Before I moved to Cape Ann, I had heard about the light here mostly in poetry, and I had seen representations of Cape Ann light in paintings.
I both heard and saw the representations with disbelief. No light could be that clear, or sky so subtle and bright, or rocks so luminous. When I moved here, I had what we call in my profession a “conversion of heart.” They were right about the light of Cape Ann, those painters and poets. It’s remarkable, luminous, bright, alive, shimmering, moody, and how any painter ever manages to depict it is a miracle.
The first time I really saw that light happened one evening at Plum Cove, soon after we moved here.
We live in Lane’s Cove, and the sunsets at the end of our street are fabulous, so there’s no need to go to Plum Cove. However, one hot overly humid July evening, much like the ones we’re having now, the tide was right, so we walked down to Plum Cove to swim. A few people were gathered on the beach, sitting in beach chairs, or reclining on towels. Only one other person was swimming. I plunged in, for the water wasn’t ankle-breaking cold that day, and swam, and then returned to the beach to sit. After a few moments, I noticed everyone gazing out to sea in a dreamy way, and realized that they had come down to watch the sunset.
And set it did, in glorious reds, oranges, pinks, mauves, golds, even a pale, pale green, with rays streaming out, lighting up the undersides of the clouds in the eastern sky, too. The tips of the trees around the cove began to glow in the light; every person was outlined in light, even our hair and faces changed. The sand turned a burnished pink gold, and down the sun went, slowly sinking behind the line of land in the northwest, and the far off hills of New Hampshire, across the bay. No one spoke during the sunset. When the last rim of sun was gone, the sky still lit with light, everyone there on Plum Cove beach began to clap. A round of reverent applause for creation, for the beauty we’d just seen, a form of praise, a form of prayer.
Another time the living light of this place manifested itself happened one afternoon on a walk in the streets of Lanesville. Often on these walks, I’m on the way to visit someone, and so am preoccupied with whom am I going to see. But on that day, I was walking for the sake of walking, still getting to know the place. I passed the lanes near our church, St. Paul Lutheran, and started down Langsford Street.
Perhaps it was the angle of the sun, or the emptiness of the blue sky above, or high summer again, and the air shimmering with heat. Whatever the cause, as I walked, I noticed that the granite rocks didn’t look solid anymore; they seemed to be living beings in some way, and they had a luminosity and depth I normally associate with water. Each edge, each shape, was clearly etched in clear lines where rock met air, or grass, or the roots of a tree, or met the pavement of the sidewalk, or down at the water’s edge, where the rocks meet the sea: all of it was composed of light, living water and living rock.
The granite formations weren’t a uniform gray, either, but full of color, greens, blues, pinks, quartz; lines of darkness ran through them like veins. The rocks were like light-emitting diodes, only they were rocks, the granite foundation of this strange island formed of glacial leavings. I felt I was looking into the past, into an ancient past, and that the light of the rocks was alive and dancing. It’s easy to believe in this place we live that all creation breathes with the spirit of the creator, inspiring, shining with something larger and brighter than the light of this life, a light that shines before time, and through all time, beyond time.
There is a word for such moments in theology: they are called epiphanies, a word from Greek which literally means “shining through.”
We’re blessed to live in a place where we are met with glories of light at every turn, even on shadowy cloudy days. The sky and sea meet and dance, and light each other up, lighting the land, lighting the people, and we can see the world as a “thin place,” where heaven and earth touch. This happens visually every morning when I look out to the horizon this time of year, where water and air meet in the distance, and the line between them disappears into a haze of soft blue beauty.
As a pastor, I hear and see so much suffering every day, of frail humanity up against it. Every time I turn a corner here, on my travels round Cape Ann, full of the weight of someone’s pain I’ve just heard or seen, I’m met with the promise of light, that through the glorious light of this beautiful world, that holds so much hurt in its arms, shines the light of heaven, a light that mingles and mixes with us here and now.
That promise helps to hold the sorrow, not to banish it, but to hold it and bear it, as the granite holds the sunlight, and the water holds the moonlight.
May heaven’s light meet and lift you on these amazing summer days. May the light of this world call you to remember and see the light of lights, the surpassing beauty, the living limitless light of a God who loves us beyond imagining.
The Rev. Ann Deneen is pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Gloucester.