When children come in from a good afternoon of playing in the snow or on the ice, their cheeks are flushed with a healthy and merry glow, and all’s right with the world. We’ll say that there’s a light glistening in their eyes, and if you were a literalist, and you believed only in what you could measure with a ruler or a balance-scale, you’d say that was nonsense. “My light meter registers only such brightness in Billy’s eyes as was there before he strapped on his skates,” says Mr. Blind Man. The point is that we see as light what shines with intelligence and gladness. I don’t know that everything you see in the world will make you glad, but I do suspect that gladness opens the eyes, especially if it is that gladness that has known sorrow and not fled from it. Says the Psalmist, “I was glad when I heard them say, Let us go up to the house of the Lord.”
This is surely something the old glaziers understood, those who worked on the stained glass in the great cathedrals of Europe. If people wanted simple light, they would have instructed the glaziers to give them clear glass, and that would be that. If they wanted mere colors, they could have said, “Put a blue window here, and a gold window there, and a red window in front.” But they wanted the glow and the gladness: they wanted intelligence and a profound joy. And those, they believed, you get most profoundly from stories of salvation: of the light that shines in the darkness, with all the radiance of love. We still cannot replicate that blue you will see at Chartres Cathedral! I’ve read that it can’t be replicated by machine, just as you won’t get the soft shimmer of old glass by machine. It isn’t a mere object of manufacture. You can’t produce gladness on an assembly line. Your computer will not glimmer with understanding. Who knows what odd bits of dust got into the color to make it look less flat, and more alive? Who knows what sweet variations in the lapis-lazuli stone made Mary’s robe look like a robe a human being might wear, and not a cover over a piece of plastic? And when people stand below, and gaze all round them, with the light from the windows casting upon them its soft glow of many colors, they too, if they have the eyes to see and the heart to love, will glow. And no, you cannot register it on your photometer.
You’ll have noticed that we have quite a few words in English that begin with gl- and that have to do with light, wisdom, good cheer: glad, gleam, glimmer, glisten, glow. Even gloom is one of them, because it used to mean the gentle light of the time after sunset or before sunrise: in the gloaming, as the old song says. Sometimes people delight in bad things or in a bad way, as when there’s a malicious glare in your eye as you gloat over the quarterback you’ve just sacked for a ten-yard loss. Well, it’s as they say, all that glitters is not gold. But no reason to be glum over it. The good in God’s world triumphs in the end over all that is bad. Then may we sing with glee, as our eyes are struck with the million glints of light on the sea of faith. Yes, these words are all kin, and you can toss in with them glass and glide and glance and glimpse and a whole noisy family of cousins from the other languages in our big Indo-European family. For the same ancient root gives us Greek chloros, yellow-green, whence the scientists gave the name chlorophyll, literally green-leaf, for the miracle-working substance that turns sunlight into food. And it gives us the Slavic word behind the common name Zielensky, which basically means that you’re the son of Mr. Green. And the Hindi and Nepali given-name Heera, which means Diamond.
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