Earth Hour and the light that enters the world

There are reasons why gatherings during Earth Hour look a lot like the Easter Vigil

When Earth Hour roams across the globe for its annual outing on Saturday night, Catholics will be opening Holy Week. This rare confluence is providential. It calls attention to what the secular event shares with the Gospel—especially its message of sacrifice and of the true light that enters the world.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour asks people, institutions, and iconic structures to shut off their lights on a given day for one hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. This year the day is Saturday, March 28th—the vigil of Palm Sunday. According to the organization’s website, Earth Hour is a “collective display of our commitment to creating a better future for the planet.”

Earth Hour asks us to disrupt the status quo of our Enlightened world. It asks us to do without the artificial light of our own creation.

I once thought Earth Hour was just another gimmick. I thought that even with all its group celebrations and the darkening of places like San Francisco’s Ghirardelli’s Square, London's Big Ben, and even St. Peter's Basilica, it offered little meaning to the complex problems of the age. But I’ve grown fond of Earth Hour. And the timing this year explains why.

Like the disruption of Lent in our lives—when in part we sacrifice some good for our own benefit and for that of others—Earth Hour asks us to disrupt the status quo of our Enlightened world. It asks us to do without the artificial light of our own creation. If I’m reading the World Wildlife Fund correctly, Earth Hour asks us to remember that humanity can live with reduced consumption—and that we ought to do so because our consumption is harming the world and our neighbors.

Earth Hour is, then, sort of like a one-hour secular version of Lent.

For Christians, such self-induced denial of the light of human invention comes with profound implications. Any reminder of the darkness of our fallen world should help us focus on the true light that enters it.

In particular we call to mind the themes of light and darkness in John’s Gospel—especially the opening:

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world,

and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

While the unchurched and the devoutly secular may find Earth Hour appealing for many reasons that are not associated with Christ, I cannot help but see the human longing for God when I witness the neo-liturgies of Earth Hour celebrations. After all, the image in this post is a 2012 Earth Hour event in Venezuela. It’s much like others around the world during every Earth Hour with gatherings of many dozens or hundreds of people holding candles in the dark.

This is, of course, precisely how Catholics open the Easter Vigil.

And so during this Earth Hour you might want to join participants across the globe as they temporarily put aside the things of human reason—of the often good but polluting inventions of Enlightened technology—so that in one hour of darkness we might all better see and come to know the Light that no darkness and no cross can overcome.

Photo: Flicker/Earth Hour

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.