International Dark Sky Week: A Christian Perspective
International Dark Sky Week: April 22 to 30
This year, Easter Sunday, April 17th, falls the day after the full moon, but by the 30th, we will reach the new moon phase. On a clear night, we are best able to see the stars during this time. In a city that runs 24/7, this may not amount to much due to artificial light at night masking the contrast of bright stars on a dark sky canvas. If you live in the desert southwest, however, you may be struck with awe to see the Milky Way’s galactic center fullness. For three days (April 29 to May 1), we will experience the darkest sky of the cycle. Three days? Sounds familiar…
We are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection after three days in a – dark – tomb cave. Just as we see the beginning of renewal in the cycle of life, as seeds sprout after overwintering in the dark of the soil, we are reminded that in Genesis, darkness was in the Beginning, before light was called. Imagine the resurrected Jesus emerging from the darkness into a delicately lit sky full of stars. No light pollution from Jerusalem!
Darkness is important for all of the living beings that share this planet. Research has shown that nocturnal insect pollinators are much less active when they are subject to light pollution than when they are in darkness. The daily cycle of dark then light is at the foundation of human health, too: in circadian rhythms and all the biological processes rooted in them, such as the hormone melatonin production.
Darkness is also important for our emotional and spiritual well-being. In the quiet of the night, we are given a break from daytime stimulation, allowing us to focus inward and listen to our Creator’s voice. If we are fortunate enough to view it, the starry night sky against a dark backdrop offers a sense of abundance, often diminished elsewhere on our planet by human activity. If Abraham lived in a modern, light-polluted city, what would he think of God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky?
For people of faith committed to loving their neighbors, light pollution is also an environmental justice issue. Not only are the nighttime outdoor light levels higher in environmental justice communities that suffer from the disproportionate impacts of environmental harms and risks, but the residents in these communities are often less able to afford to travel to the few remaining dark sky places and experience awe at our shared natural heritage.
Still, some may ask, “What about nighttime pedestrian safety in a world of vehicles?” The good news is that we can have both light on the ground and dark, starry skies above our cities! The IDA (International Dark Sky Association) and the IES (Illumination Engineering Society) have jointly published the Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting which points the way to that goal, one light and one project at a time. Moreover, application of these strategies reduces energy use and carbon emissions.
Take advantage to get your feet wet during International Dark Sky Week, April 22-30. One of the accessible activities available is Globe at Night, in which you report, using a smartphone app, the stars you are able to see from your location. You will help measure the light pollution levels from the ground. Learn more in the linked references, make changes to your own outdoor lighting, join a local IDA chapter.
Together, we can “resurrect” the natural dark sky brilliantly lit with stars for all.
Anne Hayek is a member of the Congregational Church of Needham, UCC, and the International Dark Sky Association Massachusetts Chapter.
Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, 2014.
The End of Night, by Paul Bogard, 2013. Chapter 4 focuses on the spirituality of darkness.
Light pollution map: Navigate to your location. Choose a decade ago, then 2021 to see the evolution.