Grey is a blueish black, others dilute to a shade of brown, green or purple.
So with us, even the soul that sits in darkness is capable of reflection when God’s light and God’s water of life come to show up our true colours. 

However, there IS a black invented by scientists call VantaBlack. It is not a paint as such, but a coating of miniscule tubes of carbon so small that most light just cannot escape it. A wave of light gets almost entirely trapped within it. Vanta Black looks entirely matt and completely flat like a black hole even if the surface is crumpled.  A 3D object coated with it loses all appearance of form, depth, and texture. This could be a symbol of the soul that takes and takes and take but gives nothing back  - and that is dark indeed.

Bronze head coated in Vanta Black

But that is not how we were created.

We were not created black in the sense of being unable to reflect God’s glory - In our creatureliness we are gloriously brown – formed from the dust of the earth. We are of the earth; which is what the name Adam means.

But we are more than earth’s dust; more even, than the stardust that formed the earth.

Genesis 2.7
Then the LORD God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

cave hand paintingEarly human cave paintings
We acknowledge our creatureliness – our debt to our creator who formed us in love and wisdom. It keeps us humble to know we share this materialism with the rest of creation.  Yet we are also spiritual and created for a spiritual relationship with God our Creator. His breath brings life to us as children so clay shall take form and live.
 Isaiah 64;8 ” O Lord you are our father. We are the clay, you are the potter ; we are all the work of your hand.

                            shaping a clay pot

As the work of God’s hands we were created to be creative; made in His image we put our imaginations to work.  Humans have always had that capacity – the first paintings used the colours of the earth – ochre – iron oxide – in shades of brown, red, orange and yellow, and the white of chalk or the black of ashes. Then came the colours of natural minerals and organic matter such as berries and other plant dyes, or even blood. We have taken the colours of the world that surround us and brought them into our language as powerful symbols, even before words and writing came into being.

I will explore the language of colour in the second part of my article, and especially how colour is used in the Bible and in our worship as well enriching our daily lives – a walk through the spectrum with Scripture.

Ros Yates is a member of the Antioch ecumenical Christian community in London. She has been painting and drawing from an early age. Having studied Biology and Theology she is now an ordained Deacon in the Church of England, a self-taught artist, and mother of four children.  Not surprising then that themes of creativity, spirituality and the natural world are constantly interwoven in her life and art. 

She uses art and crafts in prayer and Bible study workshops with adults and children. The natural world is a constant course of inspiration. She loves gardening and spending time at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, the London Wetland Centre, and holidays in Purbeck on the English South Coast. All these find their way into her art, as do the word-images and parables of the Bible.

> See other articles by Ros Yates in Living Bulwark

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