Our changing fall light, color affects how and what we see

Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 9:48 PM

As we slip past the Autumnal Equinox and make our way toward winter, are you as aware as I am of the changing light? I moved here from Wisconsin where surely the light changes with the seasons as it does everywhere. But had it not been for the need each Fall to close the shutters of our passive solar home earlier and earlier, I might not have noticed. There was no horizon against which to mark the sun’s path. Trees were the dominant feature when we looked up, not sky.

But here, the sun, that in summer sears through our high altitude atmosphere from high overhead, is easily tracked as it moves south this time of year. Its intensity is softening, and the extraordinary palette that colors our desert flora seems even more than usual to be glowing from the inside of each stem and flower and leaf. The interplay of light and color, wherever we are, creates mood. It catches our attention here. It draws our attention there. It affects how and what we see.

Years ago I attended a church with stained glass windows in which there were no images. Not of saints. Not of religious symbols. Just patterns. They were the only stained glass windows in town, and we were very proud of them. In that tiny sanctuary the hanging lights down the center aisle showed through amber glass, casting a sickly pall over everything and everyone. We never thought of it as sickly, because it was what we were accustomed to. When we exchanged those amber glass panels for frosted clear glass, suddenly we saw how tedious the colors in the church were. We quickly undertook to paint the brown window frames a softened white and the tan walls a shade lighter than the frames. Suddenly there they were for all to see. Formerly camouflaged as mere patterns in the glass, ovals now showed up clearly as the potatoes they most certainly were.

Color and light. They affect how and what we see.

The church where I now serve has stained glass. Most of the images are symbols, not one of which could be confused with a potato. Besides the beautiful simplicity of these windows, I’ve realized I like them also for their constancy. We live in a society overloaded with digital images. They rush by at ever-faster speeds. I sometimes feel as though I have visual whiplash. Not in church, though.

While I treasure the majesty with which we are surrounded here in Cortez, and am moved by its ever-shifting nature, coming into this visually calm and consistent place helps me become centered. It helps me to open to that still, small point — that spark of the Divine inside myself. As light flows through images of wheat and grapes, of dove and water, it bathes me with its warmth. It clothes me with images from my faith story. Week after week, year after year, I am given the gift of simply sitting ... of simply being present, embraced by color and light. There, I sink into the Holy, where all is One.

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or