The sunrises and sunsets in my area this past week have been most beautiful, graced with a myriad of colors to inspire the soul. The many shades of red, orange, and yellow mixed together form a masterpiece of art only nature can create. Seeing the colors change as the sun inches higher or lower in the sky is an example of how the world is constantly changing, rearranging elements of nature through time.
Cause of Color Changes
Since childhood, the color changes in the sky have intrigued me. As a youngster, I wondered how the changes occurred and why. The answer came to me a bit later in life when I learned about light waves in science class. Visible light is a form of electromagnetic radiation and is defined as wavelengths visible to the human eye. Visible light is also part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the range of all types of electromagnetic radiation. This spectrum includes:
- Radio waves, which have the longest wavelengths
- Microwaves, which are used to cook food
- Infrared rays, which are emitted by our skin and objects with heat
- Visible rays, which we see as different colors
- Ultraviolet rays, which are emitted by the sun
- X-rays, which are used by doctors to capture images of the body
- Gamma rays, which have the shortest wavelength and are also used by doctors to see inside the body
Each color of light has a different wavelength. Red has the longest wavelength followed by orange and yellow. Green is in the middle of the spectrum. Blue, indigo, and violet have shorter wavelengths, with violet being the shortest.
The molecules in the atmosphere also play a part in the color changes, for they scatter the light waves. Light with shorter wavelengths is scattered much more, hence the large amount of blue and violet seen in the sky. Light with longer wavelengths, such as red and orange, need more molecules to scatter them so they can be seen. When the sun is low on the horizon, its light passes through more of the atmosphere, hence the distinct red and orange at sunrise and sunset.
How We See Color
We see color because of light sensitive cells in the retina called rods and cones. The rods and cones process the light wavelengths into nerve impulses, which travel along the cortex of the brain via the optic nerve. There are over 120 million rods in the human eye, mostly concentrated around the edge of the retina. Rods are responsible for transmitting black and white information to the brain.
Cones are concentrated at the center of the retina, and are responsible for transmitting color sensations to the brain. There are six million cones in a human eye. These cones also contribute to visual sharpness. The cones consist of three cone types, which are sensitive to long, medium, and short wavelengths. Over two-thirds of the cones are sensitive to longer wavelength light, which is why we can see more variations of red, orange, and yellow than variations of blue and violet.
Color Connection and Common Threads
Watching the sun rise is one of my favorite parts of the day, for it calls my attention to focus on the colors and to keep walking toward the light. There is something about the stillness of the world at dawn that allows the soul to connect with nature and feel a sense of peace. To me, this is what being connected is about in life—knowing where to turn for energy, strength, and reassurance.
As St. Paul writes in Romans 5: 1-5:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also attained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts though the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
As humans, we have a natural tendency to feel connected, or belong. Some of us need people, others need material things, and still others are satisfied with a few moments of quiet time to fulfill our needs. Though we all have different ways and means to fulfill this need, the common thread is the need itself, which often drives our actions and reactions, as well as our focus.
“Seeing” the Connection
As we enter the last days of Holy Week, we may find our connection through our faith leading us upon our journey. This connection is one we often overlook or take for granted in the busyness of life. Perhaps that is one reason we need Lent—to bring our focus back to what is truly important and to see the value in what is unseen.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen.”
And as Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Connecting the Sun and the Son
As humans, we also need the light of the sun in order to physically see and to sustain us. The sun’s light contains vitamin D, which helps regulate absorption of calcium and phosphorous, fight disease, and combat depression.
We also need the light of the Son to see the blessings granted to us, to help us understand life circumstances, to combat evil in the world, and to sustain us upon our journey.
May the light around us help spark the light within us to lead us upon our journey. May we see the value of this light, and may we be thankful for all it provides, whether seen or unseen. May both the sun on the rise each day and the Son on the rise at Easter give us renewed hope and faith.
Sun on the Rise
The sun is on the rise
Above the trees in the eastern sky
Slowly inching up its way
In the early minutes of the day
Spreading light through the clouds
Bringing life to all upon the earthly ground
In the quiet of the dawn
Granted by the grace of God.
As the shadows of the night slowly fade,
The sun on the rise brings forth many shades
Of color to see, starting deep red and crimson,
Moving on to peach, tangerine, and melon,
Then lemon, gold, and yellow hues
As the minutes unfold and the sky turns blue
Reflecting the light all around
Along with blessings to be found
As the soul starts the day
At the heart of nature’s ways.
In the silence and the stillness,
The Light of Life fulfills its
Promise to the world around,
Called by God to abolish sin found
And wash clean the soul upon the journey
So that one may really see all that it is learning
Through the light of the Son on the rise
And God’s love through heaven’s skies.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
Resources and Related Links
Electromagnetic spectrum – https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/toolbox/emspectrum1.html
Human tendency to be connected – http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2012/4/16/the-need-to-belong-part-of-what-makes-us-human.html
Marcel Proust – http://www.library.illinois.edu/kolbp/proust/
Ralph Waldo Emerson – http://www.rwe.org/biography/
Rods and cones – https://www.pantone.com/how-do-we-see-color
Visible light – http://www.livescience.com/50678-visible-light.html