“He wraps himself in light as with a garment; . . .” Psalm 104:2
I know when it came to me. I remember that morning well. I still have the photo that goes with the story, and while it holds no particular attraction to anyone else, to me it’s a reminder of what I learned that morning.
It was a Saturday, and I was somewhere north of here on the bluffs above the Big Sioux.
Dawn was arriving and I was still in the car, trying desperately to find something, anything to shoot against. Some dawns are gorgeous all by themselves—the eastern sky a whole gorgeous palette. But others—mid-summer and mid-winter dawns especially—can be, well, boring, the sun rising from the horizon as if unattended in a sky that’s clear and undistinguished, buttery, at best.
Honestly, I don’t remember the sky that morning, but I remember my own frantic search for a setting because I ended up in the river hills, in someone’s driveway. Across the road was an open valley, some woods, and a little late fall color. The sun was just starting to bump above the horizon, so I jumped out of the car, took off running for a wood pile I’d spotted, hoping there were maybe some angles I could bring into composition. I was almost an hour from home, and I was starting to think I was going to get skunked. What I saw in my camera wasn’t much.
No matter how you cut it, it wasn’t a memorable dawn.
Then I turned back toward the east and saw the guy’s garage. A garage—that’s all. Not an old one, not something adorned with knotty, antique wood. Just a garage with plain, wide siding, neatly painted, off-white, and saplings he’d planted alongside just a year before, a half dozen at most.
When I looked through the lens, there was absolutely nothing for great composition—I swear it. I wasn’t going to make a million selling that picture, but I shot—six, seven, ten times because what I saw was somehow gorgeous: the light was extraordinary, wonderful. It spread parallel lines from the saplings over winter grasses frosted heavily enough to sparkle with life. The picture I took—and I love it—captures the soulful gorgeous essence of the side of some guy’s garage.
That morning, I learned something about landscape photography: it’s all about light. Standing just beyond the driveway, I felt as if I’d seen a vision. I had, and here it is: it’s all about light. While composition is important, capturing something breathtaking in a photograph is all a matter of light.
It took me nearly sixty years of living to realize how precious and priceless light really is—not just for photography, but for beauty itself. What is darkness but the absence of light? The night sky is memorable, not for its dense blackness, but for its pinprick sparkling jewelry, for its light.
Every imaginative writer knows we draw a reader into a story we create with by way of the senses—all six. Want to make a character live? —don’t tell us, show us. The senses are the beginning of apprehension, in children too.
And where does our apprehension begin? Where did creation begin? In light. Let there be light, and there was. It’s all about light.
And this God, our God, takes this most gracious blessing, light itself, and wraps himself with it, as with a garment, verse two of Psalm 104 says. Want to see him? —check out his garment. When you want to see him, look at his light.
There he is now, honestly, just beside the garage.