ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Shades of God’s Glory

Meditations on the miracle of sunsets.

After the creation, before God rested, there must have been a curtain call. Perhaps Adam and Eve, delighted by the handiwork of the Lord and still joyous in their innocence, begged their loving Father for one more wondrous display of His power.

And God created sunset.

It was his finishing touch to the firmament, the fitting conclusion before He drew the cover of night over His creatures, that they might rest. God had created them out of nothing but His burning love, and He left them a sign before darkness fell: He lit a fire in the sky.

Mankind has never grown tired of watching the drama that heralds the close of day. There is beauty in the world that goes unnoticed – delicate flowers and tall trees and sunlight on water – because people are too intent on their cares to see the world around them. There are people whose work requires long hours of concentration, and who scarcely have time some days to look up. But when the afternoon grows late and the sun turns from gold to orange to red, someone in a bustling household or a busy office will turn to someone else and say, “Just look at that sunset.”

Time seems to run more slowly for a little while as daylight dissolves in flame and night slips softly across the sky like drifting smoke.

Mountain people watch the glowing sun sink behind jagged peaks that jut sharply into the gathering dusk. City dwellers glance outside to see the sun turning every window that faces west into a blinding mirror of gold. Skyscrapers cast tall shadows, and clusters of buildings stand silhouetted like heavy gray sentinels against the rose-and-orange sky. Many find a special peace in watching the sun go down at the seashore, as the dying light turns the water from clear blue to iridescent violet and the beach lies lonely and still.

Sunset is often used to represent the end of something: youth, or a special dream, or life itself. But sunset also marks a beginning. It ushers in the time when people return to their homes and families for the evening meal, for relaxation and conversation and rest from the day’s work. Sunset brings the night, the time of sleep and peaceful restoration.

Ancient peoples worshipped the sun because its warmth and light sustain life. They depended on it for their crops, and they knew they would perish without it. Night became a symbol for death.

But the ingenious work of scholars long ago revealed that when the sun is setting, it is rising somewhere else. The hours of darkness are measured, and the sun returns with its life-giving light.

The Word of God revealed that death, like the night, is destined to end in new life.

There is a popular and pernicious falsehood that masquerades as a kind of cosmic humility. Someone will say he sat and watched the sun go down, and saw the stars come out, and he thought about how small and powerless he is before the vast sweep of the universe. He will say he is here on earth for a few short years, while the sun and the moon and the stars have been here for countless eons.

As though a star, however old or bright or beautiful, could match the value of a single immortal soul.

As though the beauty of the world and the heavens, which Christ has told us will pass away, could even begin to rival the glory of a being created in the image and likeness of God.

The only lesson about man to be learned from watching sunsets and stars – the only reflection worth having – is not man’s insignificance, but his greatness. He is the masterpiece of God’s creation.

Man is small only before his Creator. Against the shining stars and the gleaming galaxies and the fiery sun he looms as a giant among pygmies, for unlike them he is immortal. He shares in the divine life, because He who is divine chose to share man’s life.

The brightest sunset is but the shadow of the glory of God. And the dark night of death is but the prelude to the day that will never end. In the dying of the light every day is the promise that the Light will return, never to be extinguished.

A former editor of Catholic Near East Magazine, Claudia McDonnell is pursuing a freelance writing career.

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