The Sound of Light

Ken and I were standing in the middle of a tree-lined street in St. Albert looking up at a gibbous moon. (like to use gibbous-a word Mary gave me-when I can) We were talking about northern-lights. Ken said that one time the lights were so bright, so full of movement, that they almost put the scare in him. It was like he had to duck. (He assured me this was not an early herb-enhanced experience.)

This is a great time of year for northern lights. Just the other night, Deb and I were driving home late from the country. The lights were so full of colour and tango that we had to stop and watch from the side of the road.

I remembered a time as a kid with some friends in the small hours just before dawn on a country road in Saskatchewan. Rivers of purple ribbon were veering and carving out pieces of sky. There were confluences of plasma, bright green rapids and the rush of white light. And I heard the lights.


When I was older and learned that the northern lights don’t make sounds, that in fact the physics of the aurora phenomenon doesn’t support any possibility of sound, I stopped hearing them. Electromagnetic waves, or natural radio waves, which are vibrations of electric and magnetic energy, the kind northern lights produce, are not audible. The extremely low frequencies of these natural radio waves have similar frequencies as sound waves, but they are two different wave species.

And of course the aurora borealis occurs a hundred or more miles off the ground, where, if there is any air, it’s probably too thin to adequately support the transmission of sound.

All this was valuable information that added something to my stock of natural world knowledge. But it took something away as well. It took away an immediacy of experience from future viewings. It reinforced the schooled notion that in order to truly understand something you need the proper distance; you need a platform outside of the event, subject or experience from where you can objectively observe.

I think this is the way we modern Western Christians view God and the cosmos. Instead of an experienced faithfulness of God leading us to trust, we begin with information as authoritative and try to move to trust and faith. This has been the approach of modernity and it has been a blight on Christian faith. When our allegiance to objectivity and literalism are transcribed on to our existential experiences of God, our light slowly dies. When our inner-self’s understanding of the Spirit and the Word is seduced by a systematic view of God, we miss the nuanced and relational.

continued… Find out why I actually did hear the lights.

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