by Kaylin Kaupish
Light and the divine are intrinsically linked. In Genesis, God’s first words were “let there be light.” In Exodus, God appears to Moses “in flames of fire from within a bush.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But divine light isn’t just confined to Biblical times. Throughout history, people have witnessed awe-inspiring luminosities that made them wonder—were they experiencing glimpses of a heavenly glow? Below are five examples of such lights. Some have scientific explanations, some defy logic, but all have provided spiritual comfort in times of darkness.
St. Elmo’s Fire is a natural phenomenon when flame-like lights appear on tall objects during or after storms. There are many historical accounts of these mysterious lights manifesting on ship masts. Seafarers named the glow after St. Elmo, the patron saint of sailors. Prominent explorers such as Magellan and Columbus give accounts of seeing the ethereal flames on their ships during storms. Nowadays, scientists refer to the phenomenon as corona discharge, an atmospheric electricity build up that can happen towards the end of a storm. But to sailors of the past, this light was a sign that God was present with them on their voyage; a source of comfort that meant the storm they endured would soon pass.
In 1953, American astronaut Jim Lovell was a pilot with the U.S. Airforce, flying from a carrier off the coast of Japan. One night, while doing his first nighttime flight, he was on his way back when his panel board short circuited. To make matters worse, he then lost radio communication with the carrier. Without any lights or instruments to help him, Jim now had to pull-off an already extremely difficult landing completely on his own. If he landed too soon, he would crash. If he overshot it, he could land in the ocean. It was pitch black around him. Nothing to help him make the tricky landing. That’s when Jim saw a faint glow in the ocean below him. A soft, green light that stretched in a line before him. It led right to the carrier. Now with some visibility from the mysterious glow, Jim was able to make a safe landing on the carrier. It turns out the glow was a bioluminescent algae, churned up by the passage of the carrier through the ocean. But for Jim Lovell, it was a perfectly timed miracle. A path of light that saved his life.
On October 13, 1917, as World War I raged throughout Europe, nearly 70,000 people gathered in a field in Fatima, Portugal, to witness a miracle. They were brought there by three children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary appear in the sky there. One of the children, Lucia de Santos, who later became a Carmelite nun, said Mary revealed that WWI would soon end (it would end only a year later) and that a miracle would happen in the field at Cova da Iria. She was right. In his book The Day the Sun Danced, Jeffery S. Bennett, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Missouri, describes witness accounts of what transpired: “the sun had begun to ‘dance’ in the sky, casting strange light… Others claimed the sun appeared as a spinning wheel of fire… casting a tranquil, warm light on the Cova da Iria.” The site is now a shrine to Mary, and to the day when a divine light appeared in the sky. It’s visited by thousands of pilgrims every year.
According to a 1992 Gallup poll by the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation, over 5% of Americans have reported having a near-death experience. While every NDE is different, many of them have similar characteristics, such as seeing loved ones, moving through a dark tunnel, and sometimes even visions of the experiencer’s future. But according to the International Association for Near-Death Experiences, “the most commonly reported type of NDE involves…an encounter with an unconditionally loving light.” This light is reported to give them comfort and fill them with an incredible sense of love. For those who experience NDEs, whether through an accident or illness, this light is a source of beatific solace during painful times.
In early April 1862 during the Civil War, Union and Confederate troops clashed in Hardin County, Tennessee during the Battle of Shiloh. Nearly 16,000 soldiers needed medical attention and the combat doctors were not prepared. Thousands of soldiers had to wait in the muddy fields overnight for doctors to reach them. When dusk settled over the fields that night, something strange happened. Some soldiers noticed that their wounds were glowing with a mysterious blue light. It was noticed later the injuries on which the blue light appeared seemed cleaner and less likely to be infected. Like some sort of divine power was protecting those whom the light touched. While little of this phenomenon was documented at the time, it became a Civil War legend and was dubbed the Angel’s Glow. In 2001, two Maryland high school students, Bill Martin and Jonathan Curtis, conducted a test and concluded that the glow may have been caused by P. luminescens bacteria, which can eat away more infectious bacteria. Whether it was a life-saving bacteria or something unknown, that mysterious glow brought comfort and timely healing to the wounded soldiers of Shiloh.
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