I just spent five days and nights in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To my surprise I was captivated by the stark and spare beauty of the landscape. The browns, rusts, mauves, blues, and greens formed an unusual kaleidoscope of color. Artists abound in the Southwest. They describe the unique light and spiritual aura of the region. Hundreds of galleries display their work. What caught my eye was not so much the light, but the shadows. I noticed the wonderful patterns of shadows formed by the combination of Southwestern structures and Southwestern light.
Besides their interesting appearance, shadows have mysterious implications in our thoughts and collective unconscious. Shadows can be comforting places, retreats from the sun and the heat. They provide protection. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Here the Psalmist asks God for the kind of protection a mother bird would provide her babies from predators and weather. (Psalm 17:8 NIV) I like the idea of the infinite wingspan of God surrounding and enfolding me.
But shadows can be scary and dangerous. A mouse and a rabbit would scamper in terror from the shadow of large wings. For them, the wings signify danger—a hawk or owl looking for a bit of lunch. My mother warned me about shadows from trees and buildings. Who might be lurking there to cause me harm? And then there is always the shadow of death. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2). Even with the promise of light, I can only imagine what the looming shadow of death looks like.
I enjoy contemplating the multiple meanings of the word shadow. But even more I enjoy seeing the one-of-a kind artistic creations made by the marriage of light and architecture.