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From Darkness Came Light

The symbolism of darkness and light

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To consider why the winter solstice is regarded as an important turning point in the year.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (From Darkness Came Light) and the means to display them.

  • Have available the YouTube video ‘Sunrise to Sunset Fairbanks Alaska Dec 16 2010’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 0.42 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zouJsRRx6zs

  • Optional: invite a student to read the passage from John 1.1-5, ensuring that the student has had the chance to read and prepare for this beforehand.

Assembly

  1. Show Slide 1.

    Ask the students to raise their hand if they are getting fed up of leaving home to travel to school in the dark, and then it being nearly dark by the time school has finished.
  1. Explain that as we approach 21 December, which for people in the northern hemisphere is the shortest day of the year, the days are getting shorter and shorter. The shortest day of the year is called the winter solstice. The further we travel north, the fewer daylight hours there are in each 24-hour period.

  2. Show the YouTube video ‘Sunrise to Sunset Fairbanks Alaska Dec 16 2010’ from 0.03 to 0.27 minutes.

    Explain that the video shows one of the darkest places in the northern hemisphere: Alaska. The video was made by combining photos taken every five minutes to show the daylight hours. There are fewer than four hours of daylight around the winter solstice in Alaska. The video shows how low in the sky the sun remains during those four hours of daylight. It is very different to a summers day, when the sun appears directly over our heads.

  3. Point out that the dark nights can feel a bit gloomy. Many people long for spring to arrive and for the long, hot days of summer. In fact, some people suffer from a form of depression in the dark winter months. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, and is usually more severe during winter. It was first identified in 1984.

  4. However, the idea of darkness being something negative is not a new idea. The imagery of darkness has been used throughout history in art, literature and psychology.

    Let’s take a look at how one artist used darkness to symbolize negativity, and light to symbolize good.

  5. Show Slide 2.

    This painting by Joseph Wright of Derby is called A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery. It was painted at a time when scientific advancements were leading to many exciting discoveries about our world. The painting shows a piece of scientific equipment, with people looking at an experiment taking place. The rest of the room is dark, but the focus of the experiment is lit by light. Wright wants us to see that science is a good thing: it can help to ‘enlighten us, bringing us greater understanding. For this painter, anyone who isn’t interested in science is living in darkness. Put simply, Wright is saying that science is good, and ignorance is bad.

  6. Shakespeare, too, made use of the imagery of darkness and light. In Macbeth, darkness is used to represent evil, whereas light symbolizes protection and goodness.

    Show Slide 3.

    The play opens with a dark, stormy night and the three witches. Throughout the play, they only meet in dark and foreboding settings. Later in the play, when Banquo is murdered, his torchlight is immediately extinguished.

    Show Slide 4.

    In a famous passage, Macbeth reflects on the dark and evil desires in him when he says, ‘Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires.’
  1. Show Slide 5.

    In more recent times, the psychologist Carl Jung spoke about the shadow aspect of humans’ personality, the dark side of our characters. For Jung, everyone has a dark side, even if we don’t admit it or realize it.
  1. Show Slide 6.

    Of course, we can’t talk about the imagery of darkness and light without mentioning Star Wars! The whole Star Wars universe is constructed around the idea of the dark side of the Force (evil) competing with the light side of the Force (good).
  1. So, let us return to the idea of the winter solstice, where the shortest day of the year used to be cause for major celebration in times past. It represents a turning point in the year, when the days start to become longer and lighter, and light will soon come forth from darkness.
  1. This idea of light coming forth from darkness is how one of Jesus’ disciples began his account of Jesus’ life. In his Gospel, John describes Jesus as the light that overcomes darkness; goodness overcoming evil.

    Show Slide 7.

    John 1.1-5 says, In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

    Repeat the final line (in bold): The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

Time for reflection

As we think about the theme of light shining in our darkness, let’s reflect upon what this means to each of us.

Let us pause and consider the times when we feel gloomy, fed up orin a dark place’. Perhaps we feel like that at the moment. We probably know of people in our friendship groups, or in our families, who feel like that at times.

Pause to allow time for thought.

We choose to think about the things that bring light and hope to such situations:

- a kind word
- the support of a friend
- spending time in nature
- finding ways to connect with something that brings us joy

In doing so, we choose light over darkness.

Let us pause and consider the times when we have found ourselves hurting others, the times when we have had dark thoughts or our actions have been overshadowed by self-interest.

Pause to allow time for thought.

We choose to turn away from such actions and thoughts. We choose to turn towards goodness, towards kindness, towards compassion and towards truth.

In doing so, we choose light over darkness.

Let us pause and remember those words from John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

We consider what God means to us and the ways in which we are open to God’s light and love in our own lives. We pause to allow space for us to ask God to shine his light into our lives today.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Dear God,
For those who feel in a dark place, for those who are living under the shadow of hatred, violence, injustice or shame, we pray for a sense of hope.
For those struggling with depression, or with difficulties that others may not understand, we ask for hope and light and joy.
May all of us here be open to walking in the light of love and truth.
Help us to choose light over darkness, hope over fear and love over hurt.
Amen.

Publication date: December 2018   (Vol.20 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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