As chaplain, I reassured them constantly. "The air is warm. She's a smart kid," I repeated over and over as the long hours passed. "She won't have a comfortable night—she'll be chilly and probably scared—but she'll be all right."

In my head, I believed this, but the windows of the command post were dark squares of glass that could reveal nothing, and my heart was uneasy.

> "Couldn't there at least have been a moon?" Susan's mother cried.

Human beings are creatures of light. Ours is a species that relies heavily on our vision as we scan for danger and search for food, for shelter, and for each other. A bat can maneuver through black air with astonishing quickness, relying on the data received through its ears. By a single, well-placed sniff, a dog can discern all sorts of delightful and relevant information about her loved ones' health and well-being. Humans have ears and noses, too, but when it comes to gathering the information that makes a difference between life and death, in most cases we need to see. No wonder darkness discourages and depresses us, no wonder light is the first creation of the Bible's God! Without light, there can be no life, no love, no nothing.

> A bright morning sun rose, gladdening the hearts of all who searched, and rousing Susan from her makeshift bed beneath a pine tree. It didn't take long to find her once the sun was up. And after she was restored to her mother's embrace, her father took a photograph of her, surrounded by beaming wardens. Sunlight bounces off the lenses of her little round glasses, and makes a halo of her pale gold hair.

Even with all of modern technology at our disposal to conquer darkness, at times like these we feel our kinship with the ancients, even those who lived in places where shade was much appreciated. The description of Jesus as radiant, as "the light of the world," taps into a part of the human soul formed long ago.

> As autumn deepens into winter, the gloom that so commonly afflicts our spirits might be thought of as a kind of empathy for all our forebears who regarded the increasingly brief and pallid visits of the winter sun with anxiety. Should the sun decide to make its austral sojourn below the far horizon permanent, the ultimate source of life would be lost forever.

I live in Maine, but—like other children of the 20th century—I've had the not-uncommon experience of visiting lands that no longer seem quite so faraway as they once may have. I hang ornaments from Thailand and Hong Kong on my Christmas tree, and the strings of lights that drape the tree are joined by strings of paper flags from Denmark, and a garland of miniature Tibetan prayer flags. In my lifetime, it has become normal to mail Christmas cards with stamps that celebrate Kwanzaa, a holiday that had not even been invented when I was born. And yet the image on the stamp is one of candles, their bright flames ringed with light. 


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